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Archive for April, 2016

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane (1976) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

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Actors – Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Alexis Smith, Scott Jacoby, Mort Shuman
Director – Nicholas Gessner

Released by Kino Lorber

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

When this came out it was regarded as a great sleeper by those who managed to see it. The film was heavily promoted as a horror film with a poster that showed a dark silhouette of a little girl standing over a freshly dug grave. The movie is in fact a very well thought out mystery with a narrative that keeps twisting and turning in refreshing directions. Naturally any film about a precocious kid who may be a murder lives and dies by the performance of the person cast in the lead role. Jodie Foster won accolades and an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress for her work as the teenage prostitute Iris in Taxi Driver. She also won raves for her role in Alan Parker’s gangster musical Bugsy Malone. Four films with her came out in 1976. It was very clear that not only could she act but that she could handle more mature material. This was one child actor that was going to stay in the business well beyond her early years.

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Foster plays a girl who lives almost all by herself in a big remote house in a very old fashioned community. She is incredibly self reliant. She cashes travelers checks at the bank, has her groceries delivered and does not bother with going to school. Her father is a poet who apparently spends most of his time traveling or locked in his room working.  He bought a three year lease on the house after his wife died. As the film starts two people start to pick away and prod at this world that young Ryan (Foster) has carefully constructed for herself. First up to bat is Martin Sheen. He is a pervert whose mother’s political connections in town managed to keep him out of jail. He comes trick or treating to her house just oozing lecherous and predatory behavior. When he finds out it is her birthday he gives Ryan a swat on the butt that it very creepy.

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The next one to call on Ryan is Mrs. Hallet played by Alexis Smith. She is the women who leases them the house. She is also Sheen’s mother. She is bossy and judgmental. Hallet behaves as if she is the sole voice of the town and it is her job as the realtor to protect everyone from people like Ryan and her father. Her remarks are full of prejudice against Jews and artists. She snaps out demands and instructions while promising to report Ryan at the next school board meeting. You want Foster to scream, you’re not the boss of me and throw this bitch out on her ear.

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Ryan does have two allies though. One is the friendly neighborhood cop. Mort Schuman who wrote classic rock songs with his partner Doc Pomus like Save The Last Dance For Me and Viva Las Vegas turns in a surprisingly effective role as Officer Miglioriti. If you ever needed a friend when you’re in trouble this is guy you’d want. Shuman connects so easily with Foster here. Their scenes together have a genuine charm to them. Then there is Scott Jacoby as the nerdy kid with a childhood limp who hides his loneliness in a magician’s top hat. Jacoby got a lot of nerdy little boy roles but he is best remembered as the creepy kid who lived inside the walls in the TV Movie Bad Ronald. His character and Foster’s begin a friendship that turns to romance.

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Laird Koenig’s script based on his novel behaves very much like a stage play. Most of the film takes place in the living room. Director Gessner’s blocking is very concentrated too. Much of the film is shot with a standard TV movie kind of lighting. Nothing is outstanding. There are no camera flourishes. Everything is clear. This allows us to focus on the characters and the narrative which constantly keeps closing in on Ryan. We’re clearly on her side rooting for her to protect her fragile world. Yet there are these strong suspicions about her behavior and some of the missing people who have come to the house. Koenig’s story works well. He solves the mystery and stays true to his characters. That last shot which holds on Foster’s face for what feels like a full three minutes as the credits role gives us just the right tone to finish on. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a highly recommend film. It’s a solid mystery with some horrorific shadings driven by an excellent cast. Back when it came out it was one of those films that those in the know loved to turn their friends on to. It is still not nearly as well known as it deserves to be. They call them sleepers and this is absolutely one of them.

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Video – 1.85:1
Colors are all fine. Source materials appears to be in fine shape. The film has a flat TV movie kind of look to it. However that suits the theatrical stage play feeling of the film well.

Audio – English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track with no subtitles offered
All dialogue is easily understood. Effects and music sit well in the mix.

Extras – On Camera interview with star Martin Sheen, Commentary with director Nicolas Gessner, Conversation between Sheen and Gessner, Original theatrical trailer, Reversible cover with original poster

For Sheen and Gessner’s conversation we watch Sheen converse with the director seen via Skype on a computer screen. Sheen is very effusive in both this one and his solo interview about the relaxed set the director created. He remembers how impressed he was with Foster‘s acting ability at such a young age. He also assures us that no real hamsters were hurt in the making of the film.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

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Actors – Traci Lords, Dominuque Swain, Cindy, Lucas, Amy Holt, Corey Landis, John Callahan, Christine Nguyen

Director – Jim Wynorski

Released by Scream / Shout Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The title promises a salacious mash up of exploitive women’s prison pictures and the current trend for monster sharks on the loose. Director Jim Wynorski is well known for his string of low budget films that usually embrace a love of B movies and have a good time doing it. Chopping Mall (1986) and Big Bad Mama II (1987) were followed by dozens of films that seemed alternately directed at the raging hormones of young teen boys and good old tongue in cheek action or horror flicks. This one starts off with a group of female prisoners being driven off to a work detail clad in tank tops and short shorts. At the same time some kind of freakish dinosaur shark is one the loose. When it swims through the water we can see all kinds of protruding spikes along its back. That part of it looks pretty cool. However when it strikes an unsuspecting person it becomes a blur of sped up CGI that looks terrible. In short order we find out that this kind of shark can travel just beneath the ground. When it moves this way it looks like an agitated ground hog trying to imitate the monster worms in Tremors (1990).

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Eventually the prisoners who are armed and on the loose have to join up with some law enforcement types. They take refuge in a remote cabin in the woods while trying to fend off the land sharks. Yes there are more of them. Despite many situations that would be ripe for some good action, suspense, horror effects, humor or even a little gratuitous nudity nothing worthwhile ever shows up. The film never delivers on the promise made by that great title and the cover artwork. John Callahan turns in a pretty decent performance. He’s a generous actor but few of the others here are even passable here. What we are left with is a Syfy Channel type movie that is just not much fun. Some of them are well over the top and in the right mood are a real hoot. This one is no Sharktopus.

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Video – 1.78:1
The picture looks fine.

Audio – DTS-HD 5.1 with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is clear and easy to follow.

Extras – Commentary with director Jim Wynorski and actresses Cindy Lucas and Amy Holt, Still gallery

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Fair

Cutter’s Way (1981) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

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Stars – Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, Ann Dusenberry, Nina Van Pallandt
Director – Ivan Passer

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

I dare you not to become enthralled with the opening of this film. It’s a parade coming down the Street. Black and white. There’s a very pretty girl dancing in front of the marching band. People are crowded together on the sidewalks. Maybe this took place a long time ago. Then ever so slowly color begins to seep in. Eventually the street, the bands, the crowds and that pretty girl are all in full color. And then the color blooms  even brighter. Are we in the present tense now? Does this mean things are not what they seem? Or is it just a trick to get us to pay attention? Director Ivan Passer then introduces us to the very small cast.

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Jeff Bridges (Bone) always picked interesting films to do particularly before the nineties. They may not all be great or even good but they are all worth a look. Bone sells expensive boats and yachts for a living although we get the feeling he never exactly manages to really sell any of them. He may be some kind of gigolo to the occasion older woman though there is no evidence he earns much off this activity either. John Heard (Cutter) who I first saw in the indie film about an underground newspaper, Between The Lines, then in Chilly Scenes of Winter is an exceptional actor. Here he gets to roar like an alcoholic lion, bellowing curses and complex references that only a few will understand. He welcomes Bridges into the bar by calling him Ishmael like Melville’s hero. Cutter is a war vet. He is missing an arm, a leg and sports an eye patch over his face. Whenever we see him he is in varying degrees of being pissed and pissed off. Lisa Eichhorn plays his wife, Mo. She drinks hard liquor out of an open bottle and looks to be permanently in a state of depression though she does have a very sexy and endearing smile that she brings out on occasion.

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Coming out of the bar Bone may have seen someone throw a dead body out of his car. We can definitely see a pair of high heeled feet sticking up out of a trash can. He gets interrogated by the cops as a witness but may be a suspect, too. Later he thinks the guy may have been the rich and arrogant powermeister of California, J. J. Cord. Cutter latches onto this like a pit bull and won’t let it go. The older sister of the murdered girl shows up to ask if Bone can help with the case. She is very fetching. Soon the three of them are off and running on the case. Cutter wants Bone to blackmail Cord and when he pays off then they can take him and the money to the cops. He sees this act as a way to get even with all the no good rich power brokers that have ruined everything good in his life. Bone takes Valerie, the sister out on a small sailboat and she puts his hand down her shirt. Is this real? Is she some kind of an imaginary pal that Cutter has conjured up to invite them to become this sun and alcohol drenched version of The Mod Squad?

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Halfway through the investigation you think oh hell it doesn‘t matter if they really get the goods on this guy. It’s not really concerned with that. That’s just an excuse for Cutter to push Bone into taking some kind of action with this life, anything. Cutter criticized Bones for his famous walk away strut earlier. It’s the kind of thing only someone close to you would notice. Right about that same time I realized this film had won me over. I’d heard of this film for years but never got around to seeing it. When a film comes out of left field and just makes a connection with you like this it’s rewarding in so many ways. I should have made friends with this film a long time ago. Cutter’s Way is about the friendship of two men who are much more intimate with each other than one of them can admit. Their bond is tested , stretched and finally recognized for what it is really worth.  At least that is how if affected me this time. This is a film that beckons several revisits.

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Video – 1.85:1
That opening shot with the color slowly seeping into the black and white frame is spellbinding. The rest of the film has that rich hazy California sun all over it. Nighttime scenes exhibit good detail with strong black levels. Some scenes feel a bit dreamy while others have a very sharp edge to them which feels very purposeful.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD MA with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is fine and easy to follow. Jack Nitzche’s score has a melancholy beauty to it. He uses a glass harp on the track and other eclectic instruments. At times it sounds like we are listening to a saw being played by a virtuoso musician. The textures in this track are similar to what he did in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It is a gorgeous and strangely compelling score that fit’s the film beautifully.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, Original theatrical trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent / Classic

Chato‘s Land (1972 )Blu-Ray Review

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

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Stars – Charles Bronson,James Whitmore, Simon Oakland, Jack Palance, Ralph Waite, Richard Jordan
Director – Michael Winner

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Charles Bronson and Michael Winner worked together for the first time and produced a tough hardscrabble western that holds up nicely. There is a special kind of western that pits one lone Indian against a large posse of men. Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969) features Robert Redford leading a manhunt for Robert Blake who has run off with Katherine Ross. The Stalking Moon (1968) took a whole different tack, almost behaving like a horror movie. Gregory Peck escorts a white woman and her son who have been freed from an Indian Camp. The boy’s Apache father is known as The Ghost. He wipes out an entire camp of soldiers during the night in pursuit of them. The ghost tracks them attacking at night moving in the shadows. The film’s tagline was , “A Western with a difference- An exercise in sheer suspense and terror!” For my money the one that really sent shivers down your spine, was Ulzana’s Raid (1972). Burt Lancaster is the scout for a party of raw soldiers who are hopelessly outclassed. The violence is savage. The threat of Ulzana’s war party is palpable. Lancaster shows a healthy respect for the marauding Ulzana. It’s curious that this group of films all came out within a scant few years of each other. The late sixties and early seventies saw many classic genres turned on their heads. Sure there was a growing respect for the Native American that had been present in mainstream films as far back as Run of the Arrow (1957) and Broken Arrow (1950) through Cheyenne Autumn (1964) , but these films contained a fascination with the warrior skills. There was an appreciation for the culture and strategy that went way beyond the skills one had with a bow and arrow. They commanded your attention and held it.

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In Chato’s Land Bronson’s character leads the pursuing posse deep into the rugged mountain terrain where he lives. In the early part of the film he lets the land unravel the party. They have trouble finding water. They only have the food they brought with them. Bronson scrambles over the mountain tops looking down at them from the desired vantage point. He is largely silent in the film, hardly ever talking. In the first scene Bronson shoots a man in self defense at a bar. Jack Palance dons his old Confederate Army uniform and leads a group of men after him. A few of them are legitimately tough guys. Richard Jordan seems to always have women on his mind and not in a good way.  Its clear these guys thought that could string up The Breed as they call him after one day’s ride. The days drag on and the land pounds at them. Screenwriter Gerald Wilson makes a nice point by letting Chato use the actual land to defeat them.

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There is a scene in this film which had been heavily edited. Parts of it were even shot in two versions allowing for a toned down sequence to be in the American PG rated release. Twilight Time uses the unexpurgated European version (100 minutes) which contains some graphic nudity in the rape of Chato’s wife. Director Winner also filmed Chato’s Indian friend being tied up and hung upside down over a fire that burns him alive. This is a rough one two punch to take. It’s meant to show us why Chato moves into a killing mode for the rest of the film. Indeed he does as he begins to pick the party off one at a time. One can make correlations to the Vietnam war that was raging at the time or just take it as a sanguine revenge saga.  Jerry Fielding’s score works to put us solidly in the Western Movie frame of mind. He supports the change in the tone of the film with some very strong orchestrations. The look of the film is dirty, perhaps more than it needs to be.  Michael Winner made a half dozen films with Charles Bronson over the years. The brutality in this one sets a tone for their cinematic relationship that carried on. He can be heavy handed and not quite up to snuff in many cases but here he delivers a solid western revenge thriller.

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I like a lot of what was in the script that Wilson wrote. Ulzana’s Raid is still the Alpha Dog in this sub genre but there is some nice texture here. The casting is other thing that makes this film as good as it is. Jack Palance (Shane) gives us a truly warped veteran of the Civil War. He’s got plenty of demons. He has a few soliloquies that show how unsettled he is. Richard Jordan (Friends of Eddie Coyle) is a nasty little guy whose character deserves everything he gets. Simon Oakland (TV’s The Night Stalker) gets to stand up to Palance as the two of them drive a wedge between the men. There are shots of a silent patient Bronson just sitting high up on the rocks as these guys go at it and the group begins to break apart.

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Video – 1.85:1
There is no getting around that the look of the film is disappointing. It is overly contrasty in sections. Focus is frequently soft. Even in the desolate craggy mountains there is a noticeable lack of detail. There were certain film stocks in that era that yielded this grainy indistinct look. And yes there was a bit of a trend that favored soft focus in that time period too. About the only time we get a strong picture is in the exterior daylight close ups of faces. This may be a case of a good transfer of poor source materials. It is entirely watchable but be prepared that it will look dull throughout. The publicity pictures used in this review do not reflect the quality of the Blu-Ray image.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD MA with subtitles offered in English SDH
Dialogue is understandable. There is a bit of dubbing done in post production. Jerry Feilding’s score is rendered nicely here. You can appreciate his arrangement. His style fits westerns so well.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Screenwriter Gerald Wilson on Chato’s Land, Original trailer

The interview with writer Gerald Wilson shows how purposeful he was in the creation of the landscape as a major part of the film. He also explains the parallels with the Vietnam war.

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

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Good / Excellent