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Archive for February, 2017

Edge of Eternity (1959) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, February 26th, 2017


Stars – Cornel Wile, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan, Victoria Shaw, Mickey Shaughnessy,
Director – Don Siegel

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Don Siegel is a director of tough crime films. He’s got a wonderful way of getting the most out of unusual locations. Most of his films snap and crackle with energy. His characters do not suffer fools and take no guff from anybody. He also made Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Some of his peers like Sam Peckinpah get a great deal of deserved attention. Yet the man who made one of the most iconoclastic action films ever with Dirty Harry (1971) is simply not near as well recognized as he should be. Film fans like us will want to check out everything he has done. Much of his work is pretty easily available and well worth a look. But this one, Edge of Eternity despite some poor pan and scan showings on TV remains a film of his that gets almost no attention at all. I’ve got a paperback book from 1974, Don Siegel: Director by Stuart Kaminksy that celebrates the director. If there was any mention there at all it got very short shrift. Being a huge Siegel fan the opportunity to see this film in all of its true Cinemascope glory was a real treat.

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The film starts off with a thrilling plane ride through the Grand Canyon. This is the real deal. It looks gorgeous and just a little bit foreboding. We see a man in a suit scanning the distance with binoculars. He is right at the edge of a cliff. Another guy sneaks up and takes the brake off his nearby car. He gives it a push and tries to run the first guy off the cliff. He misses and the car sails hundred of feet to the ground below. After a brutal fight the first guy sends the second over the edge to his death. A very short while later we see that man in a suit hung from the rafters in a cabin with his hands tied behind his back. We’re two murders in and the picture has hardly even started. What follows next is a long interlude with deputy Cornel Wilde taking his time to slowly work the case and pursue an attractive girl he gave a speeding ticket to. Wilde was a handsome leading man well known to Film Noirs fans for Leave Her To Heaven (1945) and The Big Combo (1955).  The film is only 80 minutes long and the bulk of it is spent with Wilde as he questions people and drives through the beautiful winding roads in Arizona.

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That long middle section has a wealth of warm and friendly character actors. Jack Elam runs the single car tramway that rides from one cliff to the hole in the wall bat cave across a huge gorge. The car travels hundreds of feet in the air suspended by a cable. This is one scary ride and you just know that it will feature in the climax of the film. Edgar Buchanan is Wilde’s boss. He’s familiar from tons of TV Sitcoms in the 60s like Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies. A nicer boss you couldn’t wish for. Mickey Shaughnessy is on hand as the amiable local bar tender. He is always buying drinks for everyone and letting local drunks sleep it off in the back room before driving home. Shaughnessy has a natural outgoing style that suits this role perfectly.  This middle section behaves like one of those ninety minute detective shows that used to be on TV in the seventies. Siegel punctuates this interlude with a startling POV stabbing knife murder of an old man. The end of the film takes place as expected with a fight on the tramway car. It is a corker. We get a mix of excellent matte work with the stars looking fierce and front and center. The true stars are the stuntmen who dangle from this small cable car as they punch and kick at each other in plain view of The Grand Canyon all around and below them.

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It is worth noting that although Siegel was usually found working in crime pictures he makes the whole early and middle section of this film work so well. After that first sequence the story settles into to a very relaxed portrait of a small southwestern town. Everybody knows everybody. People are friendly, for the most part. We see Cornel Wilde engage in an easy banter with the people he meets. He even states that he likes to mix business with pleasure when he takes Victoria Shaw out on a date. They stop off so he can question a few folks on the way to dinner. Siegel surprisingly handles this kind of thing very well. Maybe he is glad the film is not so well known otherwise he may have found himself working with Edgar Buchanan again on multiple episode of the TV show Petticoat Junction. Siegel did not direct a great deal of episodes for TV. His best work there was The Killers (1964) a feature with Lee Marvin which was released to theaters. Baby Face Nelson (1967), The Line up (1958), and Hell is for Heroes (1962) are much more what we think of as his style at that period. He did his share of star vehicles like Hound- Dog Man (1959) with Fabian and Flaming Star (1960) with Elvis Presley. One has to remember that he was a working director for hire; sometimes under contract and others times looking for work. Like most directors that came up like he did he was not always able to choose the kinds of projects he wanted to be remembered for. Work was work and his did his share of paying the bills. When we look back on his career we tend to cherry pick the ones we like. This is a great opportunity to catch a rare Don Siegel picture.

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Video – 2.35:1
The colors are amazingly vibrant . Detail is strong save for a tiny bit of shimmering in the mountain side as the plane flies though the canyons. Siegel has said that he did not prefer to work in the Cinemascope format yet his work here with Burnett Guffy is very sturdy. The opening murder at the edge of the canyon, the subsequent killings and that last sequence have plenty of suspenseful shots. Guffy is most well know for Bonnie and Clyde (1967) but his earlier work on The Sniper (1952) is equally impressive.

Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Nick Redman.

The two historians carry on an amicable chat about the film and how this work fits in with Siegel’s career. They are both knowledgeable and obviously fans of the director.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

Red Dawn Collector’s Edition ( 1984) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, February 25th, 2017


Stars – Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Jennifer Grey, Ben Johnson , Harry Dean Stanton , C. Thomas Howell , Ron O’Neal , Powers Boothe
Director – John Milius

Released by Shout Select

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Director John Milius plays almost directly to the mindset of an adolescent boy growing up in the 1950s or 1960s. He does so in remarkably dark detail. The threat of the big bomb dropping or an invasion by the Russians was very real then. By the time he got the chance to put this up on the screen in the mid 1980s some of those in the theaters would recognize this boyhood fantasy of survival amidst an attack. Scenarios such as rounding up rifles, ammo, knives, bows and arrows and other equipment from a local sporting goods store or camping supply house and heading out into the hills or up to the safety of a rooftop in a more urban environment had to have occurred to them as young boys when they played war. Back in the day kids armed with all the latest toy replicas made by Marx or Hasbro would run through the streets. TV commercials showed juvenile commandos scaling up dusty hills yelling their cries of victory as they shot off the latest cool Tommy gun. At those same theaters there had to have been kids completely unfamiliar with those childhood daydreams who must have been knocked for a loop by the opening sequence.

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The film begins in a bucolic setting in Colorado. The kids at Calumet High school are in class. Windows look out on a stunning mountain landscape. Without making any sound at all parachutes begin to descend. There are quite a few of them and the men underneath the billowy plumes are dressed in uniforms. They carry machine guns. The sound suddenly ratchets up as the teacher opens the door, goes outside to talk to them and gets shot down. It’s a powerful opening. A small group of high school kids make a break for it in a truck. They hide out in the hills. The town is occupied by a force comprised of Latino soldiers and a few Russian officers. Many People are rounded up and held in fenced in pens. Some are killed. A few are laying low in their houses. The image though that tips the scales and reverberates with even more power than that first one is seen by the boys as they make a tentative trip back into town to assess the situation. Patrick Swayze (Point Break) and his brother Charlie Sheen (Platoon) see their father amongst a group of shattered men and women locked inside a huge fenced in enclosure. Their father who is bleeding from several head wounds is played by Harry Dean Stanton (Cool Hand Luke). They exchange a few words. He tells them they have to get out of there and fast. As they leave he cries out, “Avenge me! Avenge me!” They stop by one house on their way out. Ben Johnson (Last Picture Show) entrusts two heirlooms, his granddaughters to the boys to look after as they retreat back up into the mountains. Red Dawn then becomes the story of how this group begins to fight back.

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The cast is filled with young actors who would go on to become stars. They work very well together making up a believable collection of students forced to go far beyond what they thought they were capable of. Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Thomas Howell all went on to big roles after this film. Two adult actors deliver stand out performances, too. Powers Boothe as the American soldier who joins up with them as a father figure / leader gives a nice balance to the mix. The pack of kids are so gung ho they are almost feral in their ferocity. Many of them wear battle style scarves and bandannas. When they ride horses they look as comfortable as western outlaws. These kids move easily with all manner of weapons. They adopt the name of their football team, The Wolverines for themselves. Boothe has a weariness about the fighting that they will only begin to feel after he leaves. Ron O’Neal who will always be known for playing Superfly (1972) is one of the commanders of the Cuban troops. His character was once part of his people’s uprising against an invading force. He feels an identification with the boys that he can’t help. Both of these men give a shade of poignancy to the plot. The film is clearly a fast paced action tale full of fighting, explosions and killings yet there are moments particularly at the end when we see the toll this has taken on the few surviving members of The Wolverines.

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Milius delivers in a big way on the action scenes. He states in his included interview that he added the fighting and large battle set pieces to the script he was given to direct. Milius has always had the reputation for being something of the big chief war mongering hawk with a military fixation. He wears it proudly and was absolutely the right man for this film. The cast all talk fondly, and maybe even a little fearfully of his methods of getting the film done in their interviews. While it is well known that much of John Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski (1998) was based on him it needs to be said that he crafted a heartfelt story about surfing and growing up in his film, Big Wednesday (1978). Red Dawn may be a bit of a guilty pleasure but it holds up well today and is still an exciting story.

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Video – 1.85:1
This is a completely satisfying picture. Colors are nice and strong. Black levels hold their own and do not get into any noise or fuzzy territory.

Audio . DTS-HD 5.1 with subtitles offered in English
As expected this is a very active and robust soundscape. Riffle shots will shoot over your head and ping into the distance behind you. Helicopters that fly off screen to the right or left will carry on in the speakers till they fade out. The sound in the battlefields will play through all of your speakers if you have a multi unit system. The subwoofer will also get a nice workout. Mixes like this are a joy to experience. Please turn this one up and give it some gas.

Extras – NEW “A Look Back At Red Dawn” – A 70 minute feature Including Brand-New Stories From Co-Star Doug Toby, Casting Director Jane Jenkins, Production Designer Jackson DeGovia and Editor Thom Noble
Archival Featurettes: “Red Dawn Rising” “Training For WWIII” “Building The Red Menace” “WWIII Comes To Town”
Original Theatrical Trailer. The original poster art inside the case is reversible with the new graphic.

The new documentary and the older interviews are all combine to paint a detailed and compelling picture of how this film was made. The cast was put through all kinds of military style training not to mention the rather unique methods that Milius had as a director on this film. The only wrinkle is that some of the scenes from the film that are edited into the new “Look Back” feature go on too long.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

A*P*E (1976) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, February 25th, 2017


Stars – Joanna Kerns as Joanna De Varona, Alex Nicol, Rod Arrants
Director – Paul Leder

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

What were they thinking when they made this? The story goes that the producers got wind of the fact that Dino De Laurentiis was launching a huge remake of King Kong. If they could put together a quickly made King Kong film of their own they could ride on the coattails of Dino’s gigantic sized advertising campaign all the way to the bank. The plan carries over to the movie poster which throws in the promise of seeing, “Ape defy the JAWS of Giant Shark” You may as well get as many blockbuster movie tie ins as you can. If you were excited that this giant ape was battling a shark on the poster you wouldn’t have to wait long to see it. The film opens with this ape getting loose from his restraints on a ship. He topples into the ocean and is immediately set upon by a rubber shark. He wrestles with this thing like a roadside alligator sideshow in the swamps of Florida. If the ape is supposed to be 36 feet tall then this shark has got to be at least 32 feet. Maybe a film about the shark would be better? Those hopes are dashed when the ape grips the shark’s jaws and rips it right down the middle. Flimsy rubber shark.

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The ape is played by a guy in a costume. The Japanese Kaiju tradition of giant monsters played by actors in costumes is a long and rich one filled with quite a few well done outings. Gojira (1954) aka Godzilla featured a wonderful blending of these effects with the picture.  One of the things that always stands out in these films is the incredible amount of detail to be found in the construction of the miniature cities that the creature stomps over. In Ape it is all cheap cardboard and what looks like fly away paper thin balsa wood. None of the shots of the ape on the loose are convincing in the least. The cities may as well be shoe boxes turned upside down with assorted mismatched windows drawn on them with crayons. The ape does get a nice moment when he does a kind of dance with a guy in a hand glider.

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There are frequent shots that cater to the 3D process. At one point during the ape’s rampage he comes across a film crew shooting a Kung-Fu movie. The actors turn their prop weapons against the advancing creature which gives an excuse to for the spears to be thrust at the camera lens. Director Paul Leder manages to get in his fair share of these shots. There is a sequence of kids playing for an extended period of time before they run away from the ape. The film feel padded out with more than a few lengthy looks at various assembled groups of people running this way and that. It’s not very convincing particularly when the guy in the bad costume makes another poorly choreographed entrance. On the plus side Joanna Kerns from the TV series Growing Pains gets a lead role. We get to see her play an actress making a movie which calls for her to run away from a creepy guy. If you grew up with a love of horror films and giant monster movies the odds are good you sat through dozens of bad ones waiting for the good parts. Many terrible films had to be sifted through in order to get to the real gold. However for most of us all that exposure led to a slow but sure affection for the schlock. Those are the only grounds to approach this film on.

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Video – 2.35:1
The film is presented in both 3D and the regular 2D formats. While there is a good deal of wear and tear to be found on the source materials the film looks okay and is certainly passable. You weren’t expecting a full scale restoration for a copy to be preserved in The Library of Congress were you? This is schlock and while we like our schlock served up in a grade A blue plate special this is as good as this puppy is likely going to get. It really doesn’t take away from the fun you’ll have with it. Colors are strong and well the guy in ape suit looks like a guy in an ape suit, and not a very good one at that.

Audio – DTS-HD 2.9. No subtitles are provided
The film is a typical dubbed affair. Music and effects are stirred in with the voice over actors to give a fairly even track.

Extras – Commentary by cult film authority Chris Alexander and historian Hillary Hess. Theatrical trailer.

Some commentators will throw in a curse for comic effect. Sometimes is a part of a director’s persona like Kevin Smith. However I don’t think I’ve heard a film historian type uses curses as much as this guy. While he seems to know his stuff and have done good research he appears to be pretty down on the film and the whole experience. At one point the brings in an expert to talk about the 3D process. Very little of either chat is scene specific. This was not an enjoyable commentary. We look to commentaries to enhance our appreciation of the film.

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

Blu-Ray – 2D – Fair 3D – N/A
I did not review the 3D which has received given good marks from others.

Movie – Fair

Beauty And The Beast (2014) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, February 19th, 2017


Stars – Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux
Director – Christophe Gans

Released by Shout Factory

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast has been brought to the screen in many incarnations. It was even adapted as a TV series twice; once in 1987 and again in 2012. At this point the animated Disney version from 1991 has taken on all comes and beaten them soundly. The Mouse stands tall. Yet even Disney can’t resist going to the well again with the promise of a new live action version due any moment with the lovely Emma Watson star of the Harry Potter films as Belle. It will be a 3D extravaganza that promises to hue closely to the champion animated version. While The Mouse roared another version came out two years ago. Christophe Gans who created the incredible mix of fantasy, martial arts and period drama with the cult favorite Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) helmed his own version. This one draws much more inspiration from the classic 1946 film version by Jean Cocteau. Gans has created a visual tapestry using a fascinating array of CGI artistry. Everything you see has been artfully crafted as if by a Renaissance artist rather than an army of digital technicians. The look of the film is the star and it sparkles as bright as the north star in the night.

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The construction of the film follows the familiar narrative much in the way that the Cocteau film did with a few additions.  The story used to center more around The Beast yet over the years the point of view has become that of The Beauty. Belle has two greedy sisters, two adventurous brothers an a father who has just gone broke. The father stumbles upon a castle deep in the woods. There he finds food and riches which he grabs for his family. Belle has only asked for a rose unlike her siblings. When the father picks a rose the beast jumps out of nowhere. He is outraged that the bountiful food and shiny trinkets were not enough. He will have to pay with his life for stealing the rose. Back he goes to say goodbye to his family. Only Belle returns instead of her father to pay his debt. She accepts that she was the one who asked for the rose. Rather than take her life The Beast gives her free reign of the grounds as long as she agrees to join him for dinner every night at seven o’clock. Their relationship and the gradual falling of Belle for The Beast is the real crux of the tale.  This unfortunately is the part that gets short changed in Gans’ version. There is not a lot of characterization for either lead but more importantly we don’t get to see them slowly warm to each other. The budding of their romance cuts to the full bloom without letting us enjoy the opening of the petals.

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The film opens with a mother reading a story to her two children, similar to the bookends that framed The Princess Bride. At a few of the scarier parts we revisit this scene for just a moment. Mom asks her children if she should carry on with the story or are they too scared. The boy sits in wide eyed wonder, his sister clutching his hand. Yes, please go on. In the beginning of the film colors are held in check. When the father visits the castle it is foreboding, full of grisly dark details. The trees have sharp branches that reach out like tendrils. However with Belle’s appearance there the entire landscape transforms like an enchanted forest. The foreboding clinging dead vines are now a trellis of pretty flowers. In a flashback sequence we see a lovely girl and a valiant man. He is a hunter and we imagine him to be The Beast before he was transformed. He has a group of lovely hunting beagles that are beyond cute. In a neat turn these beagles have been reimagined as small furry lemur looking creatures with adorably large eyes. They inhabit the present story and hide under the bed. Again the look of this movie is a pleasure to take in.

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At first we do not get a clear look at The Beast. We see glimpses of him. His face is reflected in glasses and highly polished dinnerware. When we do get a real good look several things stand out. The face clearly has more feline features. There are whiskers and a large lion-like nose. The hair is coiffed in a very regal way that absolutely recalls the 1946 Cocteau version. It’s a mask alright but not like any mask we are used to. It has been digitally created. Through a motion capture process Vincent Cassel’s facial acting has been preserved. Those are his eyes, his lips, his voice and yet he moves behind a highly detailed face that has been CGI’d on top of his own face. Sure it looks good but it is a bit difficult to get used to. Cassel is a fantastic actor, capable of subtle nuances that he brings to this role. He’s most well know for The Black Swan but he has done many excellent parts. He worked with director Gans before in Brotherhood of the Wolf and starred in Mesrine (2008) with an amazing portrayal of a gangster who has a flair for disguises. He moves wonderfully in this film. Lea Seydoux is beautiful and very compelling here. Gans says in his interview that he spotted her in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (2010) and knew she was his Beauty for this film. Both actors looks so good in front of scenery that is often breathtaking. It’s a shame that we don’t get the interaction between them that the story calls for.

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Gans’ la Belle et la Bete works best as a visual odyssey. The paintings he creates on screen will stop you in your tracks. As we watch the three interviews included with Gans, Cassel and Seydoux it is revealed that 90% of the film was created digitally. For me the CGI succeeds exceptionally well with the set design. Films like Sin City (2005), 300 (2007), and The BFG (2016) have opened this kind of filmmaking up in unbelievable ways. I’m an old school fan of practical effects. I love the look of hardscrabble landscapes in John Ford and Howard Hawks westerns. CGI has become a favored paintbrush that is used now. It may have looked sloppy and cheap when it first started. In the right hands (and there look to be quite a lot of them judging by the credits at the end of many films) some real artful sequences can be created. I absolutely appreciate the look of the film. I am entirely enchanted by it. However all of this is in service of telling a good story. Gans comes up short with the relationship that is backbone of this fairytale. While that may seem unforgivable it is very easy to get caught up in illustrations on the pages of this fabulously illustrated storybook. Like a good children’s book the pictures are intoxicating.

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Video – 2.35:1
This is a stunning looking film. Images are drop dead gorgeous. The look of the Blu-Ray comes out measurably better than the included DVD.

Audio – DTS-HD 5.1 in both English and French, Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English and French with subtitles offered in English.
In the dubbed English version the actors speak with genuine French accents. The French language version is preferable though. Music and effects supports the story but the visuals will always be paramount in this film.

Extras – Interviews with director Christophe Gans, actors Vincent Cassel and Lea Seydoux, Theatrical trailer

The interviews are done in French with easy to follow English subtitles. Gans is always a good interview. He reveals his inspirations for the film and speaks highly of the Cocteau version. He also goes into good detail about the CGI effects. It is fascinating to hear Vincent Cassel describe how the mask was created. He breaks down the three step process he had to use achieve his performance. He says he had to depend on a whole team of digital artists to help realize his portrayal. He also admits this is the first of his films he can let his kids see.

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent (for the visuals)