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THE PARADINE CASE (1947) BLU-RAY REVIEW

June 5th, 2017

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Stars – Gregory Peck, An Todd, Charles Laughton,
Director – Alfred Hitchcock

Released by Kino Studio Classics
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

There’s really no such thing as a third tier Hitchcock but if there were The Paradine Case would certainly qualify. Having arrived from England and established himself in America in 1939 he had already directed some very impressive and popular films such as Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Notorious (1946). In 1945 he first worked with Hollywood star Gregory Peck in a David Sezlnick production of Spellbound. This is the film with the famous dream sequence that Salvador Dali worked on. Producer Selznick would often complain about Hitchcock’s peculiar way of shooting his films. Due to Htichcocks’s intense preparation Selznick was unable to exude his own control over the editing process as was his habit. As the credits roll on The Paradine Case you can see that is was based on a book by Robert Smythe Hichens. It was adapted by Alma Reville, Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock. David Selznick is listed as the screenwriter although others worked on the script without credit. Some nerve, huh? This was to be the last Selznick film the director worked on and you can feel him bristling at the interference.

The story involves a very popular and well respected trail lawyer played by Gregory Peck. He takes on a case representing a society woman who is accused of poisoning her blind husband. She comes from a dubious background and appears to have killed him for his money. Peck takes on the case and in the process falls for her. His feelings for her throw his handling of the case off the rails. Peck finds out that the lady had a lover. He becomes jealous of him In both of the included audio interviews Hitch says that the lover should not have been as dashing and handsome as Louis Jordan. He should have been a stable boy who smelled of manure. That’s just how he phrased it in both included audio interviews. The implication that she was a nymphomaniac is there but one can see how having a seemingly less desirable lover would work better.

Hitchcock has some nice camera flourishes and there are many wonderful compositions throughout but the film. However the narrative never quite captures the proper pacing.
It feels too long. There is this sense that everything will get much better when we get to the bravado courtroom scene at the end. That scene does have a revelation, but it would only fool someone who slept through moist of the picture. What does make that courtroom sequence far more interesting is the numerous camera angles that are cut between to flavor our impressions of the proceedings. Hitchcock is one of the great manipulators of film and it is always fun to be under his spell even if only fleetingly in this one.

Video – 1.33:1
Though the overall picture is okay there are instances where more digital scrubbing has been applied than would seem necessary. In particular some of the close-ups are missing a bit of detail and tend to look a trifle washed out. Some of the grain has been traded for a smoothness that is not to my taste though others may be okay with it. At other times though the grain is mismanaged resulting in a fuzziness and loss of detail.

Audio – DTS Mono Track with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is clear and easy to follow. Franz Waxman’s track has plenty of heft to it.

Extras – Commentary by film historians Stephen Rebello and Bill Krohn, Hitchcock/Truffaut: Icon interviews Icon (audio), 1949 Radio Play Starring Joseph Cotton, Hitchcock interview (audio) with Peter Bogdanovich, Restoration Comparison
Isolated Music and Effect Track, Original Theatrical Trailer

The audio interviews with Hitchcock are the most fun. They contain lots of detail. If you enjoyed the one with Truffaut the recently released Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary is an absolute must see.

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

Blu-Ray – Fair / Good
Movies – Good

The Other Hell (1980) Blu-Ray Review

April 15th, 2017

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Stars – Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo
Director – Bruno Mattei

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The film begins with a naked woman laid out on a mortuary slab deep down in the dank and dark basement of an old church. One of the nuns there has apparently become unhinged in a very bad way. She circles the woman on the slab getting herself worked up into a real frenzy. She suddenly exclaims, “The genitals are the door to evil! The vagina – the uterus! The womb – the labyrinth that leads to hell! The devil’s tools! “ You might want to back that up and repeat it to be sure you caught that. The deranged nun then proceeds to stab the lady on the slab between her legs repeatedly. At the end of this sequences she passes through another area that has all kinds of baby and child sized mannequins dangling from the ceiling. This is pretty much the high point of mayhem in this film. Director Bruno Mattei has front loaded the best parts of his film into the beginning. We don’t get all that much more bloodshed until the last bit save for a close up of a chicken being beheaded. What is it with the need to put these extraneous shots of animal cruelty in these films? There is some neck chocking and a few stabbings later on in the proceedings. Some blood gets splattered over the white parts of the nuns’ outfits but for the most part things bog down after that wild opening.

oh one

A priest is brought in to investigate the growing number of murders of the nuns in this convent. He doesn’t have a whole lot of suspects but you’re not watching this for the intricate plot developments. There is no getting around the fact that this is a nunsploitation picture without its fair share of perversity in it. So that’s a bit of a let down. The best part was hearing the music by Goblin. They were the band that Dario Argento brought in to provide some great music for his film Suspiria (1977). Argento also had them add some memorable cues to George Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead (1978). Director Mattei as well as the two actors interviewed in the extras admits that he was shooting two films at once while he made The Other Hell. He says he often made up the plot as he went along. Lead actress Franca Stoppi talks about having to change her make up during the day so she could do scenes for both films. While the other two are subtitled Carolo De Mejo speaks fluent English in his included interview. He’s quite charming as he recalls the shoot that was filled with fun and confusion for him.
The Other Hell is not as high on the exploitation meter as one may have expected but it is still filled with the kind of wacky figure it out on the fly filmmaking that Bruno Mattei’s fans have come to love.

oh two

Video – 1.66:1
The beginning of the film starts off with some excessive grain. In the opening sequence in the church catacombs detail disappears into a murky mass of black crush. The look is reminiscent of an old VHS. However at about the 30 minute mark things pick up. Anything outside in the sunlight looks much better. Interiors also show a marked improvement. Even darkly lit scenes back in the church basement offer a clearer image with more distinct colors.

Audio – English 2.0, French 2.0, Italian 2.0. Closed captions in English are available (though not mentioned on the cover)
The dialogue is the usual dubbed affair however the music by Goblin is a real treat.

Extras – Commentary With Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso Moderated By Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddeo / Sister Franca: Interview With Actress Franca Stoppi / To Hell And Back: Archive Interviews With Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo. This edition also comes with reversible cover art.

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

Blu-Ray – Fair at first then Good / Excellent

Movie – Clearly made for those who like this kind of thing

The Other Hell (1980) Blu-Ray Review

April 15th, 2017

cover

Stars – Franca Stoppi, Carlo De Mejo
Director – Bruno Mattei

Released by Severin

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The film begins with a naked woman laid out on a mortuary slab deep down in the dank and dark basement of an old church. One of the nuns there has apparently become unhinged in a very bad way. She circles the woman on the slab getting herself worked up into a real frenzy. She suddenly exclaims, “The genitals are the door to evil! The vagina – the uterus! The womb – the labyrinth that leads to hell! The devil’s tools! “ You might want to back that up and repeat it to be sure you caught that. The deranged nun then proceeds to stab the lady on the slab between her legs repeatedly. At the end of this sequences she passes through another area that has all kinds of baby and child sized mannequins dangling from the ceiling. This is pretty much the high point of mayhem in this film. Director Bruno Mattei has front loaded the best parts of his film into the beginning. We don’t get all that much more bloodshed until the last bit save for a close up of a chicken being beheaded. What is it with the need to put these extraneous shots of animal cruelty in these films? There is some neck chocking and a few stabbings later on in the proceedings. Some blood gets splattered over the white parts of the nuns’ outfits but for the most part things bog down after that wild opening.

oh one

A priest is brought in to investigate the growing number of murders of the nuns in this convent. He doesn’t have a whole lot of suspects but you’re not watching this for the intricate plot developments. There is no getting around the fact that this is a nunsploitation picture without its fair share of perversity in it. So that’s a bit of a let down. The best part was hearing the music by Goblin. They were the band that Dario Argento brought in to provide some great music for his film Suspiria (1977). Argento also had them add some memorable cues to George Romero’s classic film Dawn of the Dead (1978). Director Mattei as well as the two actors interviewed in the extras admits that he was shooting two films at once while he made The Other Hell. He says he often made up the plot as he went along. Lead actress Franca Stoppi talks about having to change her make up during the day so she could do scenes for both films. While the other two are subtitled Carolo De Mejo speaks fluent English in his included interview. He’s quite charming as he recalls the shoot that was filled with fun and confusion for him.
The Other Hell is not as high on the exploitation meter as one may have expected but it is still filled with the kind of wacky figure it out on the fly filmmaking that Bruno Mattei’s fans have come to love.

oh two

Video – 1.66:1
The beginning of the film starts off with some excessive grain. In the opening sequence in the church catacombs detail disappears into a murky mass of black crush. The look is reminiscent of an old VHS. However at about the 30 minute mark things pick up. Anything outside in the sunlight looks much better. Interiors also show a marked improvement. Even darkly lit scenes back in the church basement offer a clearer image with more distinct colors.

Audio – English 2.0, French 2.0, Italian 2.0. Closed captions in English are available (though not mentioned on the cover)
The dialogue is the usual dubbed affair however the music by Goblin is a real treat.

Extras – Commentary With Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso Moderated By Freak-O-Rama’s Federico Caddeo / Sister Franca: Interview With Actress Franca Stoppi / To Hell And Back: Archive Interviews With Director Bruno Mattei and Actor Carlo De Mejo. This edition also comes with reversible cover art.

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

Blu-Ray – Fair at first then Good / Excellent

Movie – Clearly made for those who like this kind of thing

Microcosmos (1996) Blu-Ray Review

April 9th, 2017

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Stars – Amazing insects and bugs
Directors – Claude Nuridsany, Marie Pérennou

Released by Kino Lorber

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Imagine that you could kneel down in a field and see deep down inside the grass, weed and underbrush to reveal the hidden world of the insect kingdom. Microcosmos offers us this vision in detail that you often can’t believe is so good. The unreal level of patience required to spot and follow these incredible little creatures is bridged through time laps photography. The colors are breathtaking. Some of these little critters blend into the background with intricate levels of camouflage. Butterflies and moth sport wings that are as beautiful as tapestries. There are caterpillars with protective prickers protecting them while others have a covering of fine material that resembles a costly couch covering. It is often so real you feel as if you could touch its soft texture. The quality of the photography is truly impressive. However one thing that sets this nature documentary apart from so many others is the way the material is presented.

m five

There is no cloying narrator making comments about how cute or pretty these insects and bugs are. That over friendly teacher voice over was common to those many Walt Disney shorts and features that would be shown Sundays on TV. Even Wild Kingdom, the Mack daddy of all TV nature shows had Marlin Perkins delivering a constant commentary on everything we saw. This sub genre got a very different treatment in the film, The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971). Dr. Nils Hellstrom gave us the very grave news that the insect very better suited to survive on this earth than we were. He illustrated his point with scenes of the tremendous powers of these tiny creatures to overcome harsh elements and even man made insecticides. There was brutal footage of the fierce fighting prowess they possessed. However it turns out that Dr. Hellstrom was played by an actor. Still his challenging narrative took you through this incredible odyssey commanding rapt attention.

m three

Microcosmos lets the images speak for themselves. There is no narrative to guide us. A nice variety of well chosen music accompanies the plethora of engrossing scenes. The editing takes us from season to season so we can experience how various species work with the harsher elements. Time lapse photography is used so we can focus on the journey of an individual insect. We follow the progress of a beetle carrying a berry on a long trek home. It lifts, pushes and tugs this treasure along the dirt until the berry becomes stuck. A bit of a root has impaled it preventing it from moving forward. We watch how this beetle tries every angle of movement until it finally is able to free the berry by pulling it off the wooden spear. There are scenes of ants, wasps and hornets who seem to communicate almost telepathically within their close knit micro society. The directors have also chosen to let us hear the sound effects at a level as if we were on the same ground as the insects we are watching. These augmented sounds make everything more realistic brining us further into what this fantastic world may be like. A sudden rainfall is threatening as the individual drops pound down like bombs.  It is refreshing to be left to marvel at all of this at our own pace and at whatever level we wish to. At 75 minutes the film comes just a bit close to over saturating us. Revisiting different sections of this film for whatever amount of time you choose to commit can be nicely rewarding.  The directors have show a good deal of restraint and taste in how they have chosen to present this amazing movie. Microcosmos comes highly recommended to one and all.

m one

Video – 1.66:1
This is a stunning image that offers an almost unreal clarity. Colors constantly stand out in ways that leave you awestruck. The textures on many of these creatures are so distinct you literally feel as if you are touching them. This new HD treatment enhances the already amazing visual experience.

Audio – English 2.0 Stereo, French 2. 0 Stereo with subtitles offered in English SDH
It is such a neat touch being able to hear the sound effects at such a distinct and high level. This serves to put you right into this fantastic world.  There is a very nice variety of music that accompanies the breathtaking images and sequences.

Extras – Making of Documentary, Interview with directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou, Trailer

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

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent