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Archive for January, 2016

Bound For Glory (1976) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

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Stars – David Carradine, Ronny Cox, Melinda Dillon, Randy Quaid, M’ Emmet Walsh
Director – Hal Ashby

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

There are two wonderful accomplishments in Bound For Glory. One you have seen and the other had never been seen before. About an hour and ten minutes into the film David Carradine as Woody Guthrie puts his guitar down and gets up out of his shambles. He’s living in a Hobo Jungle, a loose collection of homeless people and their families who have thrown together a make shift hodge podge village of wooden lean-tos, tents, cars, sleeping bags, stoves , beds, and chairs. He gets up and starts to wander through the crowd. There is something going on up ahead that has caught everyone’s attention. He works his way around a few people. Woody sidesteps some lady and a few others who don’t see him coming. He’s kind of threading the needle through the crowd, bobbing and weaving his way through. And we are coming right along with him. Yes it’s a longish take but it’s also remarkably even.  We’re able to seemingly walking right alongside Woody as he manages the crowd. Not only is this a very smooth shot but it is a really narrow and changing lane that we are following along. We feel the excitement of making our way through the crowd to see what all the fuss it. He dodges and we dodge. He kind of ambles along and so do we. We see what he sees but most unusually we feel the same kind of walk he does as we both navigate the Hobo Jungle. There had never been a shot like this before. Haskell Wexler the Cinemaphotographer on this film was very accomplished but this was truly amazing. A brand new invention, The Steadicam made its debut in this film. It’s a harness that fits over the operator that has a kind of gyroscope gizmo that keeps the camera level. John Carpenter would make extensive use of this same device in his movie Halloween (1978) just two years later. I can vividly remember the feeling in the theater when I first saw this. It was jaw dropping. Eliminating the need to lay down cumbersome tracks and allowing the camera to glide smoothly basically anywhere a man could walk created a brand new chapter of opportunity in filmmaking.

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The other thing that Hal Ashby’s film does is use Woody Guthrie’s life story to let us experience what the depression was like. Instead of giving us anything like a standard biopic of a musician Hal wanders through America to let us see first hand what this devastating financial calamity has done to the people. He follows Woody’s trek and we follow along. It is not a straight line at all and few directors can meander around as well as Ashby. We meet Guthrie who is a sign painter by trade when he does work. However the guy comes across more like a Bohemian expect he has no Bohemia to be a part of. He writes folks songs but more than that he seems to have this need to “Lit out” just like Mark Twain’s Huck Finn years earlier. We learn how to hop trains and how to evade the mean railroad cops. Woody meets an oddball yet entirely loveable collection of people on his trip to California. We see first hand the tremendous disappointment that meets so many people who sacrificed everything to travel there. The rich orchards of hope become filthy dirty encampments of people who are paid so little to pick fruit that they can barely afford to eat.

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Woody is deeply affected by this. He falls in with a rabble rousing charismatic singer played by Ronny Cox who performs impromptu musical sets at these fruit picking camps while preaching about joining the union. Even as Woody finds fame as a singer with a radio show he still feels this powerful restlessness. Regardless of how many times he abandons his family or lets down the folks who gave him his job singing on the radio he just has to run off to hang out among the people. Ashby’s languid seemingly aimless pace lets us get right up close to the people like Randy Quaid who puts his family and possessions in a car and heads out for the Sunshine State. They sleep and hang out in the car while he lines up for the possibility of working in the orchards. The pay is a few pennies for every full basket. It’s terrible and all it does is breed squalor for the pickers and fortunes for the orchard owners. The hopelessness turns to anger and Woody latches onto that in song.

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David Carradine (Kung-Fu) brings a very realistic laid back tone to his performance. He actually plays guitar and sings. He almost looks too comfortable just leaning against something and soaking up people’s stories or telling his own in song. Ultimately he and Ashby seem much more enthralled with Guthrie’s ability to empathize with the people than his abilities as a singer. At two and a half hours Bound For Glory is in no hurry to get anywhere. The point is to soak up that atmosphere. Wexler’s camerawork is wonderful. At times there is a haze over things. Maybe it is dust in the air or a filter on the lens. It feels like many years ago but the yearning of the people we meet for a fair shake resonates just as if it was today. So many little details are right on the money. The Depression years were a blight on this country and took a real toll on the population. This film puts you right in the dirt. We see the dust bowls with ground so hard and parched you can’t grow anything. We see people cramped together and run out of hope. But then there is Woody’s smile and his faith in people. He learns to extol joining the union and banding together for a better wage and way of life. There is a blurring of the practical and the political. Woody Guthrie the man seemed to let down so many that were close to him yet he was a beacon for so many he did know. Bound For Glory is a powerful film. The technical achievements and entire look of the production are exemplary filmmaking.

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Video – 1.85:1
The hues and textures of the look of this film are carefully executed. This presentation brings all of that out with no shortcoming at all. The tones of the colors, the feel of the dust in the air are so realistic. There is a languid feel that permeates every frame and every pore of the actors that are photographed. The technical marvel of the use of the Steadicam used here can not be overstated. Wexler and Ashby accomplish their goal of showing us what life looked like then but they also give us a real feel for it.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD MA with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easy enough to understand. We hear some nice relaxed guitar oriented themes that echo through the film. Sometimes other instruments carry those phrases. It’s a simple track that does not overwhelm the actors or interfere with the  meandering pace of the film that director Ashby carefully maintains.  We’re given a nice mix that is intentionally unobtrusive.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Original theatrical trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

The Challenge (1982) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

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Stars – Scott Glenn, Toshiro Mifune, Donna Kei Benz, Clyde Kusatsu
Director – John Frankenheimer

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The Challenge has been on many action fans lists of great ones that got away. There has never been a DVD release of this title. If you didn’t see it in the theaters, catch it in one of its fleeting appearances on TV years ago, or rented that VHS copy if your store even carried it you could only hear people talk about what a killer film you were missing. Scott Glenn plays a down on his luck retired boxer who agrees to smuggle a rare Samurai sword into Japan. He barely steps off the plane before he gets waylaid by a group of wise ass Yakuza types. The sword he has is a fake. He was just a decoy. The real focus though is the intriguing back story of a pair of swords. They had been in a family for generations however when the last father in the chain was about to pass them along a bitter feud erupted between two brothers. One is a very successful gangster who dresses in the finest western clothes and employs the annoyingly faux hip guy that jump Scott Glenn at the airport. These guys are about as far away from that Budo code of honor that governed the original owners of these swords as you can get. It is a nice script by John Sayles that weaves the brotherly battle for these swords with a solid appreciation for Saturday afternoon action fare.

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The other brother is a living anachronism played mightily by Toshiro Mifune. Mifune sports long gray hair and a flowing beard. He lives in the country and runs what appears to be a cross between a Samurai and Ninja training camp. They practice traditional weapons like the sword, bow and arrow, shurkin throwing stars, staff and various Ninja tricks. Each brother is committed to joining the two swords again under one roof. After bouncing from side to side in this struggle Scott Glenn pledges himself to Mifune’s camp.  To show his loyalty and commitment he allows himself to be buried in the ground up to his neck. Depending on how long he lasts he may be accepted by Sensei Mifune. The training sequences are compelling as is Glenn’s gradual appreciation of this way of life.  If you have seen The Last Samurai (2003) you will recognize the same dynamic. Like that movie the final battle will come down to sword versus gun.

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The action scenes with Scott Glenn and Mifune laying siege to a modern office building are exciting and well down. The sword play is vicious and a bit more rambunctious that the typical fights in Samurai films. The hand to hand scenes were choreographed with graceful Aikido style throws, flips and savage limb breaks courtesy of a young Steven Segal working as the choreographer. One of the most memorable scenes though is the one where Glenn is treated to several courses of real traditional food when he first arrives at Mifune’s camp. The poor man has to down a glass full of what looks like several live salamanders swimming around. It is great to have The Challenge back in circulation. The battles between the two brothers with old school weapons pitted against modern guns are staged well enough to please any fan of good action. This is practical stuff, too so it packs a nice wallop. Glenn goes from the washed up tough guy to a man of real commitment. His athleticism shows up well in the performance. Mifune is so compelling. Whether he is giving a lecture to his students or drawing back a long bow he holds your complete attention like the true master he is. Highly recommended for action fans. Those who know the film will welcome back an old friend that has been gone too long. Raise up a glass of squiggling little creatures and give a toast to this solid piece of slashing action cinema.

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Video – 1.85:1
The first scene with the man arranging a sword display is a bit too dark but as soon as we are in the gym with the two boxers those concerns go right out the window. Colors are bold. Detail is sharp when seen in the bright lights. Skin colors look fine. The fast action scenes are treated well in the transfer. Easily 95% of the film looks terrific. There are some darker scenes where the grain becomes excessive. Those sequences are a very minor concern based on the overall look of this film.

Audio – DTS Mono with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is easily understood. Music and sound effects come across well. While the sound staging is very simple it is effective.

Extras – None

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

Blu-Ray –  Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Pieces (1983) 3 Disc Special Edition Blu-Ray Coming from Grindhouse Releasing

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

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YOU DON’T HAVE TO GO TO TEXAS FOR A CHAINSAW MASSACRE!

Grindhouse Releasing is proud to present the sickest and most violent of all the early ’80s slasher movies. A psychopathic killer stalks a Boston campus, brutally slaughtering nubile young college co-eds, collecting body parts from each victim to create the likeness of his mother who he savagely murdered with an axe when he was ten years old! PIECES is a wild, unrated gorefest, with enough splatter and sleaze to shock the most jaded horror fan.

‘One of my top horror films of all time! Not only is this the ultimate chainsaw movie, it’s the ultimate slasher film. It has everything you could possibly want, by the bucketful. Full on chainsaw violence, absurd amounts of nudity, and the greatest ending in horror history. A masterpiece of early ’80s sleaze.’ -Eli Roth, director of HOSTEL and THE GREEN INFERNO

‘A barrage of great, graphic entrail-spewed slaughter executed in super-gross European gore technician style.’ – Rick Sullivan, GORE GAZETTE

‘One of the most shocking exponents to hit the Deuce in the 1980s. PIECES went straight for the jugular… one of the few movies at the time that silenced the most raucous grindhouse audiences.’
-Bill Landis, SLEAZOID EXPRESS

‘The best chain-saw flick since the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Head roll before the titles roll. Splatter City.

FOUR STARS!’ -Joe Bob Briggs

SPECIAL FEATURES

- TWO complete versions of this shocking gore classic:
PIECES (83 min.) – the original, unrated U.S. theatrical version, presented in English
MIL GRITOS TIENE LA NOCHE (86 min.) – the original uncensored director’s cut,
presented in Spanish with original score by Librado Pastor (with English Subtitles translated directly from the Spoken Language)
- Spectacular new 4K transfers – scanned from the original camera negative
- Brand new audio commentary by star Jack Taylor
- Special 5.1 audio option – the Vine Theater Experience!
- In-depth interviews with director Juan Piquer Simón and genre superstar Paul L. Smith

- 42nd STREET MEMORIES – all-new feature-length documentary containing interviews with Bill Lustig, Larry Cohen, Frank Henenlotter, Buddy Giovinazzo, Jeff Lieberman, John Skipp, Lynn Lowry, Terry Levene, and many other exploitation icons

- Extensive gallery of stills and poster art
- Exhaustive filmographies
- Liner notes by legendary horrors journalists Chas. Balun and Rick Sullivan
- BONUS CD – original soundtrack – newly remastered from the original studio tapes
- Beautiful embossed slipcover

Color – 1.66:1 – 1983 – UNRATED – ALL REGION

Release date March 1, 2016

- AND OTHER SURPRISES!

The Last Detail (1973) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

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Stars – Jack Nicholson, Nancy Allen, Randy Quaid, Otis Young, Clifton James, Carol Kane, Michael Moriarty,
Director – Hal Ashby

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Two Navy sailors pull a shit detail. They have to escort a young boot to military prison. The poor kid has drawn an eight year sentence for stealing forty dollars from a charity collection box. It was the Commanding Officer’s wife’s favorite charity so the axe falls unfairly hard on him. The sailors are lifers and they feel bad for Meadows (Randy Quaid). What should have been a straight forward train ride from Norfolk, Virginia to Portsmith, Maine turns into a rambling stumble that aims to give young Meadows a good slice of life before he goes to the clink. That’s the whole plot. They visit bars, whore houses, get into fights with Marines, try to pick up girls at a chanting session and spend a good long while downing six packs of Schlitz in a cheap hotel room.

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What makes this film is the stand out performance of Jack Nicholson. One can look back in hindsight to see the stepping stones that led to his emergence as one of the most popular American actors. Easy Rider (1969) had a nicely offbeat run as an alcoholic lawyer in the cult film. Five Easy Pieces (1970) was a surprise art house hit featured that classic response to the waitress who asks Jack where do you want me to hold it? The Last Detail (1973) showed tremendous acting chops and another likeable anti hero bucking the system and sticking it to the man every chance he got. For my money it was the next film Chinatown (1974) that made him a superstar and ensured those courtside seats at The Lakers games. The Last Detail sported very salty language for the time. The curse word count was off the charts. The two lifers swore like the proverbial sailors they actually were. The advertising campaign for the film cleverly hyped that on the film’s posters.  It’s worth noting though that there is not a ship in sight during the whole film. When we first see Nicholson he is asleep in some crappy looking rec room.

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Nicholson is Billy “Badass” Buddusky. Otis Young is Mule. Randy Quaid plays Meadows the big lug. Quaid was wet behind the ears new on this film. He grew up fast as an actor to deliver a strong performance. The trip to prison starts with a cheap bus ride to the train station. You can’t help but feel that this is not the picture of military might. We get a peak at the day to day working of a military life that is not very glorious at all. When the train takes a break at a station they guys look to grab a quick meal. They pass up a fancy looking restaurant. Inside we see people eating nice meals on linen covered tables with attentive waiters. Badass Buddusky peers through the window and rejects this immediately. He likes it sleazy and easy. They wind up in a hamburger joint and get a burger on a plate. No chips, not even a pickle. Meadows wanted more onions but will just eat it the way it is. Badass insists he send it back. Robert Towne’s script highlights this one thing that these guy give him. You have the right to have it your way. We’re talking onions now here but it could be life later. That‘s how they see it.

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The film looks as if director Hal Ashby had it put through a strainer to drain out anything that might look like a well polished Hollywood film. Colors are drab except for the occasional flash of red from the stripes on the guys’ dress uniforms. The lighting is flat. Compositions avoid depth and anything that looks professional. Ashby clearly wanted that down and dirty realistic look for this film. He’d just come off of Harold and Maude with its bouncy Cat Stevens songs. Michael Chapman moved from camera operator to director of photography here and does his best to give Ashby that John Cassavettes streety documentary look. For my taste they go a bit overboard to use a nautical term. The sound is also decidedly second class. We miss some of the lines of dialogue. The locations selected suit the mood of the film beautifully right down to the little dive with the best hot dogs in the world.

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It’s fun to spot Gilda Radner leading a sing along at a Buddhist changing party. We also get to see Jack put the smooth moves on a very bored looking Nancy Allen at another party. He tells her that what he likes most about the uniform is the way it makes his dick look. She is unimpressed with his line. The film meanders a lot. There are some stand out scenes such as the one where Badass tries to get a bartender to serve the clearly underage Meadows. The ending of the film purposely does not feel like the closing chapter of a story. We’re left with the experience of spending a few days with this unlikely trio. The style and theme of the film may be a bit dated but the performance of Jack Nicholson is more than enough to carry you very entertainingly through the film. This guy clearly had the chops and once he got a killer script and a first class production he would go through the roof. Robert Towne, the same screenwriter who did The last Detail, had that script in Chinatown for Jack’s next picture.

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Video – 1.85:1
This is an ugly looking film. There is no getting around that. However the drab and flat look is entirely on purpose. The transfer renders the intended look effectively.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD MA with subtitles offered in English SDH
The first bits of dialogue we hear have an echoey almost tinny quality to them. Things improve however the sound retains a realistic documentary feel to it. While that certainly augments the down and dirty feel of the film some of the lines become difficult to hear. We loose a few lines here and there. The music does not suffer but the accent in the mix is almost entirely on the dialogue. Be assured though that any lines Nicholson wants to make sure you hear you will. He goes from incoherent mumbles to shouting affirmations and wisecracks.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Original theatrical trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie -  Excellent