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Archive for May, 2016

The Crush (1993) Blu-Ray Review

Monday, May 30th, 2016


Actors – Cary Elwes, Alicia Silverstone, Jennifer Rubin, Kurtwood Smith
Director – Alan Shaprio
Released by Scream / Shout Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This was such an easy to spot cover walking down the aisles in the local video rental store. Those seductive eyes looking out from behind the sunglasses were so alluring. It had that MTV style look to it. This was the movie with that girl from the Aerosmith videos. She was the one who bungee jumped off the bridge with the line tied to her belly button ring. Alicia Silverstone made her film debut in a film that seemed like it was from the same neighborhood as Lolita (1962) and Baby Doll (1956). It’s not. It feels much more like and an MTV style version of Fatal Attraction (1987). Alan Shaprio’s film is about a 38 year man who is stalked by a 14 year old girl. She’s the right demographic and certainly looks like she stepped right out of a music video into the movie.

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Cary Elwes (Princess Bride) is new in town. He just got a job with a trendy magazine and rented a guest room attached to a mansion. The parents are away a lot. Alicia Sivlerstone plays their teenage daughter Adrian. Apparently writer, director Alan Shaprio based the character on real life incidents involving a woman named Darian. She filed a lawsuit so newer versions had to change the name. Right from the start she begins flirting with Elwes. What he initially thinks is a harmless school girl crush turns out to be very dangerous. Adrian begins by stealing a picture from Elwes’ desk. Soon she progresses to building a shrine to him in a secret basement room. Before long she sabotages a horse ride of one of her friends who wants to warn Elwes. Jennifer Rubin plays Cary Elwes’ love interest. She gets locked in her photography darkroom with a wasp nest for her trouble. When Adrian’s passions get rebuffed she frames Elwes for raping her. Things come to an expected boil with a tricky ending that you can see coming from miles away. There is a wonderful looking small carousel in the attic that adds considerably to the look of the film’s climatic scene.

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Alicia Silverstone looks great here. She puts on the pouting little girl routine but also handles the more devious aspects of the cracked character well. Cary Elwes who was so endearing in The Princess Bride (1987) and Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood Men in Tights (1993) is much more low key here. The role is written that way and doesn’t really allow for much of his natural personality to shine through. Kurtwood Smith plays the outraged dad. He’ll be immediately familiar to anyone who saw the original Robocop (1987) as the leader of the gun toting gang. Rightfully so the film belongs to Ms. Silverstone. Thanks to her work here she was cast in her most well known role in Clueless (1995) . The Crush is very much of its time. It’s an enjoyable flick, nothing more.

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Video – 1.85:1
Everything looks fine here. Detail is good. Black levels and colors hold up well.

Audio – DTS 5.1 Master with subtitles offered in English.
There is a written note on the screen before the film starts that states some of the phasing is off on the track. Better audio materials were not able to be sourced. Any drawbacks due to this were extremely minimal. Dialogue was easy to follow. Much of the music is pretty poor but that’s the way it was written. It certainly fits the time period.

Extras – NEW Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Alan Shapiro, NEW The Doting Father – An Interview With Kurtwood Smith, NEW Stung By Love – An Interview With Actress Jennifer Rubin, Theatrical Trailer, TV Spot

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, May 28th, 2016


Actors – John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, Toby Stevens, David Constable and James Badge Dale
Director – Michael Bay
Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

What happened on the night of September 11, 2012 in Banghazi has been subjected to so much political posturing and media manipulation that the idea of a movie made about it  seems like it’d be filled with even more of the same. That is absolutely not the case here. The film was based on the book, 13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff. The author had direct access to the surviving members of the security group that defended the compound that night. Chuck Hogan’s screenplay follows right along and wisely keeps the story right on the ground with those guys. There is a lot of attention to detail on display. Not only is the narrative intact but the entire look and feel of the place puts us right there. There is a tremendous amount of fighting to be seen but it is the character of those six guys whose behavior that night that really grabs you.

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Though the crew of elite ex military men feels like they are mercenaries they are actually contractors who have been hired by the government to protect the small CIA outpost in Libya. They are hired guns a point that the CIA director there continually points out. Every other country has pulled their embassies out of there but the CIA is clandestinely on hand to monitor and interrupt the sale of military grade weapons that have been stolen when the government was toppled. It is truly one of the most dangerous places in the world. A new member to the team arrives. He is welcomed and easily fits in with the rag tag looking GRS (Global Response Staff) team. The CIA staff all look like nerds. The GRS guys all have beard and stay to themselves. They are very relaxed but always give off the air that though they may slouch and joke around they could rip a whole in the sky at a moment’s notice. They are cool but they are decidedly the real thing. There is an encounter on the street when thing get very hairy very quickly yet the pair of GRS guys just stay clam and mange it.

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A US ambassador comes in to this hot zone and starts working the local factions. Though he appears to be liked and operating on a well intended mission the security team realizes he is just tap dancing on a powder keg here. He establishes himself right nearby in a very obvious and ostentatious location. The next night he and the outpost are attacked. The GRS guys size up the situation right away but are forbidden to get involved by the CIA director. Precious time passes and the Ambassador’s building is overrun. After a rescue mission that they all feel is too late the crew regroups at the CIA command center and sets up for what will be another attack. As the forces begin to gather on the streets we see a very low angle shot running along the ground. What we notice is that most of these guys are wearing combat boots. This is no spontaneous mob but a real coordinated attack.

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The film runs two hours and twenty four minutes. The bulk of it deals with that night. There is so much chaos and confusion in the streets. There are semi-military factions that are loyal to the US. Several others are in bloody competition to take over the place. One of the guys has a hand signal he uses to determine the friendlies. They exchange the old surfer’s wave with the thumb and pinky extended. It signals, “ I’m ok, cool.” While the guys run from the burning outpost back to the CIA center they notice an open door on the street. The door is only open because it is hot. Inside they are watching a soccer game seemingly oblivious to what is happening outside.

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13 Hours has tremendous production design. The buildings, the cars, and the rows of sellers in the market stalls that sell fruit and RPGs right next to each other all look real. The cast that plays the six intrepid men communicate both a mastery of elite strategic combat skills as well as that close camaraderie born from extreme circumstance. We see them cover the CIA meetings. They survey the area and yank them out of danger with a minimum of movement and no Hollywood style chatter at all. Back at the ranch they play video games and crack wise with each other. The portrayal feels very real. During the long siege these guys all show an expert knowledge of how to defend the castle. It’s six warriors with very minimal help against a large and growing group outside in the dark. The night vision goggles and laser sighting on their rifles show us how they pick their targets. They coldly assess the situation. One of them makes a remark about The Alamo. There have been several siege movies with the small outnumbered group of heroes defending themselves against all odds. The Alamo and Zulu were also based on true incidents. The real life incident here is still so recent, so fresh in our memory.

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Michael Bay’s track record of bombastic box office smashes in no way prepares you for this extremely solid film. Every over the top ridiculous trait is left at the door. His flair for action and fluid camera movement has never been better. However this time he’s got both feet on the ground and is aided by the incredible camera work of Dion Beebe.  The vast array of colors that paint the background is gorgeous . This guy used all manner of lenses and portable light weight cameras to put us right in the middle of the action. We also are treated to some unexpectedly beautiful shots of the war torn city at night. Right next to the CIA compound is a series of metal tubing that looks like ribs supporting white sheets. Beebe bathes them in a cobalt blue at first. Then as the battle that night progresses he references them again only now the sheets are torn to ribbons and blasted full of machine gun holes. After the battle when the first few shards of sunlight come up we see them again, only now they are splattered with blood. It’s a powerful image.

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Video – 2.39:1
This film is a real treat for the eyes. Long shots are filled with colors that feel borrowed from a rock show experience yet play remarkably well here. Many of the nighttime compositions show an unexpected beauty. It’s fun to guess when we are in the hands of an actual cameraman or some Go-Pro attached to a drone or something. Some of the shots literally take off to give us a much needed map-like overview of the situation.  The film has sharp detail and a strong exhibition of color. At times we get very close in on faces that retain detail and proper texture. Though this may be a bit showy for some it is a tremendous visual experience.

Audio – English Dolby Atmos English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 English Dolby Digital 5.1 French Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 English Dolby Digital 2.0 with subtitles offered in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese.

The new Atmos feature will default to whatever is the best match in your rig.  There is some very nice separation in the sound. The directionality plays well. The film does not exhibit the extra loud thunder crack in the subwoofer you’d expect. But that’s fine the overall mix is very immersive.

Extras – For the Record: Finding the Truth Amid the Noise, Uncovering Benghazi’s Secret Soldiers, Preparing for Battle: Behind the Scenes of 13 Hours, Premiere Coverage.

The second featurette that shows how the actors and real life warriors bonded during the pre-production process and even in to the actual filming is great to watch. While the ex-military guys instruct the actors in what happened and how the actors are doing a strong character analysis. It’s uncanny how close they get. The warmth and buddy-buddy behavior feels very real and no doubt aided tremendously to what we see on screen.
There are a couple of very touching moments at the premier of the film.

The three disc set includes the feature in Blu-ray on one, additional extras on another and the film in DVD on the third.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Garden Of Evil (1954) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016


Stars – Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, Susan Hayward, Cameron Mitchell, Hugh Marlowe
Director – Henry Hathaway

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In order to compete with the growing threat to the box office from Television Twentieth Century Fox put a lot into the development of the new Cinemascope process. Bausch & Lomb even won a special award at the Oscars in 1954 for their work with the process.  While Garden of Evil was not the first one out of the gate it was one of the early ones. Big stars like Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward and Richard Widmark saddled up for the major ride. The whole thing was also shot in the popular colorful Technicolor. Alfred Hitchcock favorite Barnard Herrmann did the score. The whole production led by Henry Hathaway went off to shoot on location in exotic locales in Mexico. From the opening shots to the end the film looks like a million bucks. We gets vistas and landscapes that stretch from one side of the screen to the other. And in movie theaters the new Cinemascope look gave audiences a real wide screen. Wide enough that you could actually turn your head from side to side to enjoy the view. Back in the day theaters would make a big deal out of pulling back the curtains on the left and right of the screen after the trailers. It was indeed very special.

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The story that drives Garden of Evil and the principal actors out to a desolate gold mine though is not that big a deal. Three tough guys are relaxing at a canteena. They are enjoying Rita Moreno’s flirtatious singing and dancing. Susan Hayward comes in and offers a large sum of money to any man that will come out to the mines and help save her husband who has been trapped during a mine shaft collapse. Four men make the ride with her. As life insurance on the treacherous ride out she keeps a map hidden knowing the men will need her to guide them back. She is also careful to disturb the trail markings one of them tries to leave. Along the way Cameron Mitchell makes several clumsy plays for Susan Hayward. Gary Cooper knocks him into the campfire for his behavior.

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Director Hathaway makes the most out of the location shooting. The backgrounds look spectacular. However there is still some obvious matte work done to add in a few more treacherous looking cliffs to our heroes’ journey. There is a jump they have to make with their horses along a narrow trail right that looks much better with the threat of a dangerous fall lurking at any moment. Just to make sure we get it someone drops a cooking pot which clangs and bangs all the way down. The film basically boils this group along the way with very little action. The Indian attack at the end is kind of a let down. The warriors are kept way in the distance. Though we are told they are Apache they sport Mohawk haircuts with a lone feather standing up straight. There is some good macho posturing between Cooper and Wdimark and a bit of that old tough guy camaraderie at the end. Cooper is dependable, stoic and righteous. Widmark is saddled with some of the most ridiculous dialogue he’s ever had. He spouts a constant stream of psycho babble philosophy before the term was even coined. Susan Hayward catches the eye of every guy in the party as intended but gets a chance to show her tough side, too. Science fiction film fans may not be able to tell from the sight of Hayward’s scruffy looking husband but as soon as he speaks you‘ll recognize the voice of Hugh Marlowe (The Day The Earth Stood Still, World Without End, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers).

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The story is pretty tame and predictable without a lot of action or good strong character interplay. The true stars of the film are the location and Bernard Herrmann’s score. He’s got such a recognizable style. You can hear elements of North By Northwest or even stretches that have the excitement of some of the Sinbad or Jason and the Argonauts movies. Whenever the crew needs to ride out somewhere Herrmann gives them the accompanying rousing score to battle beasts and tear down mountains. They never do but the music makes us yearn for it. It’s a wonderful soundtrack that serves to elevate the story at every possible turn.

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The fifties marked a new beginning for the western. Film Noir had an influence. Gone were the white and black hats of the good and bad guys.. Characters now could be shades of both or going from one to the other. There was also a brutality and realism present. Costumes went from that rodeo show fringe to a more dusty worn in look. The shoot outs and brawls had a new visceral impact. Instead of acting in front of a screen projecting a background more and more films were going out on location thanks to the newer more lightweight cameras. Directors like Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann ushered in a more adult kind of storytelling. These changes did not happen over night but over the decade. Garden of Evil brings a lot of old school Hollywood filmmaking style out on location. The characters and story feel, at least to me a bit behind the times. The film has a lot going for it but no matter how well it looks or how good the music is supporting it the basic script and characters are decidedly old hat.

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Video – 2.55:1
The Cinemascope wide screen images are stellar throughout. The Technicolor skin tones are a bit boosted giving everyone a nice tan but the slightly accentuated coloring is normal . While the new HD transfer makes it a bit easier to spot some of the process shots (added in mattes) there are many compositions filled with breathtaking scenery.

Audio – 5.1 DTS HD, 4.0 DTS HD, 2.0 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
The 5.1 DTS mix does justice to Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful score. We can appreciate how he matches up the different instruments to achieve a specific blend of music. He has some great rousing themes as well as some trademark bass sounds to embellish the images with. He’s a master at this. Are some of the orchestrations a bit loud? Yes and that’s great.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with film and music Historians John Morgan, Nick Redman, Steven C. Smith and William T. Stromberg, Travels of a Gunslinger: The Making of Garden of Evil, Susan Hayward: Hollywood’s Straight Shooter, Henry Hathaway: When the Going Gets Tough…, TV spot, Original theatrical trailers

The commentary and fearurettes were carried over from the Fox Classics Westerns DVD set that collected Rawhide, The Gunfighter and Garden of Evil.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good

99 River Street (1953) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, May 21st, 2016


Actors – John Payne, Evelyn Keyes, Brad Dexter, Peggie Caslte, Frank Faylen
Director – Phil Karlson

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Director Phil Karlson was at his best with a combination of brutality and working class guys that are pushed too far. In this one John Payne enters every scene like a tea kettle that’s been left too long on a hot stove. Things don’t simmer too much here, they boil over. The film starts with Payne making a valiant effort in the boxing ring before he gets the snot knocked out of him. The crowd goes nuts and then we pull back to see it is on TV and a rebroadcast of an old fight. Payne is watching looking like a dog who just lost his bone. Then his beautiful wife Peggie Castle lays into him. She could have been a star if it weren’t for him. Why isn’t he the winner instead of some washed up fighter who drives a cab. You just feel for this guy. He also knows his wife has been running around with someone else. Payne stops off for coffee with the only real friend he has in the world, Frank Faylen. He’s the dispatcher at the cab company where he works. Faylen was also Payne‘s manager when he was in the fight game. Then there is this other girl, Evelyn Keyes. He knows her from the coffee shop. She’s so nice and pays attention to Payne. But in this Noir world we know that nice always comes with a price.

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This film takes place over one long night. Evelyn Keyes needs a favor, desperately. She’s been auditioning for a part in a big Broadway show only the producer put the make on her and she may have killed him. She needs Payne to come to the theater now! His wife’s beau Brad Dexter was involved with a jewel robbery that left one man dead.. Brad takes her along to get the payment for the big score only the hoods he’s involved with don’t want any dames around. So guess who winds up dead in the back seat of Payne’s cab? While the noose tightens around Payne he gets more and more frustrated lashing out at anyone around him. He fights with Faylen. He lays into the producers and writers at the theater knocking them senseless. Each time he seems to be reaching for that one moment back in the ring when he could have won the championship. Karlson cuts brief flashbacks of the fight into these scenes.

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The film has plenty of noir style shadows and angled shots but Karlson also makes the most out of the depth on the screen. He’ll put something important way back in the frame or run an actor’s movements from right next to us to way deep into the shot. He also sets up a good fight scene. The last one in the film taking place in the shipyards with Payne and Dexter is terrific. There’s a great collection of actors in the film, too. Bad guy Brad Dextor was the gunfighter in The Magnificent Seven who kept thinking Yul Brynner knows about a secret stash of gold. He plays the smarmy but good looking villain to a T. Frank Faylen played Dobie Gillis’s father on the popular TV series as well as a host of lovable average Joes you’d be proud to call a friend. Evelyn Keyes (Seven Year Itch) and John Payne (Miracle on 34th Street) did lots of well known films. They each shine brightly here. This is one of Payne’s best roles. It shows how well he and Karlson worked together. He also starred in Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential.

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Phil Karlson is a solid B style director whose work is definitely worth catching whenever one comes by. He’s got what appears to be an economic down and dirty style but he really does show a lot of solid technique that’ll just flow right by you if you aren’t looking for it. He’s known for hard hitting films like Phenix City Story and Walking Tall. Joe Don Baker literally swings a big stick at southern small town corruption in Walking Tall (1973) which became a huge hit when it was released. When you get mad as Hell and can’t take it anymore Karlson is your man to get it done. He made several solid westerns, a few of the Matt Helm films with Dean Martin and even did one of the classic Bowery Boys movies. He’s got a well deserved cult following. 99 River Street is one of his best. Just look at John Payne in that cover poster. He‘s got Evelyn Keyes clinging to one arm and is holding a lethal looking length of chain in the other. To me it looks like he is smiling. You will, too.

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Video – 1.37:1
“Newly re-mastered in HD!” The film looks great. Black levels are strong. There is good detail. At no time do we get caught up in any distortion or smudgy black crush. There is a picture of a ship matted in at the end that looks incredibly out of place due to the HD process. You really can’t hold that against the film. The commentary points this out too in case you missed it.

Audio – Mono
All dialogue comes across fine. Sound effects and music blend well in the mix.

Extras – Commentary from film historian Eddie Muller, Trailers for other Film Noirs from Kino

Popular Film Noir historian Eddie Muller has loads of great stories about this film. He lets us in on many of them in an engaging enthusiastic way. We learn that he got to know Evelyn Keyes pretty well while doing some research. She says she took this film because there are two tour de force scenes written for her part. Both scenes are easy to spot and Eddie takes you through them wonderfully. Although he does stop during the second one for a bit saying Keyes would never forgive him if he talked over her best scene. Since this is a film about a cabbie Muller puts the flag up at the start and snaps it down telling us to exit the cab and have a nice night at the end. His commentaries are always good but this was one of his most enjoyable.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent