Saturday July 15, 2017

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Savant’s new reviews today are:

Straw Dogs 07/15/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Trailers from Hell’s Charlie Largent takes on Sam Peckinpah’s contribution to the ultra-violent movies of 1971. Originally rated ‘X’, details of a gang rape scene weren’t shown until the home video era arrived. What does a nerdy math professor do when uncouth hooligans take his wife and violate the sanctity of his solid-stone country home? Defend his turf with deadly force, that’s what. Pauline Kael called it ‘fascist cinema,’ but it’s one of Sam’s better pictures. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
7/15/17

The Valachi Papers 07/15/17

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

Charles Bronson plays a real-life Mafiosi in a period gangland saga with a fine script, some good performances and a production so sloppy that the whole thing could be called The Anachronism Papers. Joseph Wiseman and Lino Ventura supply the tough-guy star-power and Bronson actually commits himself to the role — quite a change of pace for one of his later pictures. Also with Jill Ireland. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
7/15/17

Obsessions 07/15/17

Cult Epics
Blu-ray + DVD

What a great sales hook — a feature film with a Bernard Herrmann music score that we hadn’t heard of. And one of the writers was Martin Scorsese, before Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets! But wait, it isn’t as simple as that. The new release is more than a little confusing. Its own ad copy first calls this Dutch production ‘obscure,’ and not four sentences later describes it as a ‘classic exploitation film.’ Starring Alexandra Stewart. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from Cult Epics.
7/15/17

The Angry Red Planet 07/15/17

Scream Factory
Blu-ray

Hey, Ib Melchoir’s Opus Mars-us is back, in a not-bad new scan and color-grading job. If the nostalgia bug has bitten you deep enough to appreciate a fairly maladroit but frequently arresting space exploration melodrama, this may be the disc for you. Let’s be honest: NOBODY can resist the allure of the fabulous Bat-Rat-Spider-Crab, and in glorious Cinemagic, no less. Starring the non-angry redhead Nora Hayden, Gerald Mohr, Les Tremayne and jumpin’ Jack Kruschen. Finally remastered on Blu-ray in its proper aspect ratio, by Scream Factory.
7/15/17

Savant Column

Saturday July 15, 2017

Hello!

Some fun links tonight. Longtime correspondent ‘B’ sends along an amusing link to Thrillist Entertainment’s illustrated article The 100 Greatest Props in Movie History, and the Stories Behind Them, which has a lot of funky choices but is still an okay read. The Great Whatsis from Kiss Me Deadly is there, so I’m satisfied.

We were told he retired from audio commentaries, but perhaps this one was in the can from an earlier time: Kino says that Richard Harland Smith will be heard on the yak-track for their upcoming Blu-ray of Tobor the Great, which has been given a street date of September 12. The hero brat is the kid from Night of the Hunter!

Gary Teetzel forwards this syfywire link to The 23 Most Hilariously Wrong Genre Movie Closed Captions. I suspect that many of these are from Hong-Kong generated discs.

An excellent trailer-promo surfaced for about a day for Cohen’s promised Blu-ray of The Old Dark House, and then disappeared. The quality was phenomenal for a picture we’d only seen pretty grungy quality. A facebook post claimed that Cohen had leaked a release date, but being the Savant, I missed it. If the promo pops up again, check it out, it’s quite good.

And finally, judging by the online response, I ought to ditch this movie boosh-wah and call myself OLD MUSTANG CAR SAVANT. Thanks for all the notes and interest in a vehicle I had for many years, but never felt secure enough to invest in properly restoring. Now my daughter is finishing the job. Wotta gal!

I will now return to movie-brain mode, at least until the next time I get to visit my old car again.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday July 11, 2017

No link — just visiting the car, now in the care of my daughter.

Savant’s new review today is:

The Lost City of Z 07/11/17

Broadgreen / Amazon Studios
Blu-ray

They don’t make ’em like this any more, and the original TV spots for James Gray’s accurate retelling of history almost didn’t know how to sell it. Charlie Hunnam spends his life trying to solve a riddle of the Peruvian rainforest, in between fighting in WW1 and dealing with class prejudice. Yup, one could say the picture was filmed in a ‘classic’ style . . . can that kind of show find an audience these days? With Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller and Tom Holland. On Blu-ray from Broadstreet / Amazon Studios.
7/11/17

Savant Column

Tuesday July 11, 2017

Hello!  I’ve returned from a break. All kinds of time-consuming things loom ahead, but I’ll be back on the review warpath soon enough.

This is a book review, for Joseph McBride’s big new compendium of his writing for the past fifty years, Two Cheers for Hollywood: Joseph McBride on Movies. It was long ago that I first became aware of McBride, through his first book on John Ford. I also enjoyed the articles and reviews he brought to Daily Variety, at a time when its coverage stopped being pitched solely to exhibitors and became the most reliable review source around. Two Cheers is not a collection of reviews or learned essays but the full range of McBride’s journalistic work. Since the early 1970s McBride was being tapped as a key resource for film-related screenwriting and career recaps for famous directors; his interviews of the greats pretty much picked up where Peter Bogdanovich left off.

The book’s satisfying loose organization soon reveals a broad range of interests and subject matter. McBride begins with pieces about writers, giving his take on the Blacklist, and the controversy with Elia Kazan’s honorary Oscar. A very large section covers his extensive interviews and articles on directors, with more than one piece about John Ford, who was just as irascible with a fellow Irishman as he was with others. McBride doesn’t shy away from the politics of his subjects, acknowledging that his favorite actor John Wayne carried totally opposite political opinions. The articles never go for the obvious — he looks at George Stevens and François Truffaut, but also the partnership of Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg, and the man who directed the Three Stooges, Edward L. Bernds. McBride wrote an entire book on Frank Capra, but explains in articles reprinted here the distinction between Capra’s earlier work and his later problematic ‘important’ pictures. It’s refreshing to read someone willing to fully take down Capra, whose 1971 autobiography is mostly self-aggrandizing fiction. He also wades deep into the controversy of the Coen Bros.

McBride’s on- set visits reveal unseen personalities for famous actors we think we know, like James Stewart. He has a surprising interview-based piece on Stephin Fetchit, and another on Alma Reville. He even devotes a nice piece to designer Richard Sylbert, and takes time to examine Spielberg’s relationship with his editor.

The book is full of surprises. Each piece is preceded by new notes that describe why it was written, and in many cases, how editors removed bits of controversy here and there. Those sections have been replaced. An article in which McBride described the Bush administration as a ‘regime’ did get him into hot water with one publication. A piece on two movies about the Cuban Missile Crisis, and another on ‘George Orwell in the movies’ reveal more of McBride’s strong opinions on national politics — one of his books is about the Kennedy assassination. We read about McBride’s various efforts to bring suppressed pictures to light, like John Huston’s Let There Be Light and Orson Welles’ Too Much Johnson. He openly embraces John Ford & Leo McCarey’s most sentimental films. Yet McBride is entirely persuasive in his arguments — he devotes an entire chapter to Elia Kazan’s Wild River, which I want to go back and read again.

Joseph McBride has a way with his opinions, which are never taken lightly. When he gets rough with Frank Capra or Jean-Luc Godard, he doesn’t care where the fur flies. By just explaining the bizarre storyline of a film left unmade by Alfred Hitchcock, we get deeper into the director’s psychology than a dozen essays tossing around gossip about his mistreatment of Tippi Hedren. McBride is a journalist first. His writing invariably finds an interesting hook, and then goes beyond to uncover something meaningful.

It’s a big book, almost 700 pages. I know I’m going to be dipping into it again soon. It is always liberating to read the thoughts of people that communicate well. This copy already has six or seven provisional bookmarks. I don’t want to forget the exact words McBride uses to slam Lost Horizon.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Saturday July 8, 2017

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Savant’s new review today is:

Blood Alley 07/08/17

The Warner Archive Collection
Blu-ray

Now a successful producer, John Wayne tries a big budget action picture with an anti-Communist theme. It’s The Alamo on a ferryboat, with Wayne as an apolitical adventurer who just feels like savin’ Chinese and kissin’ Lauren Bacall. Ace director William Wellman holds it together — barely. Berry Kroeger is a hateful comrade, Mike Mazurki a loyal aide and Anita Ekberg can be spotted in a couple of scenes, looking very . . . Swedish. With some interesting newsreels and TV show excerpts. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
7/08/17

Savant Column

Saturday July 8, 2017

Hello!

One review today — call it a vacation situation for the next few days, and perhaps updates rather than reviews. But I do have some fun links and announcements.

Gary Teetzel forwards Variety’s announcement that Cohen Media is bringing to Blu-ray a 4K disc of a restored version of James Whale’s The Old Dark House. The movie was once thought lost until the late 1960s, when none other than Curtis Harrington found it in a vault. It’s been in the Library of Congress all this time, while we’ve had to put up with some pretty unsubstantial releases. Universal is reportedly working with Cohen on this. Gee, Universal, I think you lost rights to Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight, but maybe you can go to the L.O.C and find an uncut, uncensored version!

Gary also forwards a Movie-Censorship.com article comparing the two versions of Sidney Salkow’s The Last Man On Earth — the Italian cut has a scene extension but also trims a lot of shots. The site is illuminating even if it’s sometimes hard to read … does that 9 seconds mean shorter or longer. . . and which version?

And both Joe Dante and correspondent “B.” forwarded this article, Memories of a Real ‘Witch Hunt’ as a rebuff to a distortion of the term that became national news a couple of weeks ago. The author is Julie Garfield, the actress daughter of John Garfield.

And Joe Baltake’s opinion columns are fun this week, just because it’s good to read contrarian opinions backed up with good reasoning. His The Passionate Moviegoer has ‘Blasphemy!’– themed ‘Hall of the Overrated’ negative takes on Cabaret, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Casablanca. Interesting.

The summer discs that cry out for good reviews are here — The Lost City of Z, The Valachi Papers, Where the Boys Are, The Sea Chase, Lost in America, Straw Dogs, Shag, Stalker, The Road to Bali, The Battle of the River Plate (German Region B), The Quiet American, Shalako, Pulse, Obsessions. I’m also hoping to review Scream Factory’s The Angry Red Planet and The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake one way or another in the absence of screeners.

And finally, a major book review should be less than a week away — I’m almost finished but it needs work.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson

Tuesday July 4, 2017

Independence Day

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Savant’s new reviews today are:

Ikarie XB 1 07/04/17

NFA Czechoslovakia
Blu-ray

For the discerning science fiction fan, this is the best of the Eastern-bloc Cold War Sci-fi epics, a genuinely brilliant and warmly human ‘Voyage to the End of the Universe’ restored in 4k resolution. It’s from before 2001: A Space Odyssey and has an equally wondrous but totally different vision of the future. Hopefully this will soon be readily available here; buying it required some clever footwork by Foreign Exchange of Culver City. Starring my favorite Czech personalities Radovan Lukavský, Zdenek Stepánek, Frantisek Smolík, Irena Kacírková and Dana Medrická. Please Marek, forgive my incompetent diacritical marks! On Blu-ray from NFA (Czech).
7/04/17

Varieté 07/04/17

Kino Classics
Blu-ray

At last, an expressionist silent classic that takes full advantage of cinematic principles. The legendary E.A. Dupont goes in for subjective-emotional effects of which Hitchcock would approve; Cameraman Karl Freund and effects wizard Eugen Schüfftan pull off spectacular visuals and special effects. No wonder this was a huge hit in America, it’s way ahead of its time (and ours too, in some ways). Emil Jannings shows why he was considered the world’s best actor in the 1920’s. Plus the enigmatic Lya De Putti. On Blu-ray from Kino Classics.
7/04/17

Free Fire 07/04/17

Lionsgate
Blu-ray

Have an itch to see a movie about a gunfight, the whole gunfight and nothing but the gunfight? Search no more, for Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump have the movie for you: twenty minutes of angry crooks in conference, and then seventy minutes of non-stop shootin,’ with no annoying plot context or character depth to get in the way. Just say ‘Bang Bang I shot you down’ and then play it in a loop ad infinitum. Starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Mark Monero and Patrick Bergin. On Blu-ray from Lionsgate.
7/04/17

Savant Column

Tuesday July 4, 2017

Hello!

Wow, I’ve got little in the way of fabulous new links today, as I think my happy link providers are off hobnobbing with their fellow wizards and otherwise getting into trouble. And no ironic top image today, as I’m putting this one up completely straight, even though the source movie is a house slightly divided against itself, to mangle a phrase.

It’s pretty great getting this Blu-ray of one of my top favorite space films Ikarie XB 1. The secret to having a favorite picture become available on disc is apparently to be pessimistic and assume that it will never be released, that the disc Powers That Be out there have my number, and send anything I want to the back of the line. I guess I have to retire that attitude after this year. When I began ‘MGM Video Savant’ years ago I put out lists of coveted movies, and on top were a group of Fox ‘Scope movies that I’d seen only in miserable Pan-scan TV versions: House of Bamboo, Hell and High Water and Garden of Evil etc. What can I say? Now that I can peruse them in beautiful Blu-ray HD, is it time to die? I hope not. To mis-quote Yellow Submarine, newer and bluer blues are always on the way, and greedy collectors never get enough.

This Ikarie disc was a surprise. I saw the restoration trailer for the show a while back, and noted that Trailers from Hell’s Joe Dante received a prominent text endorsement quote. But only last night did I watch the trailer on the disc, and saw that there was a flurry of additional one-word quotes further on, with the last one being ME. The important, unique word they pulled from my old review is ‘Best,’ which is spelled out in bold Czech: “NEJLEPŠÍ.” Of course, my name is only up for about 12 frames! And it’s misspelled!   I don’t care. I’ve got my names on a bunch of noir and Mario Bava releases, with mostly inane quotes, but this feels special.

Just so you don’t think all is perfect here in Los Angeles, starting a few days before the 4th of July we hear fireworks every night. When the booms really echo, we wonder if hostilities have broken out with Orange County. Three days ago we got a shower of ash from the hills burning to the Northeast. And last night we had a helicopter buzzing around the neighborhood for about an hour, searching for Public Enemy numbers one through four. Look how thoughtful I am — I got this picture for you of a Cop copter with its searchlight. Couldn’t do much else, with the chopper doing everything but playing Ride of the Valkyries.

Thanks for reading! Have a great fourth! — Glenn Erickson


More recent Savant Columns below on page 2 … and beyond.

Saturday July 1, 2017

 

 

Why is this picture here? CLICK on it.
Savant’s new reviews today are:

The Bridge at Remagen 07/01/17

Twilight Time
Blu-ray

What’s the best true-story WW2 combat film for pure-grit, no-nonsense tanks ‘n’ bombs ‘n’ crazy mayhem action on a giant scale? This non-stop battle epic gets my vote. George Segal and Ben Gazzara’s GI infantry dogs are suitably tough, cynical and desperate, especially when they’re repeatedly sent into danger. The history is fairly accurate — there was indeed a race to seize the last bridge across the River Rhine. With Robert Vaughn, Bradford Dillman, E.G. Marshall, Peter Van Eyck, Hans Christian Blech & Bo Hopkins. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
07/01/17

Ugetsu Monogatari 07/01/17

The Criterion Collection
Blu-ray

Trailers From Hell’s Charlie Largent takes a Westernized look at the great Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi and his preeminent masterpiece Ugetsu, brought to us in a stellar new release from the wizards at Criterion.. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
07/01/17