Tag Archives: 2014 Reviews

Quick take: A Dame to Kill For ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 6, 2014)

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Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have put the band back together to reprise their “Raymond Chandler and Mikey Spillane go on an ether binge” shtick in this sequel to their 2005 collaboration, Sin City, with mixed results.

As before, Miller’s eponymous graphic novel serves as the source material, and Rodriguez’s technical wizardry renders the requisite nightmarish noir milieu in striking chiaroscuro. Hard-boiled and ultra-violent to the point of verging on self-parody, this second omnibus of loosely-connected vignettes nonetheless delivers the goods to anyone who enjoyed the first installment (I stand guilty as charged).

Inversely, anyone who couldn’t connect to the previous (and similarly over-the-top) outing will likely remain underwhelmed. A sizable contingent from the previous cast returns, including Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Powers Boothe and Bruce Willis (with a nod and a wink to The Sixth Sense). The hands-down scene-stealer is Eva Green, as the femme fatale to kill for.

Quick take: The Trip to Italy ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on September 6, 2014)


There’s a great exchange between returning leads Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy, Michael Winterbottom’s follow-up to the trio’s 2011 road comedy, The Trip, regarding “the sophomore curse” in cinema. Coogan proclaims that sequels are never as good as the original; instantly regretting his statement when Brydon quickly deadpans “…except, of course, for Godfather II…” and proceeds to rattle off a number of other superior sequels whilst Coogan furiously (and hilariously) attempts to backpedal. You can add this sequel to that list.

Using a similar setup, the pair of actor-comedian pals hit the road for another restaurant tour, making a scenic upgrade from England’s Lake District to Italy’s sunny Mediterranean coast. Once again, they play slightly elevated caricatures of themselves. The comic riffing (the main reason to watch) is as brilliant as previous; covering everything from armchair psychoanalysis of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album to dueling Michael Caine impressions and geriatric Roger Moore jabs (“Cubby…did you get my note about the handrails?”). There’s also a more pronounced melancholic element in this outing (middle-aged malaise comes to us all). Also as before, the film was whittled down from a six-episode BBC mini-series.

Blu-ray reissue: Twin Peaks: the Entire Mystery ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 9, 2014)


Twin Peaks: the Entire Mystery – Paramount Blu-ray (box set)

Who killed Laura Palmer? Who cares? The key to binge-watching David Lynch’s short-lived early 90s cult TV series about the denizens of a sleepy Northwestern lumber town and their twisted secrets is to unlearn all that you have learned about neatly wrapped story arcs and to just embrace the wonderfully warped weirdness. The real “mystery” is how the creator of avant-garde films like Eraserhead and Blue Velvet managed to snag a prime time network TV slot in the first place…and got away with it for two seasons! Paramount’s Blu-ray box set sports vibrant transfers and crisply re-mastered audio tracks. Extras include the “international” cut of the pilot episode, and the “prequel” feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. All  extras from the DVD “gold box” are ported over, with new bonus material.

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

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 9, 2014)


The Swimmer – Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray

A riveting performance from Burt Lancaster fuels this 1968 drama from Frank Perry (and a non-credited Sydney Pollack, who took over direction after Perry dropped out of the project). It was adapted for the screen by Eleanor Perry, from a typically dark and satirical John Cheever story. Lancaster’s character is on a Homeric journey; working his way home via a network of backyard swimming pools. Each encounter with friends and neighbors (who apparently have not seen him in some time) fits another piece into the puzzle of a troubled, troubled man. It’s an existential suburban nightmare that can count American Beauty and The Ice Storm among its descendants.

Grindhouse Releasing’s Blu-ray features a restored transfer that showcases David L. Quaid’s superb cinematography, plus an absorbing 2 1/2 hour “making of” doc.

Blu-ray reissue: Sorcerer ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 9, 2014)


Sorcerer – Warner Bros. Blu-ray

The time is ripe for a re-appraisal of William Friedkin’s 1977 action-adventure, which was greeted with indifference by audiences and critics at the time. Maybe it was the incongruous title, which likely led many to assume it would be in the vein of his previous film (and huge box-office hit), The Exorcist. Then again, it was tough for any other film to garner attention in the immediate wake of Star Wars.

At any rate, it’s an expertly directed, terrifically acted update of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic 1953 nail-biter, The Wages of Fear (I say “update” in deference to Friedkin, who bristles at the term “remake” in a “letter from the director” included with the new disc).

Roy Scheider heads a superb international cast as a desperate American on the lam in South America, who signs up for a job transporting a truckload of nitroglycerin through rough terrain. Tangerine Dream provides the memorable soundtrack. No extras on Warner’s Blu-ray, but to finally see a restored, director-supervised transfer is a treat.

Blu-ray reissue: Prime Cut ***

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 9, 2014)

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Prime Cut – Explosive Media Blu-ray

This offbeat 1972 “heartland noir” from director Michael Ritchie features one of my favorite Lee Marvin performances. He’s a cleaner for an Irish mob out of Chicago who is sent to collect an overdue payment from a venal livestock rancher (Gene Hackman) with the unlikely moniker of “Mary Ann”.

In addition to overseeing his meat packing plant (where the odd debt collector ends up as sausage filler), Mary Ann maintains a (literal) stable of naked, heavily sedated young women for auction. He protects his spread with a small army of disturbingly uber-Aryan young men who look like they were cloned in a secret Nazi lab.

It gets even weirder, yet the film has an strangely endearing quality; perhaps due to its blend of pulpy thrills, dark comedy and ironic detachment. It’s fun watching Hackman and Marvin go mano a mano; and seeing Sissy Spacek in her film debut. Explosive Media skimps on extras, but boasts a sharp transfer.

Blu-ray reissue: Herzog: The Collection ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 9, 2014)


Herzog: the Collection – Shout! Factory Blu-ray (box set)

(*sigh*) It turns out everything that I thought I knew about iconoclastic German director Werner Herzog’s oeuvre couldn’t fill a flea’s codpiece (hangs head in shame, while sheepishly offering to rip up critic’s license for the reader’s amusement). I came to this realization after perusing the list of films included in Shout! Factory’s handsomely designed new Blu-ray box set. Out of the 16 films (spanning the years 1970 to 1999), I had only seen 5. However, in my defense, this is the first time any of these films have been available on Blu-ray, and a good number of them (particularly from the 1970s) have been difficult to track down in any format since the advent of home video.

As I have been plowing through this eclectic collection, I can confirm one constant that I had already gleaned about Herzog…from his earliest days as a filmmaker and continuing to this day, he goes to places where most of us fear to tread (literally and figuratively) and hones his lens in on the one thing in the room that makes us want to look away (how does he always know?!) With beautifully restored prints, new audio commentaries, and many more extras, this box set is a film lover’s dream.