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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Bronson’

THE VALACHI PAPERS (1972) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, July 15th, 2017

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Stars – Charles Bronson, Joseph Wiseman,
Director – Terence Young * Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

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

The Valachi Papers starts off inside a dank prison. Colors are drab and muted. Everything seems to be a crappy shade of gray. A few of the prisoners are after Charles Bronson and he is not happy. Fearing for his life and certain he will be hit sooner than later he decides to turn over evidence on his criminal past in return for riding out his sentence under protection in a cozy solitary set up. This is not the slam bang shoot ‘em up and leave ‘em bloody on the streets or hanging off of a fire escape Charles Bronson that we are used to seeing. Based on the Peter Maas book about the real life mobster Joe Valachi who became the first man from the mafia to give state’s evidence. The film has a New York setting and is populated with plenty of recognizable mob names from The Genovese family. Peter Mass also wrote Serpico and King of The Gypsies which became films with Al Pacino and Eric Roberts respectively.

Now make no mistake about it there are plenty of shootings, beatings, and violence … even a castration that will leave you squirming in your seat. This is a pretty intense scene for a PG rating ! The film was originally rated R. I am not sure if anything was cut or someone was persuaded to change their mind. But Terence Young plays this one both for action and a serious telling of the story. Much of the film unfolds in period flashback as we follow Valachi as he moves up from being a driver to a hit man to a bonafide top level gangster. There are plenty of meetings where the mafia style is laid out. At one point Joseph Wiseman (Dr. No) explains the entire system of leadership and authority. He says who runs which terrify and who reports to whom. He is in fact the Capo de Capo the chief of all chiefs. Later on in the film when Genevese feels the true nature of the family is being short changed we see the famous meeting of the gangland bosses in upstate New York at Appalachia. There are plenty of incidents here that resonate from headlines in The New York Daily News or The Post. Director Terence Young who did three early James Bond films ( Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball) handles the longer running time of 125 minutes and gives the bosses their proper stance but he gets let down a bit by the script and the performances. Some of the Italian accents are not quite on the money. Another thing that takes a lot away from the actor’s work is the excessive use of dubbing.

It’s refreshing to see Bronson play a man who is trapped. We are so used to his being able to muscle out of a situation but here he gets let down by the very people he always depended on. He gets the rug pulled out from under him and can hardly believe it. He plays it well. The scenes with Jill Ireland feel a bit shoe-horned into the film. She’s not very compelling in her scenes with him particularly as they age with some shoddy gray hair and aging lines on their face. The Valachi Papers delivers on the action but takes a deserved place amongst the films that brought a bit more true life insight into the Mob -films like Pay Or Die (1960 ) with Ernest Borgnine and The Brotherhood (1969) with Kirk Douglas. While not at all in the same league as The Godfather which would open eight months later it remains a nice chance to see Bronson take on a different persona.

Video – 1.85:1
The presentation looks fine. Detail is on the soft side but that appears entirely intentional. Many films of this era have a similar style. The film’s look is a curios mix of drab dank muted colors that we see in a lot of the settings and an almost bold feel to the various gangster costumes. A few times the colors on the suits pop as if we were watching a character in the Batman TV series. Bloodshed always gets that bright paint-like red appearance. The look takes away from some of the realism that the film courts. On the other hand the action and violence comes in so often it is like clockwork. Those scenes stand somewhat apart from the rest of the film.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD with subtitles offered in English SDH
What hurts this film the most, to my taste is the excessive dubbing. It serves to take you right out of the scenes, especially when we are learning some inside information on what makes the families work.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track,
A look back on this one would have been interesting to hear.

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

Blu-Ray – Good / Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

THE STONE KILLER (1973) BLU-RAY REVIEW

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

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Stars – Charles Bronson, Ralph Waite, Martin Balsalm * Director – Michael Winner
* Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

It is always fun to see Charles Bronson rampaging through New York City in the seventies. Throw in some of the seedier parts of Los Angeles and you’ve got a solid if not great Bronson picture to enjoy. Set when the police cars were dark green and black and white, the film opens with Bronson chasing a young perp as he climbs outside an apartment house. He tries to make a break for it but Bronson shoots him as he runs leaving him hanging half over the railing suspended over the city street below. There is a great use of city locations in this film. Director Michael Winner always preferred to shoot on real locations rather then studio built sets and his taste shows in a big way here. Kudos to the location scout for finding some rarely used spots like York Avenue as it runs into 53rd Street and the East River Drive exit on the swanky Upper East Side. The plot gets a little bit convoluted but the generous casting of well known character types makes up for it. The mob seems to be taking out people using a different type of hit man for the job. Martin Balsalm (Psycho) is the Capo di tutti, boss of all bosses who is behind all the trouble. Ralph Waite (The Waltons) plays another grizzled detective trying to keep up with Bronson. John Ritter (Three’s Company) is a rookie cop who gets put through his paces here. Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files) is a bad guy in over his head, or maybe not. It’s great to see Paul Koslo from The Omega Man as a jazz playing hit man with a wild haircut and flashy clothes. Bronson tracks him down by the type of records he buys in a store. How often does that happen.

Director Winner who worked with Bronson on six movies allows plenty of time for some solid action set pieces. There is a terrific chase with Bronson in a car tearing after a guy riding a motorcycle. It’s full of mayhem and close calls with plenty of storefront windows shattering in slow motion. Between the New York and Los Angeles settings we’re treated to quite a few good shoot outs and confrontations. Winner and Bronson would go on to what many consider the best film of their work together, Death Wish, after this one. They did The Mechanic with Jan-Michael Vincent before which is one of my top Bronson films. Bronson made a lot of good pictures and some that were not so hot. He and Winner clicked well together. Any of their films are solid entertainment.

Video – 1.85:1
The transfer presents this film in very much the same way that it looked when it played in the theaters. Detail is good though muted at times. Colors are also on the money though they are also toned down on purpose. Black levels behave. The image retains enough of the grain to keep that gritty urban tone that was so prevalent then.

Audio – DTS-HD 1.0 with subtitles offered in English SDH
Dialogue sounds fine and is easy to follow.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated music track , Commentary with Commentary with Bronson Biographer Paul Talbot / Original Theatrical Trailer

Paul Talbot who wrote Bronson’s Loose and Bronson’s Loose Again gives a very detailed commentary. He nails every person, car and piece of armament in sight. If you’ve been within fifty feet of a Bronson film, this cat has got your number. We learn lots of inside info like the fact that Bronson had it in his contract to never be filmed with a naked woman. It’s a jam packed commentary from someone who obviously knows these films well and loves sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm.

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.

m-nine

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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

Chato‘s Land (1972 )Blu-Ray Review

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

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Stars – Charles Bronson,James Whitmore, Simon Oakland, Jack Palance, Ralph Waite, Richard Jordan
Director – Michael Winner

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

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Charles Bronson and Michael Winner worked together for the first time and produced a tough hardscrabble western that holds up nicely. There is a special kind of western that pits one lone Indian against a large posse of men. Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (1969) features Robert Redford leading a manhunt for Robert Blake who has run off with Katherine Ross. The Stalking Moon (1968) took a whole different tack, almost behaving like a horror movie. Gregory Peck escorts a white woman and her son who have been freed from an Indian Camp. The boy’s Apache father is known as The Ghost. He wipes out an entire camp of soldiers during the night in pursuit of them. The ghost tracks them attacking at night moving in the shadows. The film’s tagline was , “A Western with a difference- An exercise in sheer suspense and terror!” For my money the one that really sent shivers down your spine, was Ulzana’s Raid (1972). Burt Lancaster is the scout for a party of raw soldiers who are hopelessly outclassed. The violence is savage. The threat of Ulzana’s war party is palpable. Lancaster shows a healthy respect for the marauding Ulzana. It’s curious that this group of films all came out within a scant few years of each other. The late sixties and early seventies saw many classic genres turned on their heads. Sure there was a growing respect for the Native American that had been present in mainstream films as far back as Run of the Arrow (1957) and Broken Arrow (1950) through Cheyenne Autumn (1964) , but these films contained a fascination with the warrior skills. There was an appreciation for the culture and strategy that went way beyond the skills one had with a bow and arrow. They commanded your attention and held it.

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In Chato’s Land Bronson’s character leads the pursuing posse deep into the rugged mountain terrain where he lives. In the early part of the film he lets the land unravel the party. They have trouble finding water. They only have the food they brought with them. Bronson scrambles over the mountain tops looking down at them from the desired vantage point. He is largely silent in the film, hardly ever talking. In the first scene Bronson shoots a man in self defense at a bar. Jack Palance dons his old Confederate Army uniform and leads a group of men after him. A few of them are legitimately tough guys. Richard Jordan seems to always have women on his mind and not in a good way.  Its clear these guys thought that could string up The Breed as they call him after one day’s ride. The days drag on and the land pounds at them. Screenwriter Gerald Wilson makes a nice point by letting Chato use the actual land to defeat them.

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There is a scene in this film which had been heavily edited. Parts of it were even shot in two versions allowing for a toned down sequence to be in the American PG rated release. Twilight Time uses the unexpurgated European version (100 minutes) which contains some graphic nudity in the rape of Chato’s wife. Director Winner also filmed Chato’s Indian friend being tied up and hung upside down over a fire that burns him alive. This is a rough one two punch to take. It’s meant to show us why Chato moves into a killing mode for the rest of the film. Indeed he does as he begins to pick the party off one at a time. One can make correlations to the Vietnam war that was raging at the time or just take it as a sanguine revenge saga.  Jerry Fielding’s score works to put us solidly in the Western Movie frame of mind. He supports the change in the tone of the film with some very strong orchestrations. The look of the film is dirty, perhaps more than it needs to be.  Michael Winner made a half dozen films with Charles Bronson over the years. The brutality in this one sets a tone for their cinematic relationship that carried on. He can be heavy handed and not quite up to snuff in many cases but here he delivers a solid western revenge thriller.

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I like a lot of what was in the script that Wilson wrote. Ulzana’s Raid is still the Alpha Dog in this sub genre but there is some nice texture here. The casting is other thing that makes this film as good as it is. Jack Palance (Shane) gives us a truly warped veteran of the Civil War. He’s got plenty of demons. He has a few soliloquies that show how unsettled he is. Richard Jordan (Friends of Eddie Coyle) is a nasty little guy whose character deserves everything he gets. Simon Oakland (TV’s The Night Stalker) gets to stand up to Palance as the two of them drive a wedge between the men. There are shots of a silent patient Bronson just sitting high up on the rocks as these guys go at it and the group begins to break apart.

c three

Video – 1.85:1
There is no getting around that the look of the film is disappointing. It is overly contrasty in sections. Focus is frequently soft. Even in the desolate craggy mountains there is a noticeable lack of detail. There were certain film stocks in that era that yielded this grainy indistinct look. And yes there was a bit of a trend that favored soft focus in that time period too. About the only time we get a strong picture is in the exterior daylight close ups of faces. This may be a case of a good transfer of poor source materials. It is entirely watchable but be prepared that it will look dull throughout. The publicity pictures used in this review do not reflect the quality of the Blu-Ray image.

Audio – 1.0 DTS-HD MA with subtitles offered in English SDH
Dialogue is understandable. There is a bit of dubbing done in post production. Jerry Feilding’s score is rendered nicely here. You can appreciate his arrangement. His style fits westerns so well.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Screenwriter Gerald Wilson on Chato’s Land, Original trailer

The interview with writer Gerald Wilson shows how purposeful he was in the creation of the landscape as a major part of the film. He also explains the parallels with the Vietnam war.

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

Blu-Ray – Good

Movie – Good / Excellent