Tag Archives: Blu-ray/DVD reissues

Blu-ray reissue: Tough Guys Don’t Dance (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2021)

https://www.justwatch.com/images/backdrop/250557799/s1440/tough-guys-dont-dance

Tough Guys Don’t Dance (Vinegar Syndrome)

If “offbeat noir” is your thing, this is your kind of film. Ryan O’Neal plays an inscrutable ex-con with a conniving “black widow” of a wife, who experiences five “really bad days” in a row, involving drugs, blackmail and murder. Due to temporary amnesia, however, he’s not sure of his own complicity (O’Neal begins each day by writing the date on his bathroom mirror with shaving cream-keep in mind, this film precedes Memento by 13 years.)

Noir icon Lawrence Tierny (cast here 5 years before Tarantino tapped him for Reservoir Dogs) is priceless as O’Neal’s estranged father, who is helping him sort out events (it’s worth the price of admission when Tierny barks “I just deep-sixed two heads!”).

Equally notable is a deliciously demented performance by B-movie trouper Wings Hauser as the hilariously named Captain Alvin Luther Regency. Norman Mailer’s “lack” of direction has been duly noted over the years, but his minimalist style works. The film has a David Lynch vibe at times (which could be due to the fact that Isabella Rossellini co-stars, and the soundtrack was composed by Lynch stalwart Angelo Badalamenti).

Vinegar Syndrome has done a bang-up job with the 2K restoration. Extras include new interviews with Hauser (he’s a real hoot!), cinematographer John Bailey, Mailer biographer/archivist J. Michael Lennon, and more.

Blu-ray reissue: Rancho Deluxe (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2021)

https://i2.wp.com/exgndzxhgug.exactdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/fun-city-editions-rancho-deluxe-.jpg?ssl=1

Rancho Deluxe (Vinegar Syndrome)

This criminally underappreciated 1975 Frank Perry comedy-drama sports a marvelously droll original screenplay by novelist Thomas McGuane. Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston star as modern-day cattle rustlers in Montana. Loose and episodic…just like life on the range, I’d reckon (with the odd bit of toking up and kinky sex tossed in just for giggles).

Wonderful ensemble work from a cast that includes Elizabeth Ashley, Slim Pickens, Clifton James, Charlene Dallas, Patti D’Arbanville, Richard Bright and the late great Harry Dean Stanton (memorable as a love-struck cow hand).

One of the “stars” of the film is Willam A. Fraker’s cinematography, which didn’t get its proper due on the lackluster MGM DVD released in 2000. Vinegar Syndrome’s transfer is a new 2K restoration taken from the 35mm interpostive, and it really makes those gorgeous “big sky” Montana locales pop. Extras include commentary by Nick Pinkerton, a new 20-minute interview with Bridges, and a 10-minute chat with McGuane.

Blu-ray reissue: Prince of the City (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2021)

https://i2.wp.com/assets.mubicdn.net/images/film/4672/image-w1280.jpg?ssl=1

Prince of the City (Warner Archive)

Sidney Lumet directed this powerful drama based on the true story of NYC narcotics detective Robert Leuci (“Daniel Ciello” in the film), whose life got turned upside down after he agreed to cooperate with a special commission. Treat Williams delivers his finest performance as the conflicted cop, who is initially promised he will never have to “rat” on any of his partners in the course of the investigation. But you know what they say about the road to Hell being paved with “good intentions”. Superb performances from all in the sizable cast (especially Jerry Orbach). Lumet co-adapted the screenplay from Richard Daley’s book with Jay Presson Allen.

Warner Archive has a habit of skimping on the extras; this release is no exception, but this is the best-looking print of it I’ve seen since I first caught it in a theater back in 1981.

Blu-ray reissue: Modern Romance (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2021)

https://i0.wp.com/assets.mubicdn.net/images/notebook/post_images/23036/images-w1400.png?ssl=1

Modern Romance (Powerhouse Films/Indicator)

In his best romantic comedy (co-written by frequent collaborator Monica Johnson), writer-director Albert Brooks (the godfather of “cringe” comedy) casts himself as a film editor at American International Pictures. His obsessive-compulsiveness makes him great at his job, but a pain-in-the-ass to his devoted girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold), who is exasperated with his history of impulsively breaking up with her one day, only to beg her to take him back the next.

There are many inspired scenes, particularly where a depressed Brooks takes Quaaludes and drunk dials every woman he’s ever dated (like Bob Newhart, Brooks is a master of “the phone bit”). Another great scene features Brooks and his assistant editor (the late Bruno Kirby) laying down Foley tracks in the post-production sessions for a cheesy sci-fi movie.

Brooks’ brother, the late Bob Einstein (aka “Super Dave”, and a regular on Curb Your Enthusiasm) has a wry cameo as a sportswear clerk. Also with George Kennedy (as “himself”) and real-life film director James L. Brooks (no relation) playing Brooks’ boss.

Indicator’s 2021 edition sports a sparkling transfer, an entertaining and insightful commentary track by critic/film historian Nick Pinkerton, and a 15 minute featurette from 2018 with cinematographer Eric Saarienen discussing his collaborations with Brooks.

Blu-ray reissue: The Gambler [1974] (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2021)

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EzXvIFBVcAE43eX?format=jpg&name=large

The Gambler (Imprint Films; Region ‘B’)

While there have been many films about degenerate gamblers, the twist in Karel Reisz’s 1974 character study is that the protagonist is also a college literature professor with a penchant for discussing the ethical dilemmas faced by Dostoevsky characters (leaving it up to the viewer to determine whether he’s lecturing to his students…or to himself?).

James Caan tackles this complex role with aplomb. Screenwriter (and future director) James Toback was inspired by the eponymous Dostoevsky story, but also drew from his own travails as a gambling addict. Also starring Lauren Hutton, Paul Sorvino, Morris Carnovsky and Jacqueline Brooks. The supporting cast seems to include every 70s character actor you can think of: Steven Keats, M. Emmet Walsh, Burt Young, Vic Tayback. James Woods, and Stuart Margolin.

Imprint’s Blu-ray transfer is quite obviously not restored (debris and artifacts tell the tale), but image quality, detail and color saturation is still superior to the Paramount DVD released in 2017. Extras include an insightful commentary by author and critic Matthew Asprey Gear, a video essay by Chris O’Neill, an archival interview with Reisz, and more.

Imprint Films is a new outfit out of Australia specializing in reissuing hard-to-find and out-of-print films. Be advised, their discs are region ‘B’ locked; so they require an all-region Blu-ray player (prices on all-region players have dropped considerably in recent years; worth the investment for deep-catalog film buffs). While many of their titles cross over with domestic reissue specialists like Criterion, Shout! Factory and KL Studio Classics, there is always the odd coveted obscurity that falls through the cracks (e.g. …like The Gambler).

Blu-ray reissue: Brotherhood of the Wolf (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 18, 2021)

https://i0.wp.com/pbs.twimg.com/media/D6Ddzj3WsAUCO_J.jpg?ssl=1

Brotherhood of the Wolf (Shout! Factory)

If I told you one of the best martial arts films of the 1990s features an 18th-century French libertine/naturalist/philosopher and his enigmatic “blood-brother” (an Iroquois mystic played by future Iron Chef Mark Dacasos) who are on the prowl for a supernaturally huge, man-eating lupine creature terrorizing the countryside-would you avoid eye contact and scurry to the other side of the street?

Christophe Gans’ film defies category; Dangerous Liaisons meets Captain Kronos-Vampire Hunter by way of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the best I can do. Artfully photographed, handsomely mounted and surprising at every turn.

The image quality on Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray, while not the revelation I had anticipated (and definitely not restored), is still a welcome improvement over the DVD. However, this edition compensates by packing in the extras, including 2 full-length “making of” documentaries, and 40 minutes of deleted scenes.

Blu-ray reissue: Nightmare Alley (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 17, 2021)

https://i1.wp.com/static1.colliderimages.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/nightmare-alley-tyrone-power-social.jpg?ssl=1

Nightmare Alley (The Criterion Collection)

“How can a guy get so low?” Even within the dark recesses of film noir, this cynical 1947 entry is about as “low” as you can get. Directed by Edmund Goulding and adapted from William Lindsay Gresham’s novel by Jules Furthman, the film was a career gamble for star Tyrone Power, who really sinks his teeth into the role of carny-barker-turned “mentalist” Stanton Carlisle.

Utilizing his innate charm and good looks, the ambitious Carlise ingratiates himself with a veteran carnival mind-reader (Joan Blondell). Once he finagles a few tricks of the trade from her, he woos a hot young sideshow performer (Coleen Gray) and talks her into partnering up to develop their own mentalist act.

The newlyweds find success on the nightclub circuit, but the ever-scheming Carlisle soon sees an opportunity to play a long con with a potentially big payoff. To pull this off, he seeks the assistance of a local shrink (Helen Walker). While not immune to Carlisle’s charms, she is not going to be an easy pushover like the other women in his life. Big trouble ahead…and a race back to the bottom.

The film was considered such a downer that 20th-Century Fox all but buried it following its first run. In addition, legal tangles barred it from being reissued in any home video format until a 2005 DVD release (I was one of those noir geeks who literally jumped for joy when I heard the glorious news).

Criterion makes it go to “11” with its new 4K digital restoration and audio upgrade. Extras include new interviews with critic Imogen Sara Smith and performer and historian Todd Robbins. The commentary track from the 2005 DVD by film historians James Ursini and Alain Silver has been ported over to this edition as well.

Blu-ray reissue: The Krays (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 17, 2021)

https://movieslongandshort.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/maxresdefault3.jpg?resize=474%2C266

The Krays (Second Sight Films; Region “B” locked)

“Mummy loves you, you little monsters.” Peter Medak’s 1990 biopic about England’s notorious Kray brothers is a unique hybrid of a “gangster movie” and a “woman’s film”.

First-time actors Gary and Martin Kemp (also known as the guitarist and bassist for Spandau Ballet) are nothing short of astonishing as Ronald and Reggie Kray, the fearsome East End gangsters who ruled London’s underworld in the 1960s-but it is playwright Samuel Beckett’s favorite leading lady Billie Whitelaw who really owns the film as the twins’ beloved Mum, Violet.

Born in 1933, the twins form an unusually intense, almost psychic lifelong bond with their mother that pushes their older brother Charlie and milquetoast father to the background. To say that this non-shrinking Violet is a “force of nature” is understatement. She loves her “boys” but suffers no fools gladly.

What is most interesting to me about Philip Ridley’s sharp screenplay is how many juicy monologues it contains for a number of strong female characters (again, something you don’t usually see in such traditionally male-centric gangster flicks). This observation is delivered by Violet’s friend Rose (played by Susan Fleetwood):

It was the women who had the war – the real war. The women were left at home in the shit, not sitting in some sparkling plane or gleaming tank […] Men! Mum’s right. They stay kids all their fucking lives. And they end up heroes – or monsters. Either way they win. Women have to grow up. If *they* stay children, they become victims.

Make no mistake, when the film goes gangster, it goes all the way. In fact, Medak received criticism for scenes of brutality (the Krays had an oddly anachronistic predilection for using swords to torture and/or dispense with their rivals).

While those scenes are gruesome, as director Medak points out in a new interview conducted for the Blu-ray there is much less violence in The Krays than you see in a typical American mob film (interestingly, Medak and Whitelaw knew the Krays).

I think this is an underrated gem ripe for discovery by a new audience (it’s far more compelling than the muddled 2015 Krays biopic Legend, with Tom Hardy playing the twins).

Second Sight Films does a great job on the restoration and image transfer. I have a minor quibble on the audio; it’s very clean and crisp, but I had to use subtitles because I got tired of having to ride my volume control (while the annoying fluctuations between hushed dialog and blaring action scenes/music cues are a given in contemporary films, for the life of me I don’t know why reissue studios are compelled to go for that same dynamic when remixing audio tracks of older films).

In addition to the aforementioned interview with the director, extras include a new audio commentary by film historian Scott Harrison, a new interview with producer Ray Burdis, and a softcover book with several new essays.

Blu-ray reissue: Mirror (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 17, 2021)

https://i0.wp.com/image.tmdb.org/t/p/original/5t3ObSn7mRi2QpV9Rs7heb3y9rJ.jpg?ssl=1

Mirror (The Criterion Collection)

Forgive me as I draw the chalk backwards (shameless middlebrow that I am) but watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 drama for the first time made me reassess my cheeky 2011 review of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. My opinion of Malick’s film hasn’t changed, but I can now state with confidence that I “get” what he was aiming for (also see: my review of Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog).

In my experience, Tarkovsky’s films (Solaris, Stalker, Ivan’s Childhood, The Sacrifice, et.al.) are a wash the first time I see them but gain resonance upon repeat viewings. Yes, that’s a long-winded way of saying they are “challenging”. On reflection (sorry), Mirror is the most challenging of all; perhaps because it is Tarkovsky’s most personal statement.

Which reminds me of a funny story. Upon its initial release, Mirror received cheeky reviews from Soviet critics, who dismissed it as too obscure and self-indulgent. However, history has been kinder regarding this journey to the center of Tarkovsky’s mind. The film plays like a mashup of Amarcord, Wild Strawberries, and Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge; equal parts personal memoir, history lesson and postcards from the subconscious.

Criterion’s Blu-ray sports a new 2K digital restoration, which enhances an already visually stunning film. Extras include The Dream in the Mirror, an absorbing new documentary by Louise Milne and Seán Martin that lends thoughtful context to the more enigmatic elements of the film, and Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer, a 2019 documentary by his son Andrei A. Tarkovsky (which I haven’t had a chance to view yet).

Blu-ray reissue: Five (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on July 17, 2021)

https://i2.wp.com/www.cinemaldito.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Five-1-e1524444349323.jpg

Five (Imprint Films; region-free)

Writer-director Arch Oboler’s 1951 film is rarely mentioned in the same breath as “seminal” Cold War era nuclear survivor dramas like On the Beach, Panic in the Year Zero, or The World, the Flesh, and the Devil-but it predates them all by at least a decade. Despite its low budget, no-name cast and relative obscurity, Five is Oboler’s magnum opus (especially compared to the rest of his oeuvre, which is largely comprised of psychotronic fare like Bwana Devil, The Twonky, and The Bubble).

The setup is familiar; a handful of survivors from disparate sociopolitical and ethnic backgrounds find each other after a nuclear holocaust. They end up living together in an abandoned Frank Lloyd Wright house on a California mountaintop. It doesn’t take long for the joy of newfound camaraderie and spirit of egalitarianism to wane, as the story becomes a cautionary parable a la Animal Farm.

When I re-watched the film recently, I was surprised at how relevant certain elements are to our current political climate (particularly when one survivor outs himself as a fascistic white supremacist-which begs comparisons to Hitchcock’s Lifeboat). Oboler’s choice of exterior locales is imaginative (e.g., a haunting scene that features characters wandering through a devastated cityscape is quite effective and belies the modest $75,000 budget).

Image and sound on the Imprint Films Blu-ray displays a marked improvement over the Sony Pictures DVD. The new commentary track with film critic Glenn Erickson and Oboler expert Matthew Rovner is packed with insightful observations and fascinating trivia about the making of the film. There is also an engaging 25-minute video essay by journalist and film critic Kim Newman, who sheds light on Oboler’s earlier career producing radio dramas in the 1940s. A must-have for the “post-apocalyptic” completist.