The Lionsgate October 16, 2018 complete-series Blu-ray release of the lush and lavish 2014-17 Starz series "Black Sails" is the perfect way to get in the mood for lush and lavish Oscar contenders that are sure to hit the big screen in December. A related note is that the beauty and the well-orchestrated complexity of the 38 episodes in this four-season series require savoring it as much as "binging" on a gourmet meal ruins the experience and makes you feel unwell after the experience.
The two Sound Editing and one Special and Visual Effects Emmys that "Sails" wins illustrates that executive producer Michael Bay puts his talents for grandeur and explosions to good use. Shooting the series on location further enhances the episodes.
The first bit of shameful commerce is that the incredible audio and video of the Blu-rays and the copious truly special features (more below) make choosing this set over watching it on Starz or streaming it a no-brainer. A related note is that these attributes make this roughly $50 set a perfect gift for anyone who likes period pieces, pirates, and/or the Caribbean. Although stealing it from a brick-and-mortar store honors the theme of "Sails," such behavior is completely unacceptable in 2018.
The first confession is admitting to never having read the source material of this prequel to the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island. The only recognized name in "Sails" is that of a pre-Long John Silver, whose fame extends to having a descendant with a successful film career. The second confession is that "Sails" not being conducive to binging limits the scope of this review to the first two seasons; the final two will be watched in the next several weeks.
Our tale of the courage of the fearless crew that pirate captain leads begins in 1715, which is roughly 20 years before the time period of Island. The "civilized" world allows pirates to rule New Providence Island and the capital of Nassau. There is prosperity and more peace than can be expected in a place that operates in this manner.
The pilot episode perfectly sets the tone and hooks the audience; Silver soon shows himself to be the Dr. Smith of the merchant ship on which he is a crew member. Rather than help his fellow seamen fend off an attack by dread pirate Captain Flint and his pirates of the Caribbean, Silver hides in a locked room. While there, Silver obtains paper with the information that Flint is seeking.
Silver subsequently further keeps up with the Smiths in falsely asserting to the pirates that he is the cook, which is a valued position on any ship. This leads to Silver literally jumping ship to join the crew of Flint. A later incident shows why Jewish people label pork as trayf.
The pilot also educates viewers about the rules of law that govern pirates; Flint soon learns the harsh reality of any pirate captain being like a prime minster in that he serves at the pleasure of the crew and can be voted out anytime. A related aspect of this is that pirates are compensated in the form of a percentage of the booty that they plunder. Raids such as the one in which Silver is the catch-of-the-day that do not net any treasure result in Flint facing a challenge to his leadership.
This law of the sea is fascinating because it illustrates both that not much has changed in 300 years and that the means by which formal governments operate is not much different than the rules that pirate ships follow. The response to the new candidate for captain include below-decks politics that are equivalent to back-room deals. The more entertaining part is the false accusations and a confrontation that many politicians clearly would relish.
After surviving the challenge to his leadership, Flint once again devotes most of his attention to pursuing his personal white whale. The object of his obsession is the Urca de Lima, which is a ship that Flint believes is heavily laden with gold. The contribution that Silver can make regarding that quest is the only thing that has him avoid walking the plank.
Meanwhile back in Nassau, 18th-century Ivanka Trump Eleanor Guthrie is operating the brokerage business of her absent father, The basic system is that Eleanor buys the cargoes that the pirates liberate from their former owners; Guthrie then sells the goods. The risks to her continued good fortune include the sins of her father and a push to terminate the rule of the pirates.
A whorehouse with relatively liberated employees is the third side of the commerce triangle in Nassau; the first season shows how all three elements inter-relate and make strange bedfellows.
Speaking of prostitution, one of the best S1 scenes involves a negotiation for a recreational facility during the 18th-century equivalent of dry dock. One spoiler is that this discussion prompts the fun of chanting "Fuck Tent! Fuck Tent! Fuck Tent!" This also involves a cute scene in which an invitation for a "quick fuck" clearly involves pup tents but does not necessarily include the filthy whore.
We additionally get flashbacks to the aforementioned civilized world; these provide context that include showing how becoming a pirate makes Flint an entirely new person in more ways than one; this insight includes other members of the "Sails" crew.
The pursuit of the Urca is central to much of the S1 action; we also see how the related issues of maintaining peace and conducting commerce in Nassau create strange and shifting bedfellows; a notable aspect of this is a pirate crew learning the true meaning of the expression "don't fuck with me, boys." Another scoundrel who cannot produce a strong and sturdy mast discovers that Hell hath no fury like a prostitute left unsatisfied.
S1 ends on a terrific note that demonstrates the true meaning of the expression "so close, yet so far away."
As other reviewers note, "Sails" fully finds its sea legs in S2; it seems like deja vu all over again when we see pirate captain Charles Vane raid a merchant ship. The defeated crew peacefully surrendering creates an expectation that Vane is going to do things the easy way. We soon learn that Homie the pirate don't play that. This leads to Vane even more aggressively seeking dominance over the pirate community.
S2 additionally provides the second chapter in the pursuit of the Urca treasure, which aptly becomes a bargaining chip in pursuits of happiness. The S2 finale aspect of that aptly is pure gold and heightens excitement regarding S3.
The new girl in town also becomes a bargaining chip on a few levels, She is being held hostage for ransom but also is a valuable peace offering in events that determine the future of Nassau. This prompts a sort of a homecoming in which more secrets are revealed and regarding which it seems that thieves are the only one with any honor. All of this (and several other developments) offer Bay a chance to stage the epic battles for which he is so well known. Other mayhem comes in the form of slit throats and orchestrated "accidents."
Students of history and folks who use a Google search as a half-assed form of cheating know the outcome of the power struggle for New Providence Island; "Sails" shows that getting there is all the fun.
The bigger picture this time is Bay putting a more realistic spin on "The Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise and "The Pirates of Penzance" operetta sparks interest in early 18th-century world history. Everything is even more connected in that era than it is now, and we see how things evolve. We further learn that there are at least 50 shades of gray between the titular canvases under which the pirates sail and the white sails of the "good" guys.
The Blu-ray for each season has copious spectacular special features that demonstrate the love of the cast and crew. The S1 bonuses focus on creating the series and the oft-mentioned historical context. This culminates in several S4 roundtable features on topics that include "The Legends of Treasure Island" and "Fearless Fans."
This incomplete discussion of "Sails" proves that there is more than enough reason to get on board regarding the series; it truly is a unique series with feature-film quality acting and cinematography.
The Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the 1948 Blu-ray release of the 1948 noir classic "Key Largo" provides a chance to add it to your collection of perfectly remastered films (including the recently reviewed "Dark Passage") starring Mr., and Mrs. Humphrey Bogart. The magic of Blu-ray allowing custom-made marathon viewings validates that the sexual chemistry between Bogart and Bacall equals that of Affleck and Damon. One difference is that no pop songs celebrate the magic regarding Batt.
This John Huston film further is notable for having a particularly strong Orsonian quality is that it has the look and themes of a Welles films. This is on top of the live-stage feel that is attributable to "Largo" being based on a play of the same name.
The opening scenes prove that the reputation of Bogart precedes him. The audience believes that his character Frank McCloud is involved when the local po po stops the bus on which he is traveling to search for less than honest injuns who are fugitives from justice. We quickly learn that McCloud is as clean as a brothel on a Tuesday afternoon.
The real fun begins when a hostile motley crew provides McCloud an unfriendly welcome on his arrival at a tourist hotel on the titular Florida island. This shady lot includes drunken floozy Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor in an Oscar-winning role). Dawn aptly steals the show in a later scene in which mob boss Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) literally makes her sing for her liquid supper.
The reception thaws on the group learning that WWII vet McCloud is there to visit the family of a man who served under him and who died in combat. Bacall plays Nora Temple, who is the widow of the dead soldier. Lionel Barrymore shows much of his broad range in playing the wheelchair-bound father of the man/hotel owner James Temple. The beloved James additionally is the unofficial mayor of Key L:argo.
McCloud shows bad timing for him and perfect timing for the audience in arriving hours before a highly symbolical hurricane is due to hit the island. Everyone in front of and behind the camera plays his or her part especially well regarding the increasing barometic and other pressures ahead of the weather event,
Things escalate to the point of Rocco holding McCloud and the Temples hostage as Rocco, his thugs, and his moll both wait out both the storm and the arrival of a business associate.
Huston PERFECTLY stages the confrontations between Rocco and McCloud and/or Temple. These typically include exchanging philosophies.
The foul weather ceasing does not coincide with the storm blowing over. McCloud and Rocco still have a score to settle and Nora needs to discover if she can connect with her "Nick" in time.
The above discussion of "Largo" provides many reasons why this Blu-ray is worthy of inclusion in your film library. The broader perspective is that the film is a perfect example of how great they used to make them and of they don't make 'em like that anymore.
It is difficult to imagine assembling a dream team that is comparable to a director like Huston working with such a talented cast that both can give nuanced performances and play off each other as well as this group,
The Warner Archive October 9, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1974 TV Movie "Bad Ronald" reminds us of the Golden Age of such guilty pleasure gems. This one has the bonus of the still-modern element of having a psycho covertly living in the walls of your home. This cult status also favors buying the Blu-ray, rather than relying on almost surely spotty inclusion on a streaming service,
This variation of "Psycho" begins with the titular excitable high-school senior (Scott Jacoby) enjoying a birthday party with his domineering mother Elaine (Kim Hunter). She is sharing her high aspirations for her boy when he cuts things short to visit the object of his affection over the objection of his mother.
The reception that dorky Ronald receives on showing up when the girl of his dreams and the other cool kids are swimming is either hilarious or heartbreaking depending on your perspective, It does prove that kids say the cruelest things.
Ronald is fresh off this experience when a subsequent encounter is the straw that broke the camel's sanity in that push comes to fatal shove. This sends Ronald into the arms of the one woman who loves him; Elaine responds in a manner that leads to Ronald simultaneously breaking the records for the amount of time that a teen boy spends locked in the bathroom and goes without changing his tightie-whities.
The plot thickens when Ronald ventures out one day to find Elaine gone and the house empty of all furniture. This changes when Mr. and Mrs. Wood move in with their three teen daughters. Fun casting related to this includes having ubiquitous '80s actor Dabney Coleman play Mr. Wood. We also get Ted Eccles of kidcom "Dr. Shrinker" fame as Duane Matthews, who is the object of the affection of one of the Wood girls and the brother of the homicide victim,
A combination of Duane telling the Wood family the history of the house and of Ronald increasingly haunting the abode particularly puts the younger members of the family ill at ease. A relatable aspect of this is the many times throughout our lives when we are certain that we had now missing food or that an object seemingly has been tampered with.
The aforementioned modern aspect enters the picture in this regard. One sign of our Dystopian Days is the regular urban myths and facts about a former owner of a house restricting his residence to a concealed area out of economic necessity and/or a disturbed mind. The really scary part is that this often can continue for extended periods before being discovered.
The tension nicely builds as Ronald increasingly loses his grasp on reality in proportion to becoming obsessed with the girls next door. Things proverbially hit the fan when the mice going away prompts the cat to prey. A highlight of this is Duane ending up in a position that will delight folks who fall within the overlap between people who enjoy S&M and "Shrinker" fans.
Things rapidly wrap up in an inevitable manner the removes any doubt regarding the erroneous belief of Elaine that Ronald is destined to be a brain surgeon.
The twofer that Warner Archive provides regarding the September 18, 2018 DVD release of the 1938 prison drama morality tale "Over the Wall" begins with this movie being a textbook example of the lost gems Golden Age B-movies that comprise a significant portion of the Archive catalog. The "two" begins with this release continuing the tradition of Archive leitmotifs. The theme this time is prison dramas, and the set includes the reviewed Warner Bu-ray release of the 1973 classic film "Papillon" about the obsessive efforts of the boy with the butterfly tattoo to escape from Devils Island.
The first of the numerous elements that make "Wall" Archive worthy begins with the unusual source material. This tale of hot-tempered brawling Irishman Jerry Davis is based on a book by real-life Sing Sing warden Lewis E. Lawes. The clear message that that well-known prison strives to rehabilitate, rather than punish, establishes both that it is the polar opposite of Devil's Island and that Davis either is going to be a better man for a dead one at the end of film.
"Wall" further reflects the studio system. The liner notes on the DVD back cover share that "Warner Bros.' celebrated 'Singing Cowboy' Dick Foran trades in his leathers for a prison jumper" to play Jerry. It is highly likely that most (if not all) the supporting characters and all the extras are largely selected based on who is available during the time allotted for making "Wall."
"Wall" not being shy about depicting the stereotypes of the era is another source of entertainment. Jerry is a perfect depiction of a 20-something New York punk who needs very little provocation to bust a window or a head; his much-younger brother Jimmy seems destined to head down the same road. Jimmy additionally represents the humorous stereotype of a prepubescent boy of the '30s who looks and sounds like a grown-ass man. This makes a scene in which the lad must relinquish the death seat and move to the bitch seat in the car of Jerry funny.
The Irish stereotype continues with the father of Jerry and Jimmy having a brogue that makes him sound as if he is fresh of the boat even though his wife lacks any Irish accent, The man who is at least in his 60s picking a fight with Jerry helps complete the picture.
Other period-specific glee relates to the spinning headlines that provide substantive exposition and a swinging pendulum of a clock accompanying months flying by to indicate the passage of time.
True to form with this type of film, Jerry barely avoids becoming a guest of the state the first time that he gets his Irish up. Of course, he ignores the advice to temper his temper.
The impetus for the events that lead to the unfortunate incarceration of Jerry is his sleazy fight manager setting him up for a literal fall in a fight that is the venture of a legitimate businessman. Emotional and physical pain prompts our raging bull to track down his manager. That altercation leads to the manager pushing up daises.
The judicial proceeding that concludes with convicting Jerry of manslaughter occurs in what aptly can be described as a boxing kangaroo court. This leads to his getting locked up in the aforementioned correctional institution.
The arrogance and related defiance of Jerry on going inside figuratively (and hilariously) places him in the bitch seat in a manner that provides numerous highlights, Modern audiences know that the real-life wake-up call would have involved a badly bruised body and Jerry becoming the wife of one or more inmates.
Prison chaplain Father Neil Connor is the primary force behind the effort to provide Jerry a form of deliverance other than the type described above. Of course, that initial effort fails.
The first turning point occurs when Jerry passes a test of character. His showing his true nature reaps immediate benefits, We next get a '30s version of a jailhouse rock that lets Foran showoff his singing voice. A positive aspect of this is that his songs provide the same type of pleasant surprise as when Jim Nabors demonstrates that his singing style is nothing like the high-pitched Southern accent of Gomer Pyle. A less-nice aspect of this scene in "Wall" is that a stereotype involving two black inmates is not laughable but is excusable in the context of the era.
The climax commences with Jerry getting a chance to prove his innocence; this results in a fast-paced final 10-minutes as Connor and other supporters try to prevent Jerry both from reverting to his old ways and from being his own worst enemy, Seeing these men team up in the name of truth, justice, and the American way strongly suggests that they would go on to star in a television series about street-wise detectives if "Wall" was made in the '70s.
Additional appeal of this highly dated fable is that it reminds us of a much happier time in which prisons had some success at rehabilitating inmates and did not just release them on the streets stronger and more crime savvy than when they entered. On the "order" side of things, this period also is known for having a judicial system with proper due process, participants who favored justice over wins and/or expediency, and in which one went wrong was more easily put right,
'Papillon' '73 Blu-ray: 'Butterfly' McQueen Shows He Does Know Plenty About Birthing Devil's Island Escape Plans
The disappointment regarding the Warner Archive September 18, 2018 Blu-ray release of the epic 1973 Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman docudrama "Papillon" has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with the quality of the film or the incredibly clear Blu-ray remaster. The negative aspect is that the titular boy with the butterfly tattoo (MacQueen) and his well-heeled counterfeiter friend/fellow prisoner (Hoffman) do not adequately bond with a third character to warrant a Devil's Island triangle reference.
Archive continues its solid tradition of leitmotifs by pairing this Blu-ray with a DVD release of the (soon-to-be-reviewed) 1938 B-movie "Over the Wall" based on a story by real-life Sing Sing warden Lewis E. Lawes. "Papillon," which is a '70s sensation based on the film and the massively best-selling memoir on which is based, chronicles the incredible efforts of safecracker Henri Charriere to escape the aforementioned French Ghana prison camp. The nickname of this man relates to the aforementioned ink on his chest.
Writing the book makes sharing that Charriere ultimately succeeds not much of a spoiler. However, like most film and television stories, the entertainment value is watching the compelling story of his prison break.
Adding horrific abuse that includes sadistic starvation of prisoners who must wear filthy pajama-like striped uniforms contributes a disturbing concentration camp vibe to this classic film. Of course, McQueen doing his usual excellent job portraying an obsessively determined tough guy and Hoffman channeling creepy scumbag Ratso Rizzo to play Louis Dega superbly bring the script by famously blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo to life.
The impact (which includes the concentration camp vibe) begins with the naked new fish assembled in a courtyard. They are instructed about what lies ahead before being told to dress just ahead of a heavily guarded walk of shame through crowded city streets. The spectacle/ritual aspect of this greatly establishes the tone of the film.
Some of the limited but very good humor of "Papillon" relates to the conviction of that man. He is an admitted safecracker but is convicted for murdering a pimp. The response to that alleged crime makes it seem as if France puts men who keeps both whores and tricks in line on the same social level as Nobel Prize winners.
The prisoners then board a sea-worthy vessel that evokes thoughts of a slave ship; they are herded aboard and crammed into locked below-deck cages; their bathing consists of a fire hose blasting water through the bars. We additionally see them being served what already likely is watered-down soup on the deck in in the pouring rain.
The savvy Papillon uses this time to begin plotting his escape; learning that Louis is a good candidate to provide the capital for that venture is the start of a beautiful friendship,. Louis realizing that Papillon can help assure living to bride guards another day seals the deal.
One of the best scenes in the film revolves a scheme for desired employment. Our boys are a heartbeat away from literally making the best of a bad situation when Louis experiences karma. Stating that Papillon and Louis end up to their elbows in alligators is not far from the truth.
Subsequent events result in Papillon experiencing a massively unfortunate incarceration; his adhering to the principle of snitches get stitches is what makes that particularly bad situation worse. These scenes additionally prove that McQueen waz robbed regarding not even being nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.
The nature of the extended absence makes the heart of Louis grow much fonder for his protector. Things quickly going awry with their Plan C for escape turns this film into a dark variation of a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road movie, This also provides the context for additional beautiful travelogue scenery that makes good use of Blu-ray technology.
The end of this portion of the adventure will make you want to shout "that bitch" despite fully knowing that doing so ensures that you will go to actual Hell. The self-righteous betrayal of Papillon is bad enough; the insult that is added to the injury reinforces what virtually every Catholic school student has ever asserted.
This leads to resuming the battle of wills regarding which the guys in charge seem to not realize that someone with nothing to lose has no reason to stop trying to get away. Making it clear that punishment, rather than rehabilitation, is the goal of the imprisonment does not help matters.
As stated above, this 20th-century Hollywood movie delivers a happy ending. Determining how Charriere becomes one of the few men to ever beat the house and whether Louis makes it as well requires watching the film. One hint is that Papillon shows that he is more resourceful than the professor of "Gilligan's Island" fame.
The 12-minute bonus feature "The Magnificent Rebel" greatly enhances the "Papillon" experience. This making-of documentary from the time of filming the movie introduces us to the real Charriere and shows how the filmmakers boldly go where no man has gone before. We further get to see the state of the prison facility in the early '70s.
The bottom line regarding all this is that the biggest reason that the film continues to thrive to the extent of warranting a recent remake is that all the folks in front of and behind the camera realize that the devil is in the details.
The Warner Archive August 28, 2018 Blu-ray release of the star-studded 1958 Technicolor drama "The Naked and the Dead" proves that war pictures are far more than stories about groups of men shooting each other in the same manner that quality film and television westerns demonstrate that that genre extends beyond stereotypical action that includes saloon fights and cattle stampedes. "Naked" is based on a Norman Mailer novel that examines how an armed conflict can prompt a war of wills with intense collateral damage.
The first note is that seeing a scene that highlights the beauty of Hawaii and another moment in which a grenade creates a large fireball eliminates any doubt regarding whether buying "Naked" in Blu-ray makes sense and as to the skill of Archive regarding restoring films.
The second note is that this cast that includes Aldo Rey, Cliff Robertson, and Raymond Massey also has the lesser-known Jerry Paris, Paris is best known as the director of the classic sitcoms "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Happy Days;" he also plays neighbor Jerry Helper on "Van Dyke." All of this is a far cry from Helper playing Jewish WWII foor-soldier Goldstein in "Naked."
"Naked" opens with the dogfaces enjoying risque entertainment at a Hawaiian den of ill repute. Hillbilly enlisted man/moonshine distiller Woodrow "Woody" Wilson is the life of the party due to his enthusiastic (and requited) love for star "exotic dancer" Lily. The hilariously rude, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior of Sgt. Sam Croft (Rey) clearly establishes that he not only is not one of the boys but does not work or play well with others. We do later learn why he is so bitter and believes that dames ain't nothin' but trouble,
The party winds down as our excitable boys board a ship for a Japanese-occupied island. Their journey provides the exposition that establishes the characters. This essentially is the cross-section of young American men of that era.
The real drama begins on the group capturing a Japanese soldier on the island. The horrific manner in which Croft treats that POW and his brothers-in-arms justifies giving him the same treatment. However, his men remain loyal.
Much further up the food chain, commanding officer General Cummings (Massey) is practicing his related philosophies of flaunting his power/privilege and making the enlisted men fear him more than they fear the enemy. His reasoning is that this will cause the soldiers to fight harder.
Lt. Robert Hearn (Robertson) first gets caught up in all this on getting the outwardly desirable assignment of being the aide to Cummings. The perks include some prestige and luxuries. The costs include an expectation that he will be completely loyal to Cummings and not challenge any of his decisions or way of thinking.
An aside is that messing with guys such as Cummings whom the military perfectly brainwashes can be great fun. A highlight of conducting computer training for Air National Guard soldiers was responding to a joking threat by recent OTC graduate that I might have been scared if he was a Marine. He immediately jumped up, and the guys on either side of him almost as quickly stood up ready to grab him. We all were laughing a second later,
The inevitable absurd showdown between Hearn and Cummings PERFECTLY illustrates the military mindset and literally put Hearn on the front line with Team Croft. An exchange in which one soldier comments that the Army should have promoted Croft if it wanted his platoon to have a lieutenant is just as insightful. A comment in the film that the winning side in a war is the one that kills the most people echoes an oft-stated perspective of your not-so-humble reviewer.
Hearn leads the group on a scouting mission that is intended to end a Japanese standoff; as predicted, the threat level escalates both regarding the mission and the differing styles of Croft and Hearn. One gist regarding this conflict is that Croft agrees with Cummings that a certain number of deaths are acceptable and that some risks are worth the probability of some of his men getting killed.
The truly bittersweet outcome of that mission also reflects the flaws of military thinking. Achieving what arguably can be considered a success reinforces what most people deem to be a reckless risk. Hearn essentially gets the last word and is the true voice of reason; of course, no one listens to him.
The outward value of "Naked" is the seemingly overall realistic depiction of an experience that is foreign to most of us. At the very least, this is not a John Wayne War Hero film.
Digging a little deeper., many of us have worked for someone like Cummings. This is the manager who has an employee get him or her coffee just to show that person who's the boss. On a literally and figuratively higher level, the man or woman in the corner offices generously doles out lavish executive perks while not issuing even COLA raises. Another aspect of this is laying off people to improve profitability and then being lauded as a corporate savior.
The bottom line is that "Naked" provides an insightful that remains relevant 60 years after its release. An added thought is that it will evoke thoughts of the classic film and television series "M.A.S.H."
The Warner Archive September 28, 2018 DVD of the director's cut of the 2004 TV movie "Helter Skelter" does not quite put the viewer inside the head of cult leader/serial killer by proxy Charles Manson; it does provide good insight into the life of Manson and the members of his "family" at the time that his "children" kill pregnant actress Sharon Tate (a.k.a. Mrs. Roman Polanski), her house guests, and a couple of guys who stop by on the worst possible night.
The cred. of this equally entertaining and educational docudrama includes attorney/screenwriter Vincent Bugliosi basing the film on his insight as the real-life prosecutor in the case. Another notable aspect of "Helter" is that is offers the flip side perspective of the equally good film "Wolves at the Door." "Wolves", which is another (reviewed) member of the Archives catalog, largely is from the perspectives of the Manson Family victims.
Director John Gray ("The Ghost Whisperer") and Bugliosi start off strong with family members putting the fear of Charlie into someone whom the group concludes done them wrong, Manson (Jeremy Davies of "Lost") then shows up in a manner that suggests that Davies is basing his performance on Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." It is equally plausible that close Roman Polanski friend Nicholson bases his "Shining" performance on the rel-life Manson.
This opening confrontation in "Helter" establishes three key elements of the Manson story; Manson is violently psychotic, his "children" are fanatically devoted to him, and "Dad" is smart enough to leave the real dirty work to the kids.
The fun continues with seeing newly single mom/lost soul Linda Kasabian (Clea DuVall) get adopted and move to the western-style film lot that serves as the family home. Linda meeting future wannabe presidential assassin Squeaky Fromme (Mary Lynn Rajskub of "24) is one highlight. The minimal worldly goods of Kasabian quickly being absorbed into the Manson Family treasury reminds viewers of the modus operandi of communes/cults.
Exposition during this period includes depicting the mysterious charisma of Manson and his outlook on life. One can understand how young folks who feel unloved respond to the affection that Manson shows his offspring; it is equally predictable that the turmoil of the late '60s get them to buy into his belief that the titular race war will lead to black people dominating white people. Accepting his exit strategy of escaping into essentially a magical Sid and Marty Krofft land when the race war fully commences reflects that these disciples are enjoying the '60s too much.
The story take a more familiar turn when the friendship/collaboration between Manson and Beach Boys member Dennis Wilson goes south. Advanced-beginner Manson scholars know about this relationship and that Manson is a house guest of that teen idol until the drug use and other weirdness get to be too much even for Wilson. The events of "Helter" fill in the picture in manners that include showing the connection between that falling out and turning Chez Polanski into a murder house.
A particularly interesting aspect of the Beach Boys element is that we learn that music producer Terry Melcher plays a key role in the mayhem. A fun aside is that Melcher is the real-life son of Doris Day and the producer of her eponymous '60scom. A related bit of Hollywood history is that mismanagement by the then-husband of Day forces her to do the program. The final note is that all this reflects the que sera sera philosophy for which Day is well known.
The Tate killings and other felony-murders by family members in the same period receive surprisingly little screen time in "Helter."
The subsequent focus on the investigation of the aforementioned crimes (including the LaBianca murders) reflects "Helter" being the work of a prosecutor. Another strong reference point is that the military-style raids on Manson Family homesteads evoke thoughts of the more recent confrontation at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
This all begins when common elements of the crimes cause light bulbs to belatedly go off in the heads of law-enforcement folks. This leads to the national obsession trials of Manson and his family. Manson insisting on defending himself will trigger memories for folks old enough to recall these proceedings.
Seeing how Bugliosi builds his cases is fascinating to both true-crime and television procedural fans. This includes get cooperation from Charles "Tex" Watson and other inner circle members. These sessions also provide a good narrative technique to provide a more detailed look at the commissions of the crimes. Learning more about the killing of Tate highlights her caring nature and the degree to which the Manson controls his followers.
Gray ending "Helter" with the standard "where are they now" inter-titles is predictable. The depth in terms of the included family members and level of detail regarding their fates goes well above and beyond the typical made-for-TV (or even theatrical) film.
Warner Archive does what it does best regarding the Blu-ray release of the 1947 noir film "Dark Passage" starring the Humphrey Bogarts. This film is among the cult classics from the Golden and Silver Ages of Hollywood that comprise a significant portion of the Archive catalog. We further get the good remastering for which Archive is known, The final piece is the bonus features that Archive typically provides and that always are excellent when they do.
"Passage" writer/director Delmar Daves of "such films" as "Destination Tokyo" and "A Summer Place" does well by Bogart and Bacall by providing them a good story and literally expert direction. The latter commences with most of the first roughly 30-minutes of the film being POV shots from the perspective of Bogart character Vincent Parry. A particularly memorable example of this is an early shot in which Parry is rolling down a hill in a barrel.
"Passage" opens minutes after Parry makes a prison break that is a not-so-great escape from San Quentin. Exposition in the form of a news bulletin heard on the car radio of good Samaritan Baker (former Little Rascal Clifton Young) tells the audience that Parry until recently being a guest of the state is because of a conviction for killing his wife.
Baker and Parry soon parting ways leads to a fateful encounter between Parry and sympathetic heiress Irene Jansen (Bacall). An essentially "come with me if you want to live" moment leads to the pair enduring challenging gauntlets before Parry obtains asylum in the luxurious San Francisco apartment of Jansen.
The intrusion of acerbic, cruel, and ruthless Madge (Agnes Moorehead of "Bewitched" playing to type) and unlucky-in-love Bob (character actor Bruce Bennett) further stir the potboiler. Madge coincidentally is the one whom Parry threw away, and Bob is the ex of Madge and currentish of Irene. On a basic level, the pair separately and collectively calling on Jansen while Parry is her house guest complicates things far beyond being potential witnesses to his presence.
The next noirish bit that comes out is that Jansen is a long=term member of Team Parry. We learn that she feels that the conviction of her father for a crime that is completely unrelated to the murder of the late Mrs. Parry is the source of Jansen attending the trial of Parry and a significant factor regarding her conclusion that his conviction is wrongful. Her being near San Quentin at the time of the break, learning of that unauthorized early parole, and making the deduction that leads to her finding the fugitive all are the type of coincidences that make noir entertaining.
The perspective changes when another chance encounter leads to Parry undergoing mob-style plastic surgery that the (reviewed) biodrama "Young Dillinger" indicates is a real thing. Not previously showing the face of Parry in "Passage" solves the problem of Bogart not looking like himself in the period before the procedure that results in his having the face that only a cinephile (and Bacall) can love.
A subsequent encounter with a former acquaintance ultimately changes everything for Parry and leads to a dramatic confrontation that also has both good and bad results for this wanted man. The manner in which Daves stages this shows why he earns the big bucks.
The final five minutes or so of "Passage" particularly aptly highlight the exceptional chemistry that shows why Bogie and Bacall warrant having it all.
The highlight of the aforementioned special features is mini-documentary "Hold Your Breath and Cross Your Fingers." This short discusses "Passage" in general with an emphasis on the location shooting; as aspect of this is stating how the beginning of the end of the studio system affects taking film crews and casts on field trips. We also hear a little about the career of Bacall and her relationship with Bogart. The highlights include having the late great Robert Osborne and film critic extraordinaire Leonard Maltin being the primary talking heads.
An even more entertaining bonus is the 1947 Bugs Bunny cartoon "Slick Hare." This one parodies both the real-life Mocambo nightclub in Los Angeles and the equally actual celebrity patrons of that establishment. A cartoon Bogart fully employing his tough-guy persona to get waiter Elmer Fudd to improvise when the club runs out of rabbit, The typical mayhem ensues and ends with Bugs expressing love that hold true in 2018.
The Olive Signature division of art and cult film god Olive Films once again shows its love of the best of the best with the phenomenal must see to believe remaster of the 1996 Wachowskis Brothers ("The Matrix and "Cloud Atlas.") classic neonoir "Bound." The adoration begins with including both the theatrical and unrated versions of this steamy mob drama that centers around illicit lesbian lovers whom Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly portray.
The artful contrasts (such as bright-red blood on gleaming white tile and perfectly laundered white shirts) and the overall cinematography look incredible in Blu-ray; the audio that plays an equally key role sounds crystal clear, The A-list group that provides the audio commentary includes the three stars and the bros.
Gershon plays butch ex-con bull dyke lesbian Corky; Tilly is seductive femme fatale lipstick lesbian Violet. Fans of classic sitcoms will respectively think of Jo and Blair of "The Facts of Life."
It is love at first sight when a tank-top and jeans wearing Corky and dressed-up to the nines Violet exchange glances at the high-end condo. building where moll Violet and gangster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano) are shacking up in the unit next to where Corky is doing a major renovation for a client., The good humor begins Violet using one of the oldest ploys in the book to seduce Corky. This scene including Corky grabbing a pipe with her bare hands and ripping it loose is equally symbolic and humorous.
Our girls are enjoying unwedded bliss on the side when Caesar obtains temporary possession of $2M of mob money; the seduction is on the other Birkenstock when Corky convinces Violet to make that custody even more temporary than planned.
The ensuing mayhem follows the Leonard Snark (a.k.a. Captain Cold) four rules of planning such a caper; make a plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.
Mob boss Gino Marzzone (Richard C. Sarafin) and his son Johnnie (Christoper Meloni) who proves the theory about a family business failing when the third generation takes over making a booty call plays a big role regarding the third rule. The already discussed bad blood between Johnnie and Caesar is one of many elements that makes this a notably intense and entertaining scene. This is not to mention Gino discovering the limits of his influence.
"Bound" next becomes especially Hitchcockian as the police arrive to investigate; the ode to that auteur includes a bath tub body dump and rinsing blood down the drain. The quick and efficient temporary cleanup suggests that this is is not the first trip to this type of rodeo.
It is equally inevitable that Caesar discovers the truth and obtains leverage; what ensues next is so unexpected and clever that it shows why The Wachowskis soon come to be in heavy demand. Part of the mastery is greatly honoring classic noir while keeping things fresh.
The final result stays very true to the spirit of the old and the new. A strong reflection of this film being in a neo-code era is that not every malfeasor ends up in a shallow grave, in the river, or behind bars.
The standard feature-quality bonuses that Signature includes are equally exceptional this time. Particularly notable ones are two film experts sharing their thoughts on neonoir, Meloni discussing his character, and Gershon and Tilly providing insights regarding femme fatales.
We also get a booklet with an essay by actress Guinevere Turner; her perspective is the positive role of "Bound" regarding portraying lesbians in films.
One general takeaway from the Icarus Films August 14, 2018 DVD of the 2014 docudrama "Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart" is that it shows that lesser filmmakers should be careful when telling reviewers to go ahead and try if they think that they can do better. In this case, former Cahhiers du Cinema critic Cedric Anger shows that those of us who watch and analyze more than 300 movies every year know of which we write. A side note is that Anger is a very apt surname for a film critic.
Anger management by the writer/director of "Heart" begins with the ripped-from-the-history-books story of actual gendarme/serial killer Alain Lamere, whose killing spree keeps him busy during the winter of 1978-79. The name has been changed to Frank Neuhart in absolutely no effort to protect the not-so-innocent.
The following YouTube clip of the "Heart" trailer perfectly conveys the drama of the film and the stone-cold nature of the killer.
The opening scenes of "Heart" establish the modus operendi of our excitable boy. Two teen girls are headed out on their Vespas for a night on the town not knowing that Neuhart is stalking them. He runs one off the road before shockingly and brutally attacking the other and then goes back for a second bite of the apple. The title of the film relates to his choice of her body part to shoot,
The next big shock occurs when Neuhart returns home, strips down, follows a bizarre rite, and then dons his gendarme uniform. Thus begins the most creepy aspect of the film in the form of watching Neuhart being a major player in the investigation of those killings and the subsequent murders.
A personal experience with a psychotically scary creepy respondent to a roommate ad being the same guy as someone presenting himself as very normal and once even denying being the other dude shows that Lamere/Neuhart has cousins out there. But for the brains of Nelson, the psycho would have had his address and done God knows what. But for the compassion of Nelson, this guy would have ended up with a roommate who would have put him on the receiving ends of the acts in which he desired to engage with your not-so-humble reviewer. The rest of the story is that local gendarmes scared this nutcase far away from Nelson.
An element of "Heart" that would be amusing in lesser hands but is chilling under Anger is the Superman aspect of the investigation, Neither victim, nor witnesses, nor fellow officers recognize Neuhart as the killer even when he is holding a very accurate police-artist sketch of the killer. One spoiler is that Neuhart does not bother putting on glasses in an attempt to conceal his identity.
Old-fashioned thinking even by '70s standards is almost as disturbing, Neuhart making a rookie mistake that prompts his "superiors" to suspect that one of their own is the killer illogically prompts focusing the investigation on the gay community.
The investigation taking that left turn is a meta reflection of an issue that early gay-rights organizations raise. These activists protest that films only depict homosexual men as limp-wristed sissies and/or vicious murderers. An interesting aspect of this is that Anger indicates that Neuhart is closer to the middle range of the Kinsey Scale than that not-so-macho man realizes.,
Other forms of l;aw-enforcement negligence include not seeing literally what is under their noses as Neuhart increasingly should be a prime suspect. This includes virtually catching him in the act and revealing his subterfuge.
A more fascinating aspect is that manner in which Neuhart suppresses his dark passenger while he goes through the motions of doing his job. It shows the extent to which people with severe mental issues literally can get away with murder.
The big picture this time is that "Heart" proves both that truth often is stranger than fiction and that a good story and talented actors can draw an audience into a film without giving them copious nudity and/or bloodshed. As mentioned above, the background of Anger teaches him that less can be more.
The Warner Archive July 17, 2018 DVD release of the 1965 bio-noir film "Young Dillinger" is part of the recent biopics leitmotif of some new additions to the Archive catalog. These include the (reviewed) John Huston directed Paul Newman bio-western "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean."
Nick Adams of the television series "The Rebel" stars as the titular Depression Era Public Enemy Number One who is a weak-willed young man in love when we first meet him. Former Miss America Mary Ann Mobley stars as rich girl femme fatale Elaine, who starts our boy on his life of crime before becoming his moll.
These small-town young lovers ala Jack and Diane of the John Cougar Mellencamp song of the same name are dreaming of wedded bliss when Elaine suggests robbing the safe of her father to finance their elopement and subsequent new life. Her method of persuasion includes that Daddy will not prosecute them if they get caught.
One interesting aspect of this is the ambiguity regarding the motives of Elaine. She seems more interested in escaping a privileged but dull life and in sticking one to Daddy then in becoming Mrs. Public Enemy Number One.
A reluctant Dillinger goes along; the heist hitting a snag provides him his first taste of clearly liked violence., A subsequent confrontation with a not especially peaceful justice of the peace and his brutish wife turns Dillinger into a rebel with a cause. This also leads to the first of several police chases.
The honeymoon that Dillinger and Elaine are enjoying without benefit of marriage is cut short when the cops knock at the door and begin searching for their ill-gotten booty. Doing this without benefit of a warrant or a warning illustrates how search-and-seizure requirements have evolved since that era.
Dillinger once again proves himself to be a sap in agreeing to chivalrously take the full rap for the caper. The outcome justifies adding reassurances from a dame or her old man to statements regarding a promise of help from the government and pledges of agreeing to stop before completion if provided oral gratification to the list of particularly big lies.
Dillinger soon falls in with a bad crowd, who manipulate him just as effectively as Elaine does, This leads to his facilitating a prison break and subsequently going into business with "Pretty Boy" Floyd (Robert Conrad) and "Baby Face" Nelson. By this time, Dillinger is fully feeling the effects of the literal and the figurative hard knocks he is enduring.
Wonderful camp includes Dillinger meeting the brains of the operation, This portion of the film in which the gang plans their next job clearly shows where writers of pulp fiction and B-movies of the era get their inspiration.
Even tastier cheese comes when a sleazy doctor manipulates Elaine into taking morphine so that he can receive payment-in-kind for the procedure that he is performing on an incapacitated Dillinger.
Dillinger fared better regarding having one of the best ever reasons for not putting a ring on it; this involves reminding how making an honest woman out of his partner-in-crime likely will lead to a long-distance marriage.
The brilliance of all this is that "Dillinger" use a true story of a good boy turned bad as the basis for the type of social commentary film that addresses youthful offenders and related ills. The chases and gun fights simply makes it fun for the kids.
The Icarus Films July 10, 2018 DVD release of the 2015 French romdram "In Harmony" once again shows how the viewing public benefits from that company filling its catalog with "films from independent producers worldwide." This tale of unmarried recently paraplegic horse trainer/equestrian Marc and married insurance company rep. Florence charged with having Marc accept a low-ball settlement shows that films about relationships in which loathe turns to love can be much more than an unwatchable chick flick.
A related big takeaway for straight dudes is that "Harmony" can score you twofer points in terms of it being a romdram and a French film. The best part is that you will like this movie that lacks any overblown angst and melodramatic declarations of love.
The following YouTube clip of a trailer for "Harmony" achieves its purpose of accurately conveying the tones of the film.
Florence literally and figuratively comes on the scene in the wake of her colleague failing to get Marc to accept what he considers an inadequate amount for the harm from falling off his symbolically named horse Othello while doing a stunt for a film. Writer-director Denis Dercourt uses clever exposition by having Florence view a DVD with relevant footage of the circumstances of the accident.
Marc giving Florence the same "and the horse you rode in on" message that he gave her colleague sends her back empty-handed to her not-so-pleased employer, The gist of the matter is that the company is facing heavy liability regarding the accident,
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Marc is contending with the dual challenges of his personally designed rehab. and the insurance company essentially trying to starve him out.
The impact of the events on Florence include Mark doing what he loves best and being determined to return to it reminding her of abandoning her dreams in favor of a a steady paycheck. She further is reminded of the ruthless nature of the insurance industry.
This leads to the initial betrayal of the insurance company by Florence that is typical in this type of film. This leads to the also standard true test of loyalty regarding her having to make a strong stand on one side or the other.
All this occurs in the background of our couple developing a more stable relationship and Florence helping Marc get back in the saddle. The nice thing this time is that both people are nice and lack the extreme personalities that characterize the lesser fare of this type that Hollywood produces.
Decourt also handles the inevitable meeting between Marc and the husband of Florence well. One spoiler is that no punches are thrown. This good track record continues to the end with Dercourt providing a somewhat unexpected but happy ending for all that makes the audience want to see the Chapter Three of the leads.
The Lionsgate July 17, 2018 separate DVD and Blu-ray DVD releases of the 2017 drama "You Were Never Really Here" proves that sensitive character studies and blood-drenched vengeance flicks are not mutually exclusive. The film additionally makes good use of the talent of Joaquin Phoenix ("Walk the Line") for playing a sullen brooding tortured soul of little words in this work based on a novel by Jonathan Ames of "Bored to Death" fame.
The accolades this time include Phoenix winning a Best Actor award and writer/director Lynne Ramsay bringing home a Best Screenplay honor from the 2017 Cannes festival.
The following YouTube clip of the "Here" trailer perfectly conveys the spirit of the film.
"Here" is almost pure noir in that virtually every event occurs after dark on gritty New York streets. This highly silent film that largely has Joe go about his dirty business without being seen by those around him opens in typical fashion for this sub-genre. This pitch-dark knight finishes up work before going on to his second job as the caretaker to senile and difficult "Joe's Mother" (Judith Roberts).
It is equally typical that we see Joe collect payment for his most recent project and get word of a new job from the intermediary between our hero and his employer. An incident during this visit provides foreshadowing that Joe regrets ignoring.
The mission that Joe chooses to accept involves rescuing the mid-teen daughter of a state senator, who is the middle-aged son of a wealthy man.
The real fun begins when Joe intercepts the poor pervert who is leaving the location of the icky business where the daughter is white slave labor. These leads to a violent rescue that does not phase the "seen it all before" Joe.
More creepiness ensues when the desk clerk at a hot-sheets hotel does not seem to even literally blink when Joe checks in with a clearly shell-shocked tween girl, It is equally clear that the reason for that visit is of absolutely no concern to this guy who merely collects the money and hands out room keys.
Our unlikely friends learning of shocking events starts the final roller coaster ride of "Here." Joe next opens the hotel room door to be greeted with here's blood in your eye. He then makes his established and new rounds only to find that someone always is one step ahead of him.
The final showdown occurs when the cylinders fully start clicking in the brain of Joe. This bloodshed seemingly leads to more normalcy only to find that Ramsay and Ames have one more dark-humor trick up their sleeves. Suffice it to say that the final minutes pay homage to "Death" fellow HBO series "The Sopranos."
The Warner Archive celebration of Halloween 2017 continues with the October 3, 2017 DVD release of the 2016 thriller "Wolves at the Door." This joins the ranks of (previously reviewed) recent Archive horror releases such as "The Green Slime," "The Hidden," and "Innocent Blood." "Within" is scheduled for tomorrow.
"Wolves" is the most creepy of this lot both because it is true and involves human (rather than alien or other supernatural) monsters.
The following YouTube clip of an early "Wolves" scene perfectly illustrates the tone of the film.
This docudrama about the Manson family begins with that cult terrorizing a couple at 3:00 a.m on a day in August 1969 apparently simply for the fun of it. The LAPD shrugs this incident off as mischief either by hippies or kids on drugs.
Moving the action forward to pregnant actress Sharon Tate (a.k.a. Mrs. Roman Polanski) throwing a going-away party for good friend/coffee heiress Abigail Folger at a restaurant on the evening before Folger is scheduled to return to the east coast provides foreshadowing for folks familiar with the Manson history. Celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring is the escort of Tate, and Folger boyfriend Wojciech Frykowski is spending his last evening with his girlfriend.
The quartet returning to the Polanski-Tate estate to keep the party going is reminiscent of the OJ case (complete with the a sketchy character occupying the guest house). The revelers initially remain blissfully ignorant as the audience sees the Manson clan arrive and initially direct their efforts at a guest of the aforementioned caretaker.
Director John R. Leonetti does a good job building the suspense as Charles and those of whom he is in charge set the stage for the subsequent blood bath. We see the shadowy figures on the lawn and in the house, the cutting off of escape routes, and the fear-inducing bumps in the night and other purposeful means of terrorizing the future murder victims.
This being "based on actual events" contributes to the terror; the fact that all of us are still vulnerable to a nut job with or without equally psychotic followers determining that we are worthy of their attention amps up the fear factor.
One particularly creepy scene clearly inspires the most effective element of the 1999 horror film "The Sixth Sense." Abigail sees a shadowy figure of one of Charlie's angels wave at her in a hallway and then walk in the bedroom suite of Sharon. The chills continue with that woman being nowhere to be seen on Abigail following her in the room.
Like both the real-life basis for the docudrama and most purely fictional horror films, the terror effectively builds to the inevitable blood bath that may have inspired the fictional versions of that carnage.
The strong creepy vibe and terrorized "innocents" throughout provide all viewers good entertainment; getting to know more about Tate (and the rest) who get slaughtered is a bonus to folks who know of the "docu" elements of this drama.
"Wolves" ending with a recap of the actual events (complete with footage of Manson and his family) awesomely reminds us that the movie is scary because it is true.
The May 9. 2017 DVD release of the 2015 Swedish drama "Alena" is the latest example of the glory that is the Icarus Films expansion beyond distributing "innovative and provocative documentary films." This live-action tale, which is based on a graphic novel by Kim W. Anderson, of the new girl in school having major adjustment issues is an awesome combination of the 1988 mother of all "Mean Girls" films "Heathers" and the '80s sitcom "The Facts of Life." A vicious croquet game is the most direct homage to "Heathers" and "Alena" blonde queen bee Filippa starting a spiteful rumor that a classmate is a lesbian is straight (no pun intended) out of "Facts."
The following YouTube clip of an "Alena" trailer achieves its goal of conveying the style and the intensity of this well-made film.
"Alena" commences with the titular version of Bronx scholarship girl Jo of "Facts" enrolling in the Eastland Schoolesque prestigious girls' academy in the wake of an unspecified event that prevents her from remaining at her public school. This transition comes courtesy of a highly sympathetic school counselor whom Alena considers a savior but is a "pregnant cow" in the eyes of Filippa.
The mere presence of Alena at the school is enough to trigger the ire of Filippa; expressing interest in joining the lacrosse team that "Blair" rules with an iron fist earns the new girl a lacrosse ball in the back. This leads to more intense torment with a perverse sexual element.
"Heathers" style eye-for-an-eye retribution comes via public school bestie Josefin, whose tactics also VERY APTLY earn her the title of being the worst enemy of Alena. More positive support comes in the form of an increasingly close friendship with new classmate Fabienne.
Filippa becoming the Wile E. Coyote of our high school drama only drives her closer to the edge of insanity to the degree that her sense that times are desperate provoke desperate measures. This only further enrages Josefin and has a proportional impact on Alena.
Concurrent related drama comes in the form of reveals regarding both the reason for Alena leaving her high school and the role of Josefin regarding that development. This adds the element of all good films that there is my story, your story, and the truth.
All of this comes to a head on the night of big party in a manner that throws an element of "Carrie" in the mix. Suffice it to say that Filippa might as well have dumped a bucket of pig blood on the head of Alena.
"Alena" gets As regarding the test for foreign films; it has relatable universal themes and could have been shot word-for-word and scene-for-scene in the United States. It additionally realizes that not every movie must have a Hollywood ending
The new Olive Films Olive Signature collection chooses perfectly in launching its DVD and Blu-ray releases with two '50s Westerns that are much more than shoot-em-up kiddie matinee fare. The 1954 Joan Crawford film "Johnny Guitar," which is our current topic, is an apt predecessor of the 1955 film "Rebel Without A Cause" by "Guitar" director Nicholas Ray. Our focus tomorrow shifts to the equally deep 1952 classic "High Noon" starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.
As an aside, the spectacular (discussed at the end of this review) extras in both "Guitar" and "Noon" are a notable part of what distinguishes Signature releases from the lost treasures and other drool-worthy titles in the main Olive catalog.
The following YouTube clip of the SPOILER-LADEN theatrical trailer for "Guitar" emphasizes the good sizzle over the even better substance of the film.
The elements that make adult Western "Guitar" Signature worthy are the aforementioned attributes that earn it the titles of "adult" and "feminist" Western, associated heavy symbolism in color and narration, having Hollywood royalty Joan Crawford star with fellow box office legends Sterling Hayden as the titular crooner/gunslinger and Best Actress winner for "All The King's Men" Mercedes McCambridge as the sexually repressed (and possibly bisexual) proper lady Emma Small, and the restoration of "Guitar" looking and sounding so amazing on Blu-ray that it does justice to the red rock scenery of the Sedona, Arizona shooting location.
Crawford stars as tough-as-nails saloon owner Vienna, regarding whom it is suggested spent a great deal of time on her back to raise the money required to get her business on its feet. The reasoning of this 19th century entrepreneur is that the relatively imminent expansion of the railroad literally to her formerly remote front door will bring the business to her.
The "crimes" of Vienna including her being a strong and independent woman in a strongly male-dominated society, having a relationship with an ambiguous amount of closeness with the Dancing Kid and a related triangle with ambiguous aspect with Emma, and welcoming the Kid and his gang that claim to be silver miners but are suspected of being outlaws into her business. This long list of offenses provide the catalyst for Emma and wealthy landowner John McIvers to use every arguable excuse to literally or figuratively come gunning for Vienna and to fabricate a rationale if none exist.
As an aside, the web verifies the sense from the clear animosity that Crawford and McCambridge direct at each other that Bette Davis is the first choice for the role of Emma; The story goes that Davis wanted too much money and that second choice Barbara Stanwyck also passed on the chance to battle Crawford on (and almost certainly off) screen. The expertly written insightful booklet in the Signature release shares both that Crawford and McCambridge do battle off-screen and that Hayden and that cast and crew side with McCambridge.
The fictional drama that sets "Guitar" in motion is a stage coach robbery in which the brother of Emma is killed; this loss and the aforementioned resentments bring Emma, McIvers, and the Marshal to Vienna's in the wake of an even more dramatic entrance of our titular character. Although the stated purpose of the newcomer for being there is to entertain the customers, it soon becomes clear that Vienna summons him based on their shared history and on his skill as a gunfighter.
The Old West elements continue with Vienna facing an effective order to be out of town by sundown, a daring daytime bank robbery, a pursuing posse, a lynching, a few shootouts, etc. Anyone even remotely familiar either with Ray or "Guitar" know that all of this is merely the outer layer of the savory onion.
A coerced betrayal based on a false promise provides commentary by a blacklisted writer (who uses a front) who contributes to the "Guitar" script, the aforementioned history of Johnny and Vienna and a scene between the two is very reminiscent of Ilsa and Rick from "Casablanca," the unconventional reversals of the white hats and the black hats, a highly symbolic barrier, etc all show both why Americans who come expecting non-stop gun fights and little dialog are disappointed and Europeans embrace "Guitar" enough to have it inspire the New Wave directors.
A simpler way of understanding this is that the emphasis in this oater is much more on opera than horse. The stirring soundtrack (which makes great use of BD), the majestic scenery, and the flowing white dress and other costumes of the highly expressive Crawford evoke a stronger sense of the Met than the multiplex.
The plethora of Turner Classic Movie-quality extras in "Guitar" extend beyond the aforementioned booklet. Acclaimed director Martin Scorsese starts things with a Robert Osborne-worthy introduction to the film. Other features include a panel of film critics discussing the work, a short film on the McCarthy element, and the aforementioned SPOILER-LADEN theatrical trailer. Aside from being great retro fun, the non-enhanced trailer perfectly illustrates (no pun intended) the value of watching even '50s-era films that make great use of technicolor and related technologies in Blu-ray.
Unreal TV 2.0 evolves from http://classictvdvdreviews.blogspot.com/ (which still is up.) Both sites are labors of love dedicated to preserving the golden and silver ages of television and film and celebrating new content that values art over commerce. The same principle applies regarding boutique hotels.