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Archive for June, 2016

Monster From Piedras Blancas Blu-Ray Coming Soon

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

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Look What’s Coming From Olive Films In September! So some say that physical media is on the wane. Well how about this one coming out on Blu-Ray!

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, June 25th, 2016

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Stars – Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Andre Morell, Miles Malleson, Marla Landi, David Oxley, John LeMesurier
Director – Terence Fisher

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

From the moment the film starts you know you are in Hammer territory and it looks damn good.  A group of smug aristocratic young men are intent on having their way with the daughter of the proprietor of an Inn. The poor dad get toasted in the fireplace for objecting. After a series of ribald remarks that are met with the groups’ laughter the young girl barely makes an escape. The leader of the gang, the swarthy young Baskerville takes off after her. He follows her deep into the fog enshrouded moors. It is then that we hear the baleful howl of the hound of the Baskervilles. This is the set up, the back story and director Terrence Fisher gives it all the gothic trappings and lusty veneer it needs. We’re totally hooked. Is there really an oversized demon ghost dog that prowls the moors at night? Will the working class get revenge on the entitled bastards that so wronged them. The class struggle is there but any political shadings take a back seat when Sherlock Holmes arrives on the scene.

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The Hound is a great match for The Hammer studio’s style. The out of the way quaint village with the mysterious moors nearby is given a great treatment. The costume design and the entire production looks terrific for what was a fairly meager budget. Hammer always delivered on that front. It was a delight to see how Cushing would play Holmes. The man was known to do his own research and in particular make himself overly familiar with any props that were to be used during the shoot. He plays the famed detective as incredibly intelligent and ever so slightly arrogant. He’s easily the smartest guy in the room but also lighting fast with his reasoning. Though he is always polite and exceedingly well mannered he makes short work of those who stand in his way. Cushing is an absolute pleasure to watch. We even get to see him do some comedy with the local doddering Bishop and his telescope. Andre Morell who will be recognizable to monster fans from The Giant Behemoth (1959) and other Hammer films gives us a Dr. Watson whose whole demeanor is opposite that of the bumbling and charming Nigel Bruce from the classic Basil Rathbone films. Morell’s Watson is smart and every bit the able bodied and qualified assistant for Holmes.

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Though the film does not adhere strictly to the Conan Doyle book the narrative has plenty of twists and turns to please fans of the legend of Baker Street. The supporting cast looks like they came right out of the pages of the books and magazines these stories first appeared in. Christopher Lee gets to play a leading man here. He is not above suspicion as Holmes always suspects everybody until the truth is uncovered. He’s handsome, self assured and has just the right upper class tint to his performance to let us know he may very well be a descendant of that scoundrel we saw in the opening scene. I won’t spoil any of the mystery of his character. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee appeared in over twenty films together. Many of them are memorable but this one holds a special place. Maybe it is the source of the story. It could be the fact that they each play a character that is already very familiar to anyone who has read the book or seen some of the various other films made from it. Not only do we get to see what they do with the roles but anytime they have a scene together it just has that extra special bit of chemistry that makes a good movie even better. Highly recommended to Holmes and Hammer fans and anyone else up for a good mystery on the moors.

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Lots of people have played Holmes over the years. Cushing does right by him. He even got a chance to reprise the role and in fact the very same story when he did a series of episodes for the BBC in 1968. Those who enjoyed him here should seek out the Sherlock Holmes Collection DVD set that includes a two part The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Sign of the Four, The Blue Carbuncle, A Study in Scarlet, and The Boscombe Valley Mystery. The opening of The Hound in the TV version is remarkably similar to the opening in the Hammer version.

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Video – 1.66:1
It has been said that red is one of the toughest colors to get right on screen. The red in the coats seen in that opening is spectacular. All the colors in this presentation are bold and strong. The transfer retains a nice filmic quality. The sequences on the moors with the light and fog are a lot of fun. There are a few occasions when you can catch the light changing in an unnatural manner but that is forgiven. I also like that shot of Holmes and Watson with the heavy theatrical green behind them.   Black levels and skin tones are all good. The opening that goes from a painting to a shot of an old Inn is particularly pleasing. Hammer films are known for their look and this Blu-ray does it justice.

Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is fine and easily understandable. Music and effects are placed well in the mix. This is a mono track so your system will not get rocked but it does support the superb visuals nicely.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score and effects track, Commentary with film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros, Commentary with film historians Paul Scrabo, Lee Pfeiffer, and Hank Reineke, Actor’s Notebook: Christopher Lee, Hound mask creator Margaret Robinson on The Hound of the Baskervilles, Christopher Lee reads excerpts from The Hound of the Baskervilles, Original theatrical trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Where’s Poppa (1970) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

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Actors – George Segal, Ruth Gordon, Rob Leibman, Trish Van Devere
Director – Carl Reiner

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

I feel like such a Schlemiel for saying this is not as funny as I remembered it. Carl Reiner the director of Where’s Poppa was the show runner for The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966). That was easily one of the funniest shows ever on Television. Rapid fire jokes, simple sets that gave the actors plenty of room, and sure fire dialogue drove these shows like a thoroughbred race horse to the finish line every week. He was one half of the legendary two thousand year old man comedy team with Mel Brooks. He was the straight man for Brooks’ wildly improvisational humor. They created these bits at parties and honed them at nightclubs before live audiences. Reiner made two feature films before this including The Comic (1969) which chronicled the fall of a famous silent comedian as the silent era drew to a close.

George Segal and Ruth Gordon in "Where's Poppa?"

As the opening credits roll we hear old time music playing as nostalgic possessions are tossed into a big trunk in slow motion. Then we see George Segal waking up and puttering around his apartment. He takes quite a while before he puts on a gorilla suit and walks down the hall. He throws open a door and jumps into his very old mother’s bed trying to scare her to death. He pops him a good one in the nuts and as he sits moaning he takes the mask off. She recognizes him and tells him how sweet he is for always trying to cheer her up. Segal gets on with his morning in a defeated shuffle. He sets his mom up with a bowl of Lucky Charms and pours half a bottle of Pepsi in with them. She turns on the TV and dances away as he leaves. At that point Ruth Gordon was the goto old lady of the movies. She absolutely killed in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). A starring role in Harold and Maude (1971) followed this one. She later did two films with Clint Eastwood. The woman can act and is also capable of being extremely funny. There are countless times in the film where she seems off in her own world. The bizarre things she does are a hoot to watch. She does this wacky little shake with her arms as she dances that cracks me up.

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However much of the film concentrates on Segal’s efforts to rid himself of having to look after his doddering and crazy old mother. He calls his brother whenever he has had enough.  The poor guy has to run through Central Park and is confronted by the same gang of muggers every time. It is literally a running gag with Rob Leibman appropriately over the top in the role. The scenes with Trish Van Devere as a Goody Two Shoes nurse Segal falls for bring the film to a crashing halt. Their budding romance is just painfully dull to watch. They gaze into each others’ eyes and whole minutes seem to go by. There is a courtroom scene with a bedraggled Segal barely awake or prepared enough to defend his client. We get that he is hopelessly tired but Segal is just way too dull here. Thankfully Rob Reiner as his client goes hilariously berserk . We can see his sister Penny Marshall watching in the background. The music is full of bad orchestrations that painfully try to sound hip and contemporary.

Trish Van Devere, George Segal and Ruth Gordon in "Where's Poppa?"

When the film came out there was a lot of talk about how controversial it was. There are quite a few inappropriate jokes. Today’s PC police would be all the scene where a cab refuses to pick up a black woman but drives down the block to pick up a man in a gorilla suit instead.  Leibman’s rape of an undercover cop in Central Park leads to the cop sending him flowers in jail and asking for his phone number. These set ups feel dated and contrived now. The bits with Ruth Gordon still shine. She has more energy in her left eyebrow than most of the cast. The most well known scene in the film had her going on about her son’s tushy while he tries to hide his embarrassment from the date he brought home for dinner. She yanks his pants down and proudly shows off his cute little tush. It’s still a great scene. For some reason the scenes are paced slow. George Segal affects a kind of stoned out tiredness in all of his scenes. Elliot Gould could do that so well but Segal just fall flats here. More attention is paid to production design and lots of little details than the actors. The breakneck pace of the kind of sketch humor that Reiner cut his teeth on is sorely missed here. Even though much of the story drags and the pacing is horribly off Ruth Gordon is a stitch and consistently amusing in every scene she is in.

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Video – 1.85:1
The film looks okay.  Much of it has a soft look as if it was shot through a fine gauze filter or a stocking. That was likely purposeful to give it a nostalgic feel. Colors are okay but never really strong. Facial tones and detail don’t really get a chance to shine here.

Audio - English with subtitles offered in English
Dialogue is clear enough. The orchestral soundtrack is loud and brassy or delicately placed in the background.

Extras -Alternate ending, Teasers and trailers

It is easy to see why the alternate ending was not used.  The trailer fails to really showcase what the film has going for it.  To be fair it must have been very difficult to come up with any kind of ad campaign for it at the time. The main poster highlighted the famous “Tush scene” .

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

Blu-Ray -   Good

Movie  -   Fair / Good

Romeo Is Bleeding (1993 ) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, June 18th, 2016

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Stars – Gary Oldman, Lina Olin, Roy Scheider, Annabella Sciorra, and Juliette Lewis
Director – Peter Medak

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Two films came out in the mid nineties that proclaimed the femme fatale could shine just as well in a Neo Noir as she did in the forties and fifties. The two characters that drove Romero is Bleeding and The Last Seduction (1994) shared a cold heart that had been nurtured in a new nineties allure that was as irresistible as it was damning. Although Romeo crashed at the box office this was a time when films came back again on late nights courtesy of cable TV stations. Some got a well deserved second look while others simply got a look see they never had before. Gary Oldman got some acclaim in Sid and Nancy (186) when he played Sid Vicious, He did stellar work as an unhinged Irish mobster in State of Grace (1990). For me though it was his starring role here and the flame thrower performance as the out of control detective in Léon: The Professional the next year that seared into my consciousness as an actor to be reckoned with. Oldman plays off the wall like few others. In this one there is a scene early on where we see him doing in kind of lazy Mambo dance in the back alley behind his house. He has just hidden a packet of ill gotten cash in a hidey hole under a metal plate. In a voice over he says all he must do is feed the hole. He gets paid by the local crime boss to give up the locations of star witnesses so they can be taken out.

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The poor guy has hallucinations. He’s got a wife and a trashy girlfriend on the side. A tip off for a witness goes wrong and Roy Scheider as a chilling mobster wants things corrected fast. Oldman’s world begins to crash in on him. Trouble in this film looks like Lean Olin. She is gorgeous, a dangerous temptress who happens to make her living as a hitman. She is very good at both. To say she takes things to an extreme puts it mildly. Towards the end of the film, Oldman wobbles on a foot missing a toe. It’s been cut off. People in his life are being killed. The cops are looking for him. There is a circular saw that gets used two times too many. It builds to a fever pitch and then burns like that for a while till the coda at the end.

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The film starts off with Oldman at some diner in the desert. He begins a voice over which starts in the third person as if he is talking about someone else then shifts to the first person as we realize it is him all along. As the film starts we’re not all that sure what time period we are in. It behaves like a classic film noir drenched in sweaty coats and cigarette smoke. Cars swoon down darkened streets. Much of the action takes place in dumpy squalid locations. Then we see the Wonder Wheel from Coney Island. The same one that was in The Warriors (1979). During those daylight scenes locations are recognizable and it is clear the time is now, or at least present day when the film was made. Mark Isham contributes a track that is heavy on a Miles Davis like trumpet. It’s one thing to flirt with some Noir trappings but this one hits you over the head a bit too obviously. The locations and the excessive violence keep us grounded in the present day, too.

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The performances of Gary Oldman and Lean Olin are absolutely stand out here. Each of their characters are larger than life and require some heroic acting chops to make work. Lena’s character will smile or laugh at times that that feels like she is being inappropriate. But when she repeats it we understand that this is how she views life. She does not deal from the same deck as the rest of us. The photography has lots of Noir touches but for me the shots that work the best are the ones with Oldman in his private little tenement backyard. He dances to the music playing in his head and kind of shuffles around by himself. We see he is lost but that he’s okay with it. This is his world. He holds a hand in the air as if mimicking some fancy Latin dance move. It’s sweet but it’s all in his head.  Romeo Is Bleeding my be a bit strong for some. I will grant you that some of the logic will not stand up to too strong an examination. However this is one of the Neo Noirs that works wonderfully for me. Make it a double and watch this one with the lights out.

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Video – 1.85:1
The film looks very good in this presentation. There is no distortion or crushing contrast in the black levels. Detail remains good throughout. The photography goes back and forth between an evocative Noir style and a more urban texture.

Audio – DTS HD MA 2.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is clear and easy to follow. Mark Isham’s score sounds fine though for me the slavish adherence to that mournful trumpet feels too forced. It gets to a parody level.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track (with some effects), with Original theatrical trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent