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Archive for October, 2016

I Wake Up Screaming (1941) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

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Stars – Betty Grable, Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Laird Cregar, Elisha Cook Jr.
Director – H. Bruce Humberstone

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

I Wake Up Screaming is a first class Film Noir that comes highly recommended. There is a lot to like in this one. Victor Mature plays Frankie Christopher a New York City hustler who promotes prize fighters and anything else he can make a buck out of. We first meet him while several detectives crowd around him in a dimly lit room. They are grilling him with all the gas turned on but he stays cool. He did not kill the gorgeous dame Vicky Lynn played by Carole Landis. The band plays a stinger while we flashback to see that he picks her up in a cheap diner. He buys her nice dresses and takes her out to all the right nightclubs and introduces her to all the right people. He gets her name in the papers. Before long she’s got all kinds of advertising contracts and a job singing. But no he did not kill her. He only wanted to make a buck off of her. The girl that really sent him was her roommate and sister, Jill Lynn. Betty Grable plays her as a practical girl who has her head screwed on right. She is bright and cheerful. Betty Grable was a WWII pin up girl, the one all the wolves whistled at in the Buggs Bunny Cartoons. Her image in a bathing suit was painted on more than a few fighter planes during the war.

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Director H. Bruce Humberstone made four Charlie Chan films. He worked with The Ritz Brothers and Danny Kaye. A legitimate jack of all trades, he does a splendid job with this one. So many compositions have that signature Noir use of shadow. He’s not afraid to let sequences get dark. We also get plenty of close ups that use these classic movie star faces to full avail. We get the story from a series of flashbacks till we are all caught up. There is a lovely bit where Frankie takes Jill out on the town. Somewhere well after midnight he takes her to his favorite spot – a private indoor swimming pool. it’s a lovely way to cap off their date. As they lounge on one of the fountains in the middle of the pool he tells her that she is the first girl he ever brought there. Without missing a beat a blonder strokes by and gives him the eye and a hearty, “Hey Frankie.” It‘s a charming moment.

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Some say that a Noir is only as good as the trouble it causes. Trouble in this one comes in the form of the large hulking detective Ed Comell. Laird Cregar is kept in the shadows for the first part of the picture. When he comes out he is menacing and he has it in for Frankie. He follows him around. He brings him into the squad room for questioning. At one point he just appears in Frankie’s apartment to confront him when he comes home. He’d been sitting silently in a chair in the dark for hours. Laird Cregar never raises his voice. It is almost silky smooth. He just insinuates, prods and pushes at Frankie ever so politely. In one of the best scenes in the film he catches a ride with him. While they drive through rear screen projections of New York City he plays with a bit of string as he throws more accusations at Frankie. When he gets out he hands the string to Frankie. It is a perfectly detailed hangman’s noose, right down the knots above the noose. It reminded me of that tiny toy guillotine we see if the 1935 version of A Tale of Two Cities.

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Laird Cregar was an immensely talent actor. Anything he is in, especially his starring vehicles like Hangover Square (1944) or any other supporting work is absolutely worth seeing. Elisha Coook, Jr. is on hand as a sleepy sleazy doorman at the sisters’ building. He has a way of delivering every line as if he means to say whadya accusing me for, I didn’t do nothing ! Throughout the film the main theme is this lovely blues riff that has been beautifully adapted for strings. It impossible to get it out of your head. Alfred Newman originally wrote it for Street Scene in 1931. Apparently it was so well liked by directors and producers that it wound up in several others films including Cry of the City, Kiss of Death, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and The Dark Corner. You hear it and it transports you to The City at night. The other theme that weaves in and out of the more romantic scenes is the unmistakable strains of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Wizard of Oz had just come out two years earlier.

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There are some good action scenes, too. We get to see Betty Grable smash some cop over the head so she and Mature can get away to prove his innocence. She has a neatly shot at night chase across the rooftops. The cityscape looks so magical with her throwing down a board to dash from one building to the next. Mystery and romance blend with this force of nature cop that is always closing in. Cregar seems to be lurking inside every shadow, hiding in the darkness of every dimly lit empty room. The film has a very satisfying conclusion with the unhinged killer identified and justice served. I first saw this film years ago when Joe Franklin hosted a week of his picks for great films you may not have seen on WOR TV in New York City. I remember that he showed The Mighty Barnum with Wallace Beery which remains an obscure treasure and this one which just gets better with every viewing. You need to see I Wake Up Screaming. If you have seen it, see it again. Laird Cregar and his noose await you.

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Video – 1.33:1
The transfer has a pleasing amount of grain. This is definitely a film drenched in shadows and darkness. There is contrast yet it all feels very natural and proper. It’s worth noting that the beauty close ups of Betty Grable and Carole Landis are fully lit letting them look as stunning as they should be.

Audio – DTA Mono
All dialogue is clear. I could listen to that blues riff that drives Alfred Neman’s classic Street Scenes song all night long. It is one of the most fitting Noir themes, right up there with Laura. You hear it and suddenly you are in the shadows, collar turned up and looking over your shoulder for trouble.

Extras – Commentary by Film Noir Historian Eddie Muller, Trailers                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Eddie Muller, The Czar of Noir provides another entertaining fact filled commentary. His Noir tracks are always fun and informative.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Star Trek Beyond (2016) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

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Stars – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban , Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana , John Cho,
Sofia Boutella
Director – Justin Lin

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Comedic actor Simon Pegg not only plays Scotty the Enterprise’s engineer but he co-wrote the script. Pegg shows a real affection and understanding of the main dynamic that drove the series. The story may be more compelling for some than others. The special effects may not bring out anything genuinely breathtaking. The action scenes may or may not get your pulse pounding. However you can count on the rapport and relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy to be entertainment enough to make this trip beyond worthwhile. Early on Captain Kirk is conflicted about accepting a high ranking appointment. The position comes with considerable esteem and privilege however he would have to give up his beloved adventures going boldly into the far reaches of space. In conversation he reveals that he understand that the most important part of any ship is her crew. Any avid Trek fan will know that he will keep his command and go charging off into space in a few short minutes. We can also pretty much be assured that he will lose the Enterprise one way or another and that the ingenuity and bravery of the crew will win the day. All of that happens just as you’d expect.

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Kirk aids an unusual damsel in distress. She double crosses him allowing the super evil Krall to take over the ship and abandon the stars on a desolate planet. Krall is preparing to turn back and destroy all the good people living back at the ranch…unless Kirk can foil him. On the planet McCoy forms an uneasy alliance with another stranded alien with an attitude. The make up on Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is outstanding. It is prominently featured in all the advertising and rightly so. She makes mincemeat of his name but leads the attack on the bad guys at the climax. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Kalr Urban all turn in strong performances as Kirk, Spock and Bones McCoy. Spock even has an on and off and on again romance with Uhura.  Part of that romance becomes a plot device, but that’s fine.

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The special effects crew gets to bring to life some terrifying toad looking creatures that turn out to be pint sized threats. There is a meteor storm to fly through and the design of the planet. While all of CGI effects are state of the art and manned by a very long list of credits for my money this time around the sound design gets the real kudos. Designers Peter Brown, Eliot Connors and their team create an incredible soundstage. Not only do things whiz by from left to right and back and forth but there is the distinct sense of sounds enveloping you from above and below. That’s a very neat trick to pull off. It is a very cool feeling to sit in the middle of that. The soundtrack on this Blu-Ray is beautifully prepared. If you have a good sound rig at home, turn it up and sit back for a wonderful experience. We hear so much about the look of a Blu-Ray and the picture quality. That is certainly justified. However in the right hands the sound can be enhanced to levels that are very innovative. We can hear with a new clarity. The directionality in this track is a blast. It’s a shame that more sound designers do not take advantage of this element.

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Director James Lin first caught my eye with the promising Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) with it’s nod to some of John Woo’s early Hong Kong work. However he is most know now for helming Fast Five (2011) and Fast and Furious Six (2013). These are fine films for what they are. We get the same kind of surface sheen to the narrative here. Things move pretty fast. The action cooks and there are some nice laughs. Fortunately the script and the actors give us enough of the feel of the stuff that really drove the Enterprise to make this new outing worthwhile. It won’t knock your socks off but your can take your shoes off, sit back and enjoy it.

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Video – 2.39:1 -
The transfer is full of bold colors and exquisite detail. The CGI effects don’t do much for me this time around but they are rendered in the current expected fashion.

Audio – English: Dolby Atmos, English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1, French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1, Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1 with subtitles offered in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
This is one of the better soundtracks to come along. The creativity, inventiveness and directionality are all in superlative shape here. To repeat from above this time out the sound design crew tops the visual effects to deliver a real treat.

Extras – Deleted Scenes, Beyond the Darkness, Enterprise Takedown , Divided and Conquered A Warped Sense of Revenge, Trekking in the Desert, Exploring Strange New Worlds, New Life, New Civilizations, To Live Long and Prosper, For Leonard and Anton, Gag Reel

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

Murphy’s Law (1986) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

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Stars – Charles Bronson, Kathleen Wilhoite, Carrie Snodgress, Robert F. Lyons, Angel Tompkins, Richard Romanus
Director – J. Lee Thompson

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Murphy’s Law is a second tier Bronson vehicle. It starts off well enough. Bronson is coming out of the grocery store when he finds a thief stealing his car. He chases her as she drives off throwing his bag of groceries. The car crashes into a store front window. As Bronson starts to put the cuffs on her she unleashes a torrent of abuse, kicks him and takes off. Bronson is a detective who gets on the wrong side of the local mob when he arrests the brother of the boss. So they are after him. Meanwhile his wife has left him yet he persists in coming to the strip club where she works as a dancer, That is a strange dynamic right there. When she winds up dead Bronson is framed for it and taken to the police station for booking. By chance he winds up handcuffed to that same young thief who tried to steal his car. He escapes the station with her in tow to prove his innocence.

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Bronson and Kathleen Wilhoite as the young thief seem to have no rapport together at all. Her character is always insulting people yet the level of her remarks is somewhere between the kind of language a forth or sixth grader would use. There are no curse words, just a litany and smarmy sounding dirty words without much bit to them. I had rad that Joan Jett was being considered for this role. That might have been very intriguing. Bronson himself is much more quiet than usual. Murphy is not a real bad ass cop we can root for either. There is some action and gunplay but nothing that really gets you engaged.

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This is a gritty and grimy looking film. Most of the interiors have a dull look and pale lighting. The night scenes have a washed out feel to them rather than a rain glistened sheen that we see so often in these kind of films. There are a few daytime sequences that look pretty normal but for the most part the film plays down any kind of brightness. It’s odd then that the characters we meet are played with the kind of flip and upbeat line readings you’d expect in a comedy. Carrie Snodgrass seems to be the only one who plays her character as a real dangerous whacko. Director J. Lee Thompson is the same man who did Guns of Navare (1961) and Cape Fear (1962) yet here in his sixth feature with Bronson he does not seem to be at the top of his game. The film is just okay.

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Video – 1.85:1
This is a pretty gritty looking film that was never intended to look all that clean. There are some scenes mostly in the beginning with black levels that look decent but prevent us from seeing any detail in the shadows. Later on in the film there is quite a bit of noisy contrast in the black levels that exhibits a displeasing crush. It is entirely watchable but certainly not one that shows off how good Blu-Ray can look.

Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Effects and music are mixed in well.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary with actress Kathleen Wilhoite and film historian Nick Redman / Original theatrical trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Good transfer but the film looks only decent.

Movie – Fair / Good

Boomerang (1947) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

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Stars – Dana Andrews, Lee J. Cobb, Jane Wyatt, Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy, Ed Begely, Sam Levene
Director – Elia Kazan

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

This film falls into that category of movies that take on social issues. Warner Brothers excelled at them in the thirties with pictures like, “ I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932). It concerns the plight of an innocent man who is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Boomerang sits alongside movies like Fritz Lang‘s Fury (1936), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), Henry Hathaway’s Call Northside 777 (1948) and even the recent HBO miniseries, “The Night Of”. It is based on a real case and shot on real life locations that are close the where the actual incidents took place. One night a beloved priest out for his nightly walk is shot in the head on the serene and usually safe streets in a quiet city in Connecticut. A voice over gives us the solemn low down on the man who was a friend to all and a valued councilor to anyone in a time of need. There is a united cry for immediate justice from everyone. Before the narration gets too preachy or descends into a bit of a parody we are dumped into the action. Lee. J. Cobb and Karl Malden are the detectives on the case. Sam Levene is the wise cracking reporter using every angle to get at the story. Elia Kazan plays these guys as real salt of the earth types. They wear rumpled clothes are as just as apt to yell as offer up a funny snide remark. These guys and the wealth of supporting actors let Kazan pull off his drama with enough grit to make his story work.

Boomerang! (1947) Directed by Elia Kazan

Generally these stories revolve around a lot of legal procedures and investigations . While Dana Andrews as the district attorney certainly does his share of that this the script gives us an up close look at the political maneuverings. The two parties in town each have an agenda. A quick indictment followed by a swift conviction will keep those in office nice and secure. On the other hand if the case falls through the other party stands to gain. We see the press making fun of the local police and their ineffective flat footed investigation.  There is intense pressure brought to bear on the police to come up with a suspect. When Arthur Kennedy is picked out a line up he gets grilled through the night and into the next morning. Karl Malden lays into this guy. He pushes and jabs at him with accusations looking for that moment when he’ll just give in and admit he shot the priest. There is a uniform cop on hand whose sole job appears to be shoving Kennedy’s chin back up when he starts to nod off to sleep. When they finally break Lee J. Cobb has a line about just putting on a fresh tie will do instead of getting some sleep and a shower.

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Dana Andrews is consistently dependable. He’s been the lead in so many films from Noirs like Laura to the excellent war film, A Walk in the Sun. He even pulls off one of the best horror films, Night of the Demon. He has a scene at the climax of the film where he reexamines the testimony from several key witness. As he starts raising doubts and shooting holes in their stories we know that he is tempting the ire of those politicos that are promising him the Governorship if he plays his cards right. Andrews plays it well.

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Boomerang tends to get classed as a Film Noir. That doesn’t fit for me. It’s a strong drama. Norbert Brodine who shot the film shot the film also lensed 13 Rue Madeleine before this and Kiss of Death right after. He certainly knows how to create a bleak and suspenseful atmosphere with shadows. He could easily have created the classic Film Noir tapestry we all recognize so well. But that is not at all on display here. This has a much softer and brighter look to it. Perhaps Elia Kazan wanted the film to have a suburban clean feel to it that was more in keeping with his semi-documentary approach. Rather than let the photography establish a mood it is left to the actors to carry the film and they deliver in spades. Kazan would go on to tackle more social issues and toshowcase a heightened style of acting in his dramas.

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Video – 1.33:1
This film looks fine though it appears to bit a bit more on the bright side than I’d expected. There is an absence of grain which on the one hand appears very clear yet on the other hand robs us of some detail. The entire film has a lighter look to it. I do not know if that was as intended when it was shot or due to a more aggressive treatment of the materials in the transfer.

Audio – DTS Mono
All dialogue is nice and clear. Music and effects sit well in the mix.

Extras – Commentary by Film Noir Historian Imogen Sara Smith / Commentary By Film Historians Alain Silver and James Ursine / Trailers

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

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent