Tag Archives: 2013 Reviews

Blu-ray reissue: The Seven Percent Solution ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2013)

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The Seven Percent Solution – Shout! Factory Blu-ray

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth Sherlock Holmes has weathered an infinite number of movie incarnations over the decades, but none as fascinating as Nicol Williamson’s tightly wound coke fiend in this wonderful 1977 Herbert Ross film. Intrepid sidekick Dr. Watson (Robert Duvall), concerned over his friend’s addiction, decides to do an intervention, engineering a meeting between the great detective and Dr. Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin). Naturally, there is a mystery afoot as well, but it’s secondary to the entertaining interplay between Williamson and Arkin. Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (who adapted from his own novel) would repeat the gimmick two years later in his directing debut Time After Time, when he placed similarly odd bedfellows together in one story by pitting H.G. Wells against Jack the Ripper. Shout! Factory’s transfer is excellent; the Blu-ray also includes an interview with Meyer.

Blu-ray reissue: Repo Man ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2013)

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Repo Man – Criterion Collection Blu-ray

This 1984 punk-rock/sci-fi black comedy version of Rebel without a Cause is actually one of the more coherent efforts from mercurial U.K. filmmaker Alex Cox. Emilio Estevez is suitably sullen as disenfranchised L.A. punk Otto, who stumbles into a gig as a “repo man” after losing his job, getting dumped by his girlfriend and deciding to disown his parents. As he is indoctrinated into the samurai-like “code” of the repo man by sage veteran Bud (Harry Dean Stanton, in another masterful deadpan performance) Otto begins to realize that he’s found his true calling.

A subplot involving a mentally fried government scientist on the run, driving around with a mysterious, glowing “whatsit” in the trunk is an obvious homage to Robert Aldrich’s 1955 noir, Kiss Me Deadly. Cox tosses a UFO conspiracy into the mix, and makes excellent use of L.A. locations (thanks in no small part to master cinematographer Robby Muller’s lens work). The fabulous soundtrack includes Iggy Pop, Black Flag, and The Circle Jerks.

I suspect I’m not the only cult movie geek who was quite excited to learn that this gem was finally receiving the Criterion treatment, and they’ve done it proud.

Blu-ray reissue: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry **1/2 / Race with the Devil ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2013)

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Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry/Race with the Devil – Shout! Factory Blu-ray

Talk about a guilty pleasure! This is a real deal low-budget “grind house double feature” from the actual era that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez spent $53 million attempting to recreate with their 2007 mock-up. Jack Starret’s 1975 occult thriller Race with the Devil was the primary reason I picked up this “two-fer” Blu-ray . Peter Fonda and Warren Oates star as buds who hit the road in an RV with wives (Lara Parker, Loretta Swit) and dirt bikes in tow. The first night’s bivouac doesn’t go so well; the two men witness what appears to be a human sacrifice by a devil worship cult, and it’s downhill from there (it’s literally a “vacation from hell”). A genuinely creepy chiller that keeps you on the edge of your seat to the end.

John Hough’s Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is another Fonda vehicle, co-starring my first major teenage crush Susan George (*sigh*) and Adam Roarke. Fonda and Roarke play car racing partners who take an ill-advised detour into crime, robbing a grocery store in hopes of getting enough loot to buy a pro race car. They soon find themselves on the run from the law. A shameless rip off of Vanishing Point; but muscle car enthusiasts will dig the ride (and that cherry ’69 Dodge Charger). The  extras include  recollections by Fonda and George.

Blu-ray reissue: My Neighbor Totoro ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2013)

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My Neighbor Totoro – Disney Blu Ray

While this 1988 film was anime master’s Hayao Miyazaki’s fourth feature, it was one of his (and Studio Ghibli’s) first international hits. It’s a lovely tale about a young professor and his two daughters (aged 4 and 10) getting settled into their newly acquired country house (a “fixer-upper”) while Mom convalesces at a nearby hospital. The rambunctious 4 year-old goes exploring and stumbles into the verdant court of a “king”  nestled within the roots of a gargantuan camphor tree. This king rules with a gentle hand; a benign forest spirit named Totoro (a furry, whiskered amalgam of every cuddly toy you ever cozied up to as a child). Miyazaki’s most simplistic and unabashedly “family friendly” effort…but that’s not a put down. Miyazaki’s pet themes are intact; the animation is breathtaking, the fantasy elements magical, yet the human characters remain down-to-earth and easy to relate to. Disney’s HD transfer is excellent; all of the extras from the SD edition are ported over.

Blu-ray reissue: Medium Cool ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2013)

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Medium Cool- The Criterion Collection Blu-ray

What Haskell Wexler’s unique 1969 drama may lack in narrative cohesion is more than made up for by its importance as a sociopolitical document. Robert Forster stars as a TV news cameraman who is fired after he complains to station brass about their willingness to help the FBI build files on political agitators via access to raw news film footage and reporter’s notes.

He drifts into a relationship with a Vietnam War widow (Verna Bloom) and her 12 year-old son. They eventually find themselves embroiled in the mayhem surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention (in the film’s most memorable scene, the actors were actually sent in to improvise amidst one of the infamous “police riots” as it was happening). Many of the issues Wexler touches on (especially regarding media integrity and journalistic responsibility) would be extrapolated further in films like Network and Broadcast News.

Criterion’s Blu-ray sports a beautifully restored transfer, and insightful extra features.

Blu-ray reissue: The Duellists ***1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2013)

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The Duellists – Shout! Factory Blu-ray

If you can get past Harvey Keitel’s anachronistic Brooklyn wise guy stance and Keith Carradine’s oddly mannered take on a 19th-century “popinjay”, there’s a lot here in director Ridley Scott’s sumptuously photographed 1977 debut (adapted from a Joseph Conrad story) for cineastes to revel in. Keitel and Carradine play a pair of officers in Napoleon’s army who engage in a series of duels spanning three decades (some people just don’t know when to “let it go”).

Happily, the existential futility of this purloined stalemate becomes moot, as it is cloaked in one of the most visually stunning period pieces you’ll ever feast your eyes upon this side of Barry Lyndon (all the more impressive when you consider the $900,000 budget, which is coffee and a doughnut compared to the $130,000,000 spent on his dreary-looking Prometheus). Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray skimps on extras, but this long-overdue HD transfer is most welcome.

Blu-ray reissue: The City That Never Sleeps **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 6, 2013)

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The City That Never Sleeps – Olive Films Blu-ray

The original studio tagline for this 1953 noir from director John H. Auer teased a sordid thriller that took you “…from the honky-tonks to the penthouses” of Chicago, where “…the creeps, the hoods, the killers come out to war with the city!” Gig Young stars as a life-tired cop who has burned out on both work and marriage. He finds some solace with his mistress (a stripper) but is having commitment issues with that relationship as well. Collusion with a corrupt lawyer could be his ticket out…but as anyone familiar with noir tropes might guess, it’s likely to be a bumpy ride.

While it admittedly falls a little short of turning the Windy City into The Naked City (from a narrative standpoint), it is redeemed by atmospheric nighttime photography by John L. Russell (who served as DP on Hitchcock’s Psycho). I’m developing a love-hate relationship with reissue specialists Olive Films. While commendably digging up and releasing coveted rarities in HD, so far they demonstrate zero interest in restoring them.

Beautiful losers: The Top 10 Oscar snubs

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on February 23, 2013)

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Winning isn’t everything. Consider tonight’s Top 10 list, compiled in honor (or in spite) of Oscar weekend. Each of these films was up for Best Picture, but “lost”. So here’s a bunch of losers (presented in alphabetical order) that will always be winners in my book:

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Apocalypse Now– “Are you an assassin, Willard?” This nightmarish walking tour through the darkest labyrinths of the human soul (disguised as a Vietnam War film) remains Francis Ford Coppola’s most polarizing work-an unqualified masterpiece to some; bloated, self-important nonsense to others. I kind of like it. In the course of the grueling shoot, Coppola had a nervous breakdown, and star Martin Sheen had a heart attack. Now that’s what I call “suffering for your art”. And always remember-never get outta the boat.

Year nominated: 1979

Lost to: Kramer vs. Kramer

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Chinatown– There are many Deep Thoughts that I have gleaned over the years via repeated viewings of Roman Polanski’s 1974 “sunshine noir”. Here are my top five:

  1. Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water.
  2. Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.
  3. You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but, believe me, you don’t.
  4. He owns the police.
  5. She’s my sister AND my daughter.

Year nominated: 1974

Lost to: The Godfather, Part II

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 Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb- “Mein fuehrer! I can walk!” Although we have yet (knock on wood) to experience the global thermonuclear annihilation that ensues following the wheelchair-bound Dr. Strangelove’s joyous (if short-lived) epiphany, so many other depictions in Stanley Kubrick’s seriocomic masterpiece (co-scripted by Terry Southern and Peter George) about the tendency for men in power to eventually rise to their own level of incompetence have since come to pass, that one wonders why the filmmakers bothered to make this shit up.

Year nominated: 1964

Lost to: My Fair Lady

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La Grande Illusion-While it may be hard for some to fathom in this oh so cynical age we live in, there was a time when there were these thingies called honor, loyalty, sacrifice, faith in your fellow man, and basic human decency. While ostensibly an anti-war film, Jean Renoir’s classic is at its heart a timeless treatise about the aforementioned attributes.

Year nominated: 1938

Lost to: You Can’t Take It With You

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The Maltese Falcon-This iconic noir, based on a classic Dashiell Hammett novel and marking the directing debut for a Mr. John Huston, is vividly burned into the film buff zeitgeist…so suffice it to say that “When a man’s partner is killed, he’s supposed to do something about it.” And leave it at that. Humphrey Bogart truly became “Humphrey Bogart” with his performance as San Francisco gumshoe Sam Spade. Memorable support from Sidney Greenstreet, Mary Astor and Peter Lorre (“Look what you did to my shirt!”).

Year nominated: 1941

Lost to: How Green Was My Valley

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Network– Sidney Lumet’s brilliant 1976 satire about a fictional TV network that gets a ratings boost from a nightly newscast turned variety hour, anchored by a self-proclaimed “angry prophet denouncing the hypocrisy of our time” (Peter Finch, as the immortal Howard Beale). All these years later, it plays like a documentary (denouncing the hypocrisy of our time). Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient screenplay does not only prophesy news-as-entertainment (and its evil spawn, “reality” TV)-it’s a blueprint for our age.

Year nominated: 1976

Lost to: Rocky

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Pulp Fiction-Try to forget for a moment that Quentin Tarantino has become stiff on his own legend and stuck on the same cinematic refrain as of late; otherwise it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking this film actually was. Of course, depending on who you ask, what exactly was it? A film noir? A black comedy? A character study? A sharply observed social satire? A self-referential, post-modern homage to every film ever made previously, jacked in to the collective unconscious of every living film geek? Um, yes?

Year nominated: 1994

Lost to: Forrest Gump

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Reds– It’s a testament to Warren Beatty’s sense of conviction and legendary powers of persuasion that he was able to convince a major Hollywood studio to back a 3 ½ hour epic about a relatively obscure American Communist (who is buried in the Kremlin, no less!). Writer-director Beatty plays writer-activist Jack Reed, and Diane Keaton gives one of her best performances as Reed’s lover, writer and feminist Louise Bryant. Maureen Stapleton (as Emma Goldman) and Jack Nicholson (as Eugene O’Neill) are fabulous. And Beatty deserves special kudos for assembling an amazing group of surviving real-life participants, whose anecdotal recollections are seamlessly interwoven, like a Greek Chorus of living history. The film is at once a sweeping epic and warmly intimate drama.

Year nominated: 1981

Lost to: Chariots of Fire

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Sunset Boulevard– Leave it to that great ironist Billy Wilder to direct a film that garnered a Best Picture nomination from the very Hollywood studio system it so mercilessly skewers (however, you’ll note that they didn’t let him win…did they?). Gloria Swanson’s turn as a fading, high-maintenance movie queen mesmerizes, William Holden embodies the quintessential noir sap, and veteran scene-stealer Erich von Stroheim redefines the meaning of “droll” in this tragicomic journey down the Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

Year nominated: 1950

Lost to: All About Eve

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The Thin Man-A delightful mix of screwball comedy and murder mystery (based on the Dashiell Hammett novel) that never gets old (I just watched it for the umpteenth time the other night, and laughed my ass off like I was seeing it for the first time). The story takes a backseat to the onscreen spark between New York City P.I./perpetually tipsy socialite Nick Charles (William Powell) and his wisecracking wife Nora (sexy Myrna Loy). Top it off with a scene-stealing wire fox terrier (Asta!) and you’ve got a winning formula that has spawned countless imitators over the last 79 years; particularly a bevy of sleuthing TV couples (Hart to Hart, McMillan and Wife, Moonlighting, Remington Steele, etc.).

Year nominated: 1934

Lost to: It Happened One Night