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Archive for July, 2015

The Revengers (1972) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

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Stars – William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Woody Strode, Susan Hayward
Director – Daniel Mann

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Revengers has the makings of a good western. Looking at the cast and the advertising you’d expect a cold blooded tale of revenge with no holds barred. You almost get it, too. Set right after the civil war, a good man’s family is massacred leaving him with nothing but a thirst for revenge. He sells everything and recruits some bad hombres from the local prison to set out after the man with one white eye who led the band of cut throats responsible.  This man Benedict won the medal of honor during the civil war but his morals will be twisted and turned inside out by the time he reaches the man he wants to kill more than anything in the world. William Holden is a solid actor easily capable of tracing this character arc during the course of the film. One of the prisoners thinks he may be the lost son of Mr. Benedict. There are some others of middling interest. The outdoor locations look suitably rugged. In keeping with the times there is a great deal of bloodshed with every battle. However something is missing. The plot kind of skips along. I don’t merrily I mean as if it just skips over long sections of time and leaves out portions of the plot line.

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We never get to see this randy group of miscreants do any real bonding with Benedict. There is one scene early on where he shows them how tough he is. We later find out that he greases up his holster for a quick draw and ties his trigger back so he can shoot faster. But we are denied any scenes of him earning their respect and vice versa. At one point they ride up a trail on a sunny day in the mountains. When they come down the other side we see them from way above. Everything is covered in snow and we hear someone complain that they have been on the trail for two years. Where did those two years go? There are none of those great male bonding scenes that Sam Peckinpah was so good at portraying. This crew is obviously devoted to Benedict but time and time again we see them choose to keep riding along with him because they have nothing better to do.

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At one point Holden gets shot and left for dead. The film stops being a rugged western and becomes a two person play with Susan Hayward (The Birds) suddenly brought in to play the Irish nurse who can give him back his health and let him find love again. She is a tough lady with a big heart and lots of homespun advice. Benedict turns a cold shoulder to her but eventually is won over. We know he likes her because he hauls himself out
of bed to go out in the field to help her dig potatoes out of the ground before it gets too cold. We see these two amazing actors sitting next to each other just filling baskets with dirty potatoes. That’s a pretty clichéd image there. Then all of a sudden Benedict runs into the old gang. Everyone is good friends again and they take off after the man with one eye since Borgnine knows he is being held prisoner by a cavalry outfit. They ride in to shoot the guy but wind up taking a heroic stand against overwhelming odds. They join the cavalry who are outnumbered by Indians who fill the horizon line.

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The film is more of a snack than a meal. Woody Strode is dressed in an outlandish outfit that makes him look like he should be in a road show of the play Purlie. It’s hard to know if the script was tampered with and cut down or if it was written badly from the start. The other real puzzler her is that Daniel Mann was chosen as the director. If anything he had a reputation for adapting stage plays into dramatic movies. Later in his career he had success with two very different films for him – Our Man Flint (1966) and Willard (1971). His talents just feel wrong for this. There are none of the kind of textures that should inhabit a western like this. The other factor that hampers this film so strongly is the poorly matched music. Pino Calvi’s score is brash and brassy. The quick tempos and melodies would seem more suited to any number of TV cop shows of the period. Still Holden and Borgnine are fun to watch. Borgnine had really perfected the art of the larger than life character who is along for the ride. He’s the only one that brings some fun into the proceedings.

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The cool looking posters and ad campaign touted the line, “He brought six men out of Hell and they brought it with them – These are The Revengers!”. If you loved the Wild Bunch the casting may hold out the promise of rejoining Holden and Borgnine together again. The film Holden made right before this one was The Wild Rovers (1971) with Ryan O’Neil. It was directed by Blake Edwards. It too was a western that meandered around too much. The ending was very bloody with squibs exploding all over. That one didn’t work either. Holden went on to much better films in the twilight of his career. So did Borgnine.

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Video – 2.35:1
Much of the exterior footage looks bright and detailed. When things get dark either inside or outside the presentation suffers. Black levels are not strong enough to sustain when the images are not lit by sunlight.

Audio – DTS Mono
All dialogue is clear. The effects fit well enough in the mix. The music tends to be obtrusive both due to the nature of the compositions and the sound levels. It also feels a bit on the sharp or trebley side.

Extras – Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Fair / Good

Lost Soul The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

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Stars – Marlon Brando, Fairuza Balk, Richard Stanley, Nelson de la Rosa Martínez
Director – David Gregory

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

H.G. Wells’ book The Island of Dr, Moreau (1896) was made into the pre-code film  The Island of Lost Souls in 1932. That fabulous version with Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi fell out of circulation for many years until it recently resurfaced in a glorious edition from Criterion. There is a version called The Island of Dr. Moreau from 1997 with Burt Lancaster and Michael York that was pretty disappointing. Word had been circulating about a new version that was going to be really true to the Wells’ source novel for some years. The story about how that version almost came to be, feel through and then became the mess that was released in 1996 is enough to make ol’ Mr. Wells get up out of his grave and look for somebody to smack up side the head. This documentary is the story of that train wreck. Good intentions either ran or were driven off the rails in spectacular fashion. And then there is the little pink guy…

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Richard Stanley is alternately a very cool guy with a unique vision and a man who is seriously way in over his head. He had made the well regarded low budget science fiction film Hardware (1990). His next film Dust Devil (1992) got mixed reviews and the final cut was withheld from him. Different cuts of the film were released at various running times.  He finally got his version of the film released about a year later. Since then the only piece I have seen of his was a short film, Mother of Toads in the anthology collection The Theatre Bizarre (2011).  David Gregory met Stanley on this film which led the usually reclusive man to open up for this strange and fascinating documentary. Clearly something happened to put Stanley off his movie making game after Dr. Moreau.

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We hear Stanley recount his genuinely enthusiastic approach to pre-production. He takes us through story and character concepts. We see an amazing gallery of artwork. There appears to be an awful lot of inspiration but not a lot of plain old grunt work getting the production together. Documentary director Gregory was fortunate to be able to interview people from New Line the distributor of the project so we get to hear their growing sense of wariness. Actress Fairuza Balk recounts her experience on the film. There are several crew members and various production personnel sitting for on camera interviews, too. Essentially the set in an actual rainforest on the coast of Australia is decimated by torrential rains and flooding. Stanley is booted off the project and John Frankenheimer (The Train) is brought in to straighten all of this out and to get the shooting finished.

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There are so many ludicrous stories. German actor Marco Hofschneider was brought in to play the character M’Ling who had become the most trusted aide of Moreau. In the script he is virtually inseparable from him. However once Marlon Brando gets to the set he spots Nelson de la Rosa Martínez who was one of the shortest people in the world at two feet and four inches. Nelson had become something of a sensation on Hispanic Television shows. Brando insists the man be dressed like a miniature version of himself and appear in every scene with him. Poor Hofschneider gets virtually written out of the film due to the whim. There are tons of stories about Brando’s cordial though wacky behavior. Val Kilmer appears to have been a first class bully to everyone there. At one point a rumor circulates that Richard Stanley has been living in the jungles and plans to sneak on to the set and burn it to the group. We find out that he does come on the set but disguised as one of the animal creatures.

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Filmmaking can be magical. It can be boring and tedious. Sometimes it is just a job. At times it can be fascinating to watch some of these artists at work. This shoot was just off the rails. After seeing this compelling story of lunacy I definitely have to see this film again. Not that it was that good but now after knowing the behind the scenes tales it should be a hoot. Lost Soul is a wild journey to take. You’ll be glad you’re watching this and not in it or anywhere nearby.

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Video – Widescreen Anamorphic 1.77:1
The recent interviews all look fine. There are older archival interviews and clips from all manner of home movies that very wildly in quality. Many of the graphics and artwork developed for the film look amazing.

Audio – Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
The recent interviews are all fine. While some of the more amateur footage is not up to industry standards it all helps to support and round out the film just fine.

Extras -(from the one disc edition)  Outtakes – Interviews with Richard Stanley, Marco Hofschneider, Graham Humphreys and others, Graham Humphreys Concept Gallery With Commentary By Richard Stanley, Archive Moreau Interview With John Frankenheimer, Barbara Steele Recalls Moreau Audio Interview, The Beast Of Morbido Featurette, Return To The Moreau Locations Featurette Boar Man Diary

Even though they have been on display in the body of the film the gallery of illustrations from Graham Humphreys is outstanding.

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

Blue Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

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Stars – Tim Holt, Hans Conreid, Gordon Jones, Barbara Darrow Audrey Dalton
Director – Arnold Laven

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This is one of the great grade B giant monster pictures that rose up from the depths of the 1950’s to play across television screens to the delight of monster fans. It was a staple of creature feature programming on television all through the sixties and seventies. During the eighties stations began to turn their back on many of the black and white horror and science fiction films in favor of maintaining all color schedules. If you have missed this one now is a great time to get reacquainted as this new Blu-Ray release looks spectacular.

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While there are recognizable steps taken in the film’s set up once things get going The Monster That Challenged the World has more than enough of its own style to hold its bug-eyed head high. Two navy sailors stumble on a huge creature that savages both of them. We get a bit more than a fleeting glimpse when Tim Holt leads a crew out to investigate. Holt is instantly recognizable from a slew of westerns and his major role in the Bogart classic, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). He brings a great presence to the film. He can act, too. Holt is the new Lieutenant on the local oceanfront base. At first he is so by the book and uptight that the crew there dismisses him. Also on hand is the scientist Dr. Rogers. He and his team have been doing experiments in The Salton Sea. An attack on a couple swimming after dark seals the deal. Something must be done now.  A sample of the prehistoric looking mollusk is brought in for examination.

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As soon as Dr. Rogers speaks many will recognize the voice of Hans Conreid who did the voice of Snidely Whiplash on Rocky and Bullwinkle as well as Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan cartoon. He also played the title role in the Dr. Seuss film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953). He is very solid here in one of hiss few non comedy roles. Usually in these kinds of pictures the military and scientists have a pissing match over how to handle the creature. In this one Conreid takes control of the investigation and figures out how they are going to control and defeat the beast. Holt will handle all the problems that come up.  After a quick science class lesson on the evolution of the mollusk Dr. Rogers figures out that the things have been searching for food by swimming through of a series of connecting locks. Holt sends men out to watch for an appearances so they can trap the things in the locks and dispatch them. There is an attack out at one of these locks that looks great. The water and the locking mechanism makes for a terrific location that is rarely seen.

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Meanwhile the sample creature eggs are kept in a big tub with the temperature dial set low enough that there is no danger of them heating up enough to hatch. Gail (Audrey Dalton) works at the base. She is finishing up there while her daughter Sandy plays with the bunny rabbits that are in the science lab. Sandy is better than your average monster bait thanks to some decent acting by Mimi Gibson. Naturally when her favorite bunnies get a little bit chilly she turns the heat up and the giant monster soon appears.

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Aside from the sea attacks the biggest monster scene is back at the lab where the creature has Gail and Sandy trapped. Tim Holt has to save them. The creature looms up very tall with menacing mandibles that flex. It starts eating its way through a door that the girls are hiding behind. We’re given a good live action monster here. The big eyes are scary but it’s those extended chompers that do the trick. There is easily enough of the monster on screen to satisfy fans. The character of the people at the base and local town are handled very well. Most of the acting is believable. There is a nice dynamic between Holt’s Lieutenant and Gail and her daughter Sandy. Abbott and Costello fans will get a kick out of seeing Gordon Jones aka Mike the Cop as the town’s sheriff. The Monster That Challenged The World holds up as a great film for giant creature fans. The casting, acting, effects and direction lift this one up to the higher ranks of the genre. The disc has a great cover, too.

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Video – 1.85:1
The widescreen aspect ratio looks good here. The previous Midnite Movies double feature release (with It The Terror Beyond Space) presented it in full screen. The whole film looks entirely clearer with much better detail. Black levels are solid. There is a nice gray scale on display too. This is a major improvement and a terrific presentation.

Audio – DTS Mono with no subtitles offered
All dialogue is clear.

Extras – Commentary by film historian Tom Weaver, Trailer
Weaver’s commentary offers a boatload of information on the film. He seems to have had conversations with every other person on screen. It’s a fun track and enhances your appreciation of the film. There’s good information on Tim Holt and what he did when he took off from the movie business .

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

Blue Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

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Stars – Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges, Michelle Pfieffer
Director – Steve Kloves

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

How many films about brothers actually feature real life brothers who are actors? I suppose the Mack Daddy of any of these would be Walter Hill’s 1980 western, The Long Riders. He used four sets of actual brothers. The Keaches to play Jesse and Frank James, the Carradine clan to portray the younger brothers, the Quaids as the Millers, and even Christopher Guest and his brother to play the Fords. Sure there were comedy teams like The Marx Brothers, The Ritz Brothers and the Howards better known as The Three Stooges. In any event it is not at all common. Jeff Bridges has had a long string of very interesting films dating all the way back to The Last American Hero (1973), Bad Company (1972) and The Last Picture Show (1971). He’s very accomplished and is pretty cool, too. Beau Bridges has always worked very steadily since the seventies. Beau is the older one. He even pitched in with helping to raise younger brother Jeff while his dad was off working. Is Beau the steadier older one and Jeff the cooler one who may need that steadying hand? That is certainly the relationship we see in their characters as The Fabulous Baker Boys unfolds.

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The brothers have a two piano lounge act. They play hotels and motor lodges. As the film opens booking after many years are starting to peter out. Beau caves into unsolicited advice and decides they should try out a featured singer, a girl to front the tunes and play more to the crowd. There is a very funny sequence with too many horrible singers trying out. One even offers Jeff the instructions for the song she wants to sing. He doesn’t need them. Late to the auditions and looking like someone who just got out of bed is the answer to their problems in Michelle Pfeiffer. She can put a song over, she can be sexy and see seem to know all about the hotel scene having worked as an escort during way too many conventions. Susie Diamonds joins Frank (Beau) and Jack (Jeff) and the new act is born.

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With the new singer they are back in the game. Bookings pick up. Their repertoire consists of predictable standards. During one show Susie climbs up on the piano that Jack is playing and croons a very sultry version of Makin’ Whoopee. She’s got a way with the crowd that works much better than brother Frank’s corny show bizz style introductions.  The film flirts with a forties feel but the photographic compositions are much more suited to a later age. We are treated to so many glorious back alleys and side streets. The hotels, the bars and the lounges have a distinctly late eighties feel to them. The run down becomes almost chic and adorably melancholy under Michael Ballhaus’ incredible camera work. Look at Jack Barker’s dumpy but comfy apartment with homemade rack after rack of albums lining the walls. He’s even got a sweet kid that comes in from the fire escape to water his plants in return for some piano lessons and fleeting father figure company. The pace of the film is somewhat slack and it takes its time to get to the inevitable. When Frank is called away for a family emergency one night Jeff drops Feelings from the set breaking one long standing rule and then breaks another unsaid rule by sleeping with the singer.

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Writer-director Steve Kloves gives us a very nice slice of life with his feature debut. The music while good is not great. This is a hotel lounge act. The interplay between the Bridges brothers is very nice though. They have an easy used to each other rapport and yet each is so different than the other. While each brother plays guitar in real life and though they look pretty good the piano playing is handled by pros for them. There may have been a few instances where each of them does some actual playing. Michelle Pfieffer had just come off of a Jonathan Demme film Married to the Mob and she brings a bit of that tough girl from Brooklyn with her. However she finds her own notes. Many of the scenes with her and Jeff Bridges show a very neat interplay. The flirting is at once obvious and so natural to each of their characters, yet the real feelings below the surface seem to scare the hell out of each of them.

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Steve Kloves went on to write the script for the incredible and lovely quirky film The Wonder Boys next. Now he is most well know for a slew of Harry Potter adaptations.  The Fabulous Baker Boys is a nice cocktail. It does not deliver anything all that unexpected and yet spending time with these three on the road is just a very nice package. We know that Jack can really play and is holding back just to carry his brother musically. We also know that Frank does all the business, dealing with the bookings and such that Jack has no head for. That’s fine. This is not a film about revelations just realizations. These are things that any stranger can see about them. But for some reason the brother do not. They bring a singer into the act and after so many years these things finally come to the surface. Nicely told, nicely played and beautifully acted and photographed.

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Video – 1.85:1
The presentation here does justice to Michael Ballhaus’ marvelous photography. There is detail and good black levels but what really catches your eye is this slightly muted tone he uses throughout. He gets some really wonderful compositions that elevate the entire look and feel of the film.

Audio – DTS-HD 2.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear and understandable. The music is very clean and clear. In another era there may have been a more realistic sound with the ambience of the restaurant played up more but here we always hear both hands of both players. The vocals are also very assured and front and center.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Commentary with with writer-director Steve Kloves and film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Commentary with director of photography Michael Ballhaus Deleted scenes, Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent