Tag Archives: 2015 Reviews

Blu-ray reissue: Miracle Mile ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 5, 2015)

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Miracle Mile – Kino Lorber Blu-ray

“Someone” (in this case, Kino Lorber) finally has seen fit to release a properly formatted HD edition of this 1988 sleeper (previously available only as MGM’s dismal “pan and scan” DVD). Depending on your worldview, this is either an “end of the world” film for romantics, or the perfect date movie for fatalists.

Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham give winning performances as a musician and a waitress who Meet Cute at L.A.’s La Brea Tar Pits museum. But before they can hook up for their first date, Edwards stumbles onto a reliable tip that L.A. is about to get hosed…in a major way.

The resulting “countdown” scenario is a genuine, edge-of-your seat nail-biter. In fact, this modestly budgeted 90-minute thriller offers more heart-pounding excitement (and more believable characters) than any bloated Hollywood disaster epic from the likes of a Michael Bay or a Roland Emmerich.

Writer-director Steve De Jarnatt stopped doing feature films after this one (his only other credit is the guilty pleasure sci-fi adventure Cherry 2000, which also made its Blu-ray debut this year courtesy of Kino Lorber). Extras include a commentary track by film critic Walter Chaw, along with the director.

Blu-ray reissue: The Killers ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 5, 2015)

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The Killers (1946 & 1964) – The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Criterion has given the HD bump to their already fabulous “twofer” package presentation of Robert Siodmak’s classic 1946 B&W film noir and the pulpy color 1964 remake by Don Siegel. Both films are adaptations from the Ernest Hemingway short story about a pair of hit men and the enigmatic man they are stalking. Hemingway’s minimalist narrative lends a fair leeway of creative license to the respective filmmakers, and each runs with it in his own fashion.

To noir purists, of course Siodmak’s original is the preferred version, with a young and impossibly handsome Burt Lancaster as the hit men’s target/classic noir sap and the equally charismatic Ava Gardner as the femme fatale of the piece.

Still, the 1964 version has its merits; Lee Marvin and Clu Gulager are the epitome of 60s “cool” as the nihilistic killers, and it’s a hoot watching Ronald Reagan (quite convincingly) play a vile and vicious heavy in a film that came out the very same year he made his (politically) star-making speech at the 1964 Republican Convention (I’m thinking that there’s a Trump analogy in there somewhere).

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Blu-ray reissue: Day of Anger ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 5, 2015)

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Day of Anger – Arrow Video Blu-ray

Just when I thought I had seen all the noteworthy spaghetti westerns…this obscurity came a hootin’ and a hollerin’ into my saloon recently (even self-proclaimed cineastes like myself miss a few). I’m not sure what was distracting me when this film came out in 1967 (aside from being 11 years old) but it’s quite the buried treasure, from director Tonio Valerii. Genre icon Lee Van Cleef stars as a cold-blooded gunfighter (what else?) who becomes a mentor to a street cleaner (Giuliano Gemma) Then what happens is, well, the best I can do for you is: Charly meets Shane. This is one blown western, baby! But it’s much smarter than you expect it to be. If you dig Leone, you’ll love it. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray features restored prints of both the Italian and (shorter) International versions. Extras include a 2008 interview with Valerii, and new interviews with his biographer Roberto Curti, as well as Day of Anger screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.

Blu-ray reissue: Breaker Morant ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 5, 2015)

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Breaker Morant– The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Few films have more succinctly conveyed the madness of war than Bruce Bereford’s moving 1980 drama. Based on a true story, it recounts the courts martial (i.e., scapegoating) of three Australian officers (Edward Woodard, Bryan Brown and Lewis Fitz-gerald) by their British higher-ups during the Boer War (the three were accused of shooting enemy prisoners, even though they did so under orders from superior officers). They are hastily assigned a military lawyer (a fellow Australian) with no previous experience in criminal defense (Jack Thompson, in a star-making performance), who surprises even himself with his passion and resourcefulness in the face of such stacked odds. Very similar in theme and tone to Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. Tightly directed, intelligently written (by Beresford, Jonathan Hardy and David Stevens, adapting Kenneth G. Ross’ play) and marvelously acted, it’s a perfect film in every way. Criterion’s Blu-ray sports a sharp transfer and extras that lend deeper historical context.

Blu-ray reissue: Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 5, 2015)

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Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back – The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

This 1965 documentary (arguably the “granddaddy” of what we now routinely refer to as “rockumentaries”) is a textbook example of the right filmmaker (D.A. Pennebaker) hooking up with the right artist (Bob Dylan) at the right place (London) at the right time (1965) to capture a zeitgeist (“The Sixties”) in a bottle. Pennebaker takes a “fly on the wall” cinema verite approach to his subject, as a mercurial Dylan (and entourage) turn the tables on the British Invasion with an ecstatically received series of sold-out London performances.

While there is a generous helping of concert footage, the most fascinating events occur between shows; at press conferences, in dressing rooms and hotel suites. I’ll confess I’ve never been a huge Dylan fan, but there’s something special, palpably electric about his (for wont of a better term) “aura” in this film that is compelling beyond description. Criterion’s Blu-ray is choked with extras, including additional short films by Pennebaker and an illuminating Patti Smith interview.

Blu-ray reissue: The Beatles 1+ ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 5, 2015)

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The Beatles 1+ (1 CD + 2 Blu-ray edition)Capitol

Your degree of enthusiasm for this 3-disc CD/Blu-ray combo set from Capitol depends on what kind of Beatle fan you are. If you are a casual fan, it might be a bit too extravagant; but for completists, it’s a treasure trove. Admittedly, the CD holds no surprises, as it is a straight up reissue of the eponymous 2000 27-track collection of the Beatles’ #1 hits. While the CD tracks are “newly” remixed, I can discern little difference from the belated catalog-wide remix/remasters that were done a few years ago. It’s the Blu-rays that make it worthwhile. One disc contains the official music videos of the CD cuts, and the 2nd disc features alternate versions of 7 of the #1 hits, plus B-sides and deeper album cuts. This disc is a combination of live performance clips, original promotional films and a few more “official” post Beatle era video workups. Audio and image quality are outstanding on both Blu-rays. Totally gear!

Coverage of your weekly mass shooting…

By Dennis Hartley

…will resume following this public service announcement:

Programmes of violence,
As entertainment,
Brings the disease into your room.
We know the germ,
Which is man-made in metal,
Is really a key to your own tomb.

Prevention is better than cure,
Bad apples affecting the pure,
You’ll gather your senses I’m sure
Then agree to,

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more to fire them.

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more desire them.

Children will want them,
Mothers supply them,
As long as your killers are heroes.
And all the media
Will fiddle while Rome burns,
Acting like modern-time Neros.

Prevention is better than cure,
Bad apples affecting the pure,
You’ll gather your senses I’m sure
Then agree to,

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more to fire them.

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more desire them.

I’m speaking to the justice league of America.
The U S of A,
Hey you,
Yes you in particular!
When it comes to the judgement day and you’re standing at the gates with your weaponry,
You dead go down on one knee,
Clasp your hands in prayer and start quoting me,
‘cos we say…

Our father we’ve managed to contain the epidemic in one place, now,
Let’s hope they shoot themselves instead of others,
Help to civilize the race now.
We’ve trapped the cause of the plague,
In the land of the free and the home of the brave.
If we listen quietly we can hear them shooting from grave to grave.
You ought to,

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more to fire them.

Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
Melt the guns,
And never more desire them.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming…

Tommy Udo for President!

By Dennis Hartley

Let’s see. He’s publicly insulted women, Muslims, Mexicans and Syrian refugees. He’s had an Hispanic journalist and an African-American protester somewhat pointedly  ejected  from his Nuremberg rallies. At this point, who hasn’t he offended?Just when you thought presidential hopeful Donald Trump had exhausted all possibilities…

Who is he starting to remind me of?

The key in the sunlight: Heart of a Dog ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on November 21, 2015)

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I love Laurie Anderson’s voice. In fact, it was love at first sound, from the moment I heard “O Superman” wafting from my FM radio late one night back in the early 1980s:

And the voice said: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

 ‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice. And when justice is gone, there’s always force. And when force is gone, there’s always Mom.

 Hi Mom!

And so it goes, eight minutes of stream of consciousness/minimalist electro pop bliss, vaguely apocalyptic, yet oddly endearing. It was The Voice…at once maternal, sisterly, wise, reassuring, confiding, lilting, impish. Hell, she could read the nutritional label on a box of corn flakes out loud…and to me it would sound artful, thoughtful, mesmerizing.

“That” wondrous voice can be heard all over the soundtrack of a new film by its owner called Heart of a Dog (in limited release and likely to be coming soon to an HBO near you). “Mom” is a recurring theme here as well. As is the dog of the title, a beloved rat terrier named Lolabelle. Sadly, Mom and Lolabelle’s appearances are posthumous. The spirit of her late husband Lou Reed is present too; never directly mentioned, but palpable. You could say that Death is Anderson’s co-pilot on this journey to the center of her mind. But it’s not a sad journey. It’s melancholy at times, deeply reflective, but it’s never sad.

It’s hard to describe the film; I’m struggling mightily not to pull out the good old reliable “visual tone poem”. (Moment of awkward silence). Okay, I blinked first…it’s a visual tone poem, alright? Even Anderson herself is a somewhat spectral presence in her own movie, which (like the artist herself), is an impressionistic mixed media mélange of drawings, animations, video, and even vintage super 8 family movies from her childhood.

It’s probably just me (it usually is; I live alone) but I see parallels with Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, which was likewise prompted by the death of his mother. Like Ginsberg’s poem, Anderson’s film is a free-associative collage of childhood memory, Buddhist philosophy, ruminations on life, death, art, and grief therapy. Unlike Ginsberg’s poem, however, Anderson includes footage of her dog playing piano. What more do you want?

Bonus track!