Review Page and Column
Cocaine Bear 4K 09/19/23
The two-word title for this thriller demonstrates real Truth in Advertising — it’s all about the ba-a-d bear, and everyone else is Special Supporting Snack Food. This 2023 equivalent of an old-fashioned Creature Feature generated positive buzz last February. It’s just your average gore horror thriller with some big talent, that’s also an irreverent comedy and a heartwarming story of children and cute animals. The aim was to be a raucous audience participation freakout: who will be the next victim of the drug-fueled Ursa Major? Disclaimer: if you want the movie about the Hollywood bear that sells cocaine, you want that guy named Yogi. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
The Train 4K 09/19/23
No CGI allowed! Adventure film fans dote on Real Action happening with real stuntmen, and John Frankenheimer’s Resistance epic has more physical action than almost anything. Burt Lancaster and others risk their necks on moving trains as they derail and explode; the timing of some shots is worthy of applause. The drama about national art theft is still relevant, as are the performances of Paul Scofield, Wolfgang Preiss and others. How could they wreck so many trains, and an entire railroad switchyard? The cinematography looks absolutely fantastic in 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The Warner Archive Collection released its list of October Blu-rays on Monday. It initially had no Halloween-themed titles and only one vintage title, the MGM pre-Code Dance, Fools, Dance with Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. Other film listed are the Elvis programmer Double Trouble (1967), Richard Attenborough’s In Love and War (1996) with Sandra Bullock & Chris O’Donnell, Costa-Gavras’ Mad City (1997) with Dustin Hoffman and John Travolta, and Kevin Reynolds’ Rapa-Nui (1994).
A follow-up announcement added a desirable horror classic that’s very much Halloween-themed, Tod Browning’s 1936 fantasy item The Devil-Doll with Lionel Barrymore, Maureen O’Sullivan and the interesting Rafaela Ottiano. ↑ It’s a weird mix of the macabre and the clunky, but as is typical with Browning, the twisted angles are oddly eerie, unnerving.
The WAC’s George Feltenstein appeared on The Extras podcast to assure collectors that more horror is on the way, but only the one title was ready for Halloween. The label has been offering ‘surprise extras’ lately. Very often the Blu-rays simply carry over whatever was on the DVD, but The Devil-Doll has a new commentary by the always-good Steve Haberman and Constantine Nasr. The show ought to look superb in HD.
While snooping around the web looking for other items on The Train, we stumbled on a kind of ‘half-pilot’ John Frankenheimer directed in 1964, for a never-produced TV show to be called Selena.
It’s a strange mess — it stars the very likable Polly Bergen, with James Daly. Carroll O’Connor has a goofy role in drag, his voice overdubbed. Reggie Nalder is an Arab stereotype. The writer of note is one ‘Ben Madow,’ presumably the great screenwriter Ben Maddow, with two ‘d’s. The animated titles aren’t bad at all.
Selena is an undercover secret agent; the story is spy nonsense, halfway well shot. But either it’s a partial script, or the shooting was halted before finish — what’s there is fragmented, held together by voiceovers and a too-active star wardrobe. Next up for the great John Frankenheimer would be the paranoid classic Seconds.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Visitors from the Arkana Galaxy 09/16/23
Croatian animation wizard Dušan Vukotić co-wrote and directed this Sci-fi comedy that gently elbows the genre. It unspools like a children’s film for adults, teasing nudity, exaggerated violence, etc.. The Fun and Games play with a Philip K. Dick idea — the fertile mind of a frustrated Sci-fi writer can morph reality. The aliens he imagines become real, turning his romantic life upside down. It’s sincere, droll, and more than a little eccentric. Oh, and don’t forget the huge, slimy Mumu Monster created by cult figure Jan Svankmajer, that likes to rip off heads. The release carries 5 of Vukotić’s excellent Zagreb Film short subjects, including his 1961 Oscar winner Surogat.On Blu-ray from Deaf Crocodile Films.
What an incredible idea — Elvis Presley plays a swingin’ racecar driver in the fast lane with one gorgeous ‘gal’ after another: Shelley Fabares! Diane McBain! Deborah Walley! The brillance continues — Elvis is ALSO a singer, and MGM somehow prevailed upon him to sing NINE whole songs, including ‘Beach Shack,’ and ‘Am I Ready!’ Where do they get these ideas? Actually, Elvis addicts will love this late musical entry in his filmography. Writers George Kirgo and Theodore J. Flicker were praised for their witty screenplay. from his On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
Hello! Lots of goodies today.
The new Noir City Magazine is really a worthy item — it has more quality content than most books on noir, plus great writing and terrific graphics. The new Editor-in-Chief Imogen Sara Smith has really gone to town on this ish.
The emphasis in this issue No. 38 is True Crime… various articles look back at the inspirations for ripped-from-the-headlines noir thrillers. Eddie Muller does an exhaustive round-up, while John Wranovics covers Roger Touhy, Gangster, Vance McLaughlin delves into The Night of the Hunter and Rachel Walther looks back at Dog Day Afternoon. Plus articles on even more exotic noir titles.
We’ve seen this before, but contributor Michael McQuarrie forwards a hot link to a complete scan of the TV booker’s catalog for the 1957 Shock! film package.
This TV distribution of classic Universal horror changed the face of film fandom. Forrest J. Ackerman must have taken one look at this and decided the time was right for a national magazine dedicated to movie monsters . . .
This one’s easy. Are you crazy about vintage Space Opera, and happen to be within striking distance of UCLA and Westwood?
If so, be aware that on November 19 the UCLA Library will present a special screening of the 1936 Universal serial Flash Gordon, fully restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
It’s all thirteen chapters, which comes to a whopping 4 hours and five minutes of “menacing iguanas shot in slow-motion, spaceships with smoking tailpipes, and a galaxy pre-colonized by Earth-bound Orientalism.”
All this and Buster Crabbe too!
And finally, favorite avant-garde filmmaker Godfrey Reggio strikes again. We’re linking to this trailer for its own sake: the famed director of Koyanniskatsi returns with another typically indescribable show, a ‘spiritual documentary,’ perhaps?
Oscilloscope’s trailer for Once Within a Time certainly packs a graphic impact. The music is by Philip Glass; Godfrey Reggio’s co-director is Jon Kane.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
The Night of the Hunter 4K 09/12/23
Strikingly original & endlessly creative, Charles Laughton’s solo directorial effort continues to stun audiences with the expressive power of pure cinema. It’s an ‘American Primitive’ mix of storybook candor and nightmare imagery; the performances are styled after an earlier era of direct drama. Davis Grubb’s theme is more relevant than ever — the conflict of Good versus Evil dares to align Evil with revivalist hysteria. The 4K disc includes a Tim Lucas commentary and illuminating input from a surviving cast member. On 4K Ultra HD from KL Studio Classics.
$10,000 Blood Money 09/12/23
Spaghetti westerns are are still popular, especially with high-quality releases like this available. This 1967 pseudo-Django oater is from the boxed set Blood Money – Four Western Classics Vol. 2. It’s concocted to appeal to the fans of Sergio Leone. Gianni Garko is a handsome if colorless bounty hunter hero, and the notorious actor Claudio Camaso is his vicious bandit foe. Arrow’s extras access the original filmmakers for candid stories about westerns all’italiana. On Blu-ray from Arrow Video.
Leave it to associate & research fanatic Gary Teetzel to come up with yet another arcane, head-scratching Kaiju– related video.
This commercial for the trading firm Marubeni features a surprise cameo by a veteran movie star not known for making paid public appearances.
Hmmm . . . do you think the likeness of the surprise guest was properly licensed? It’s nice to know that today’s advertising Mad Men believe in this kind of nostalgia. They have be seriously over-thinking their ‘indirect marketing’ ploy . . . but we like the ’60s look given the special effects.
Correspondent Michael McQuarrie finds more than his share of interesting items online. In this case he’s surfaced with a Hollyood scandal magazine with articles on Elia Kazan’s Commie Trouble and George Raft consorting with gangsters like Bugsy Siegel. ↑ The writers don’t sign their work. The rag slanders Mario Lanza and drags poor Gail Russell through the slime … ya just want to offer her moral support and encouragement.
Michael also saw a cover for an old TV Guide and felt certain that it served as the template for the TV Guide cover seen in Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. We agree:
And finally, we happily link to a post on the Brenton Film website, a reprint from the #49, Summer 1994 issue of Grand Street Magazine. The author is the respected film scholar, author and collector William K. Everson.
Everson’s aim with Raymond Rohauer: King of the Film Freebooters is to demolish the memory of an acknowledged film pirate. We learn that Rohauer’s efforts did help to preserve some films, especially those of Buster Keaton, but that can’t begin to compensate for his wicked, dishonest ways.
Today we have our share of film collectors that stand in the way of reasonable film preservation, most often by refusing to cooperate with archives. Everson waited until Rohauer was gone to air his thoughts; I wonder if we’ll ever hear the facts separated from the rumors about today’s collectors / hoarders, that for various reasons withhold film history from the public.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
One False Move 4K 09/09/23
Tagging Carl Franklin’s superb crime thriller as a neo-noir isn’t enough; it’s practically perfect despite being made at a direct-to-video production level. Bill Paxton, Cynda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton give some of the best performances of the 1990s. We also marvel at Thornton and Tom Epperson’s screenplay, which advances some good thinking about race realities. This one grabs us 100% — the characterizations really make an impression. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
3 Days of the Condor 4K 09/09/23
Ruthless spy thrills, big-star glitz plus pretensions of political importance: Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway find career-sustaining momentum in this slick, top-talent espionage tale on the fashionable end of post- Watergate paranoia. It’s a box office winner for director Sydney Pollack, who gives the show his special energy — he was Robert Redford’s most consistent payday director. Owen Roizman’s New York images look very good in 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
The mighty Mishka again assumes his best Gorgo pose, to introduce . . .
. . . a news clipping found by fellow CineSavant reviewer Charlie Largent, who asks, is this the origin of Gorgo? It’s dated December 23, 1958, which means that the King Brothers were working on Gorgo way before its 1961 release date. We suspect that its post-production was stalled for at least a few months, because the street scenes in Piccadilly were filmed in August and October of 1959.
Gossip maven Louella Parsons must have had a slow news day to report on the production of a movie tentatively called “Kuru.” It sounds like an entirely different kind of project … maybe the final script came together in a rush as well.
Gary Teetzel finds another fairly amazing Auction online: this time it’s a bidding melee for the Gregory Jein Collection. The offerings will stagger hardcore collectors of all things Star Trek and Star Wars — Greg had the studio and sfx connections to beg, buy and borrow everything, and he was crazy about Sci-fi miniatures and costumes.
I visited Gregory Jein’s house in 1976 and found it jammed with models from movies — you couldn’t enter the living room because it was blocked by three oversized ‘miniatures’ of Russian MIGs from Ice Station Zebra. I almost tripped over the robot costumes from Silent Running.
Bidders will need deep pockets to compete in this auction. Somebody’s going to be earning big money . . . ! The auction website page is heavy on costumes, too. Unless Greg got rid of a lot of models and props, I’d have to believe this is only the tip of the iceberg of his collection.
Another post offers more Greg Jein items — most of which he made himself — at the same Heritage Auction page.
I worked for Greg on both of his Steven Spielberg movies; he was nominated for Oscars on both. Greg could be tight-lipped, but he told great stories about his first insane experience working on the notorious Flesh Gordon. He also didn’t talk much about his collectables, but he often loaned out his 16mm prints for screenings. He was generous with collectable gifts he made himself. One Christmas he brought in a beautiful set of dioramas of flying saucers — Klaatu’s ship sitting on the baseball field with a Gort standing guard, the C-57D sitting on Altair 4, with a rover cart, Robby the Robot and several ray gun cannons. I still have a bunch of his vacuformed, unfinished saucer shells upstairs.
On Close Encounters, to express interest in doing the miniature effects for 1941, Greg sent Steven Spielberg beautiful models of the tank, plane and sub described in the script, with the note, ‘don’t play with them in the bathtub.’ Spielberg was very appreciative of Greg’s work.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
. . . and owing to a review-writing block and a number of things that had to be done around the house over the Labor Day weekend, we’re calling today a Forbidden No-Review Tuesday.
Instead, noting that we’re two-third’s of the way through 2023, I decided for an easy fix for today’s post … and have grabbed two reviews from each month in the first half of this year, that I either thought turned out well, or were personal favorites, or whatever. Total subjective back-tracking. Several turned out to be the handiwork of CineSavant contributor Charlie Largent.
But it isn’t all a no-work day — there is a new CineSavant Column below.
“All Hu-mans there is no escape!” Ro-man is now on the loose in Blu-ray 3-D, anaglyphic 3-D and plain old 2-D if so desired. A years-long effort culminates in an extras-rich disc release of one of the most entertaining ‘bad movies’ ever, a tale of intergalactic warfare and sacrifical heroism … all played in Bronson Canyon by 6 quiet actors and a man in a gorilla costume, corrections, parts of a gorilla costume. The dialogue and acting must be seen to be believed, plus the weird faux-3-D special visual effects that Will Make You Believe you’ve fallen into an alternate reality of creaky stock footage. “You only think you CANNOT see this epic, but you MUST!” Where on the graph of film history does this crazy movie belong? On 3-D Blu-ray from Bayview Entertainment.
Lethal Charlie Largent takes a sangriento plunge into the classic Alameda Mexi-horrors, which range from the bizarre to the truly creepy. Read If You Dare about the shocking Truth of The Black Pit of Dr. M, The Witch’s Mirror, The Curse of the Crying Woman and The Brainiac. PI’s well-researched extras give these chillers the respect they deserve . . . ¡Qué miedo! On Region Free Blu-ray from Powerhouse Indicator.
A stunning movie that conveys the pure spirit of a vintage fairy tale, Aleksandr Ptushko’s story of royal intrigue is charming to the Nth degree, with pure-hearted characters and as many ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ moments as a classic Disney picture. It’s suffused in wonderful magic, not the show-off kind, but the deep-spirit visual magic found in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. The Russian sense of humor can be puzzling, but not their love of beauty and spiritual loyalty. The key extra is an hour-long video conversation with Russian fantasy authority Robert Skotak. On Blu-ray from Deaf Crocodile Films.
Another CineSavant Revival Screening Review, or in other words, it’s not yet officially available for English-language viewers. This French The Hunchback of Notre Dame may not be the cinematic masterpiece that is RKO’s 1939 version, but it has a literate script, good production values, color and CinemaScope — and doesn’t mar the Victor Hugo original with a false feel-good ending. Anthony Quinn’s Quasimodo is a legit interpretation, and the late Gina Lollobrigida is excellent as Esmerelda. We need this in Region A, with English subtitles. NOT on Region A Blu-ray.
🎶 “Have you heard . . . about the stars? . . . Ju-pi-ter could collide with Mars . . .” 🎶 A comet is on a collision course with Earth, a saga seen through a TV Network, the teenager who first discovered the astral threat, and the team of astronauts dispatched on a deep space mission to destroy it. The ‘humanist’ epic is really about man’s ability to adapt to new problems, even when the worst can’t be avoided. Steven Spielberg producers Zanuck & Brown and director Mimi Leder, plus a fine cast: Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Maximilian Schell, Mary McCormack, Kurtwood Smith, James Cromwell, Jon Favreau and Leelee Sobieski. And its a knockout in a killer 4K encoding. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital from Paramount Home Video.
A gritty combat drama with Steve McQueen, James Coburn and Harry Guardino? Why wasn’t this on Blu ten years ago? Don Siegel directs an entertaining ‘infantry squad in trouble’ thriller with his expected hard-edged, unsentimental attitude. Bob Newhart excels via an audience-pleasing comic bit but Bobby Darin’s co-starring position is diminished by the aggressive McQueen. His anti-social private uses good judgment in a bold counter-attack — which doesn’t go well at all. Other members of this Unlucky Bunch of ditch dogs are Fess Parker, Nick Adams and Mike Kellin. On Blu-ray from Paramount Home Video.
One of the last of the classic Weimar silents, Joe May’s melodrama is only partly expressionist; Günther Rittau’s terrific camerawork tells a ‘street’ story of crime and sex with minimal dialogue. Gustav Fröhlich is the green Berlin street cop and Betty Amman the vamp who sullies his badge; the story takes place in 24 hours and includes a slick bank heist in Paris. Producer Erich Pommer made sure nobody would forget this one soon: its legendary talking point is an enormous exterior street set, built inside a vast Zeppelin hangar. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
Daniel Petrie and Ellen Burstyn’s excellent film elevates a genre we normally disdain — the Ethereal Cereal do-you-believe Spiritual Awakening picture. Call this one intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, respectful and emotionally extra-effective. It pushes all the right buttons and finds a conclusion that doesn’t make us roll our eyes. Burstyn’s commitment, Petrie’s direction and the input of great actors takes us all the way: Sam Shepard, Eva Le Gallienne, Richard Farnsworth, Lois Smith, Roberts Blossom. The minimal visual effects are a class act, too. On Region Free Blu-ray from Viavision [Imprint].
CineSavant Revival Screening Review. An old DVD of this Disney favorite exists, but it’s pretty bad; Charlie Largent got access to a nice new remaster, bu it isn’t yet available on disc. James MacArthur dodges dirty dishes and saccharine dish Janet Munro, and dares to follow in his family footsteps as a mountain climber. Michael Rennie encourages his quest with help and obstruction from a gallery of English actors we know from fantasy films: Herbert Lom, James Donald, Laurence Naismith, Lee Patterson, Ferdy Mayne, Roger Delgado. Don’t jump on Amazon or contact the Disney Video Club, because it’s Not on Home Video.
Mill Creek’s latest disc collection gathers three Columbia Sci-fi faves and throws in a Blu-ray debut for a fourth. It’s a good selection: two giant Ray Harryhausen monsters, one marginal bad-taste Sam Katzman zombie epic, and a quirky Lou Costello comedy with Dorothy Provine doing a wholesome take on Allison Hayes’ biggest role. Do these encodings measure up to fancier editions? We give them a spin: Creature with the Atom Brain, It Came from Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock. On Blu-ray from Mill Creek.
Imprint’s third Television release is a killer, duly commemorated in Charlie Largent’s CineSavant review coverage: a 16-disc collector’s boxed set of the entire run of The Avengers TV episodes starring Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, both the B&W and color seasons. Emma and Patrick Macnee’s John Steed still cut fashionable figures, in spy adventures directed with wit and panache — all clever camera angles and knowing looks. The lavish release promises all-restored transfers and a tall stack of extras. On Blu-ray from [Imprint] Television.
Have a yen for the music, style and glamour of ’60s Swinging London? Edgar Wright’s hybrid time capsule / music extravaganza / horror thriller is an audiovisual delight from one end to the other. Young women from different decades seek to conquer London by different means — they meet as soul twins in a ghost world, where bloodsoaked murders haunt their dreams. Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are the psychic twins; stars Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp and the late Diana Rigg make it all authentic. Soho can boast the most creatively ‘alive’ visuals of 2021. On 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital from Universal Home Entertainment.
We gravitate toward articles championing ‘physical media’ — video discs — and have not looked kindly on the articles that began 15 years ago predicting the demise of DVDs, Blu-rays, etc.. All are still very popular. The only threat to the future of Physical Media is the corporate desire to control everything, to make the public beg for whatever ‘content suppliers’ feel like letting us see.
Thus I was pleased to find that Richard Brody’s The New Yorker article from August 25 can be read online. It’s one of the best so far on what we’ll be missing if media companies really close down the spigots. Disney has completely squelched most of the film history of 20th-Fox. Titles not on hard disc can disappear into the ether with the drop of a corporate spat — for the same reason that the entire ABC network just disappeared from the Spectrum Cable service last week.
Richard Brody’s article is up here: What We Lose When Streaming Companies Choose What We Watch. The piece is optimistic — Mr. Brody says that Disney’s Bob Iger is ‘contemplating restoring physical media to the company’s offerings.’ A tentative Woo-Hoo to that.
The idea for most people should be to collect only movies you love, that you wouldn’t want to lose. We now have far too many discs to organize on shelves. It’s boxes for CineSavant central, and I plan to use some Labor Day writing time to digitally index and stash away a few boxes more. I think the system will work: a friend asked to see Houdini a few days back, and I was able to lay my hands on it in a few seconds. It’s not always that easy.
The informed Gary Teetzel dutifully reports that the just-issued official trailer for the latest Godzilla movie has now been given English subtitles. We’re actually curious to see if this installment will reverse a trend, the ‘political neutering’ of the franchise.
For them and those that can’t get enough of Big G, this is the link to the subtitled trailer for Godzilla Minus One.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson