The Gumball Rally 06/03/17
Cars! Cars! Cars! What climate accord, when we’re celebrating the internal combustion engine! One of the best of the breezy ’70s action comedies, this cross-country road race picture gave us early looks at Gary Busey and Raul Julia in the midst of an always-amusing ensemble of car crazies, out to go from Manhattan to the Pacific in less than two days, at speeds up 175 mph! No 55 speed limit, no catalytic converters! Starring Michael Sarrazin and a score of fast-fast-fast dream cars. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
The Picasso Summer 06/03/17
Yet another puzzle picture, that came out on DVD back with the first wave of WAC films in 2010. An expensive romance with Albert Finney and Yvette Mimieux, it was filmed in Europe, co-written by Ray Bradbury and bears the music of Michel Legrand, including an exceedingly well known pop song. Yet it sat on a shelf for three years, only to make a humiliating world debut on TV — on CBS’s Late Nite Movie. It was clearly one of those Productions From Hell, where nothing went right. On DVD from The Warner Archive Collection.
Spotlight for a Murderer 06/03/17
Pleins feux sur l’assassin. The uncanny Georges Franju strikes again, in an Agatha Christie-like thriller imbued with his special mood, the eerie music of Maurice Jarre and some great actors including Jean-Marie Trintignant, Pierre Brasseur, Dany Saval, Marianne Koch and Pascale Audret. If mood is the key, then Franju has found an ideal setting, a beautifully preserved castle — and then the murders begin. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Academy.
Gary Teetzel is on top of the links again today, reporting first on the storm of excited stop-motion fans talking about a new restoration of Willis O’Brien’s 1925 The Lost World. Reading all of the posts is a bit confusing, but the new version appears to be of much better quality, and as much as ten minutes longer than anything we’ve seen. That claim wouldn’t mean much if the frame rate were simply being slowed down; but those that have seen it say that numerous new scenes are involved, with new animation. The disc is coming from Flicker Alley and the extras include a new Bob Israel score, new transfers of three other Willis O’Brien animation items. And Gary links to a restored clip that shows scenes with original tinting. To me it looks almost too good to be true.
And as promised, Gary reports on his screening of the new Pirates of the Caribbean in the new “ScreenX” format from South Korea. It doesn’t seem to be so much a new format as an enhanced screening experience. I haven’t seen it but it sounds rather like the feature on old flat Disney animation movies, that fill in the pillarbox extremes on widescreen TVs with ‘related’ visual information, something like art illumination in ancient books. Here’s Gary’s report.
On Tuesday, May 30, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales at the CGV Cinema in Los Angeles’ Koreatown to experience the film in “ScreenX.” First developed in South Korea in 2012, the process is a modern twist on Cinerama: additional picture information is projected onto the side walls of a movie theater to give viewers ultra-wide, panoramic visuals — a full 270 degrees of image. ScreenX has been used on several South Korean feature films and in-theater advertisements; Piratesmarks the first Hollywood feature to receive a (very limited) U.S. release in the process.
It should be noted up front that the entire film did not utilize the system, but rather just 10 to 15 minutes sprinkled throughout the runtime, not unlike the selected scenes Christopher Nolan shot in IMAX for the last two Dark Knight films. Furthermore, in a small handful of instances the walls did not depict contiguous image, but general “atmosphere,” such as flickering flames.
So how was it? First, a few negatives. Since the system projects directly onto theater walls and not smooth screens (at least in the venue where I saw it), one might note a distracting detail now and then, like the auditorium’s speakers. Also, since the film was shot with only the front screen in mind, visuals on the walls sometimes draw the eye away from where the central action is. A few establishing shots using the process are relatively brief and don’t give the viewer enough time to take in the full image.
In spite of those drawbacks, the system was at times very impressive, and did indeed deliver the ‘immersive’ effect promised in the ballyhoo. The best sequences came just before the climax, in which the characters explore some fantasy environments. Several shots linger long enough for viewers to take in dazzling sights all around them. It’s very effective and adds a touch of welcome old-fashioned showmanship to the proceedings.
Ultimately, though, one walks away from ScreenX feeling its application to narrative features to be limited. Even if filmmakers planned to use the format from the get-go, it’s unlikely that audiences would want to sit through an entire feature that demanded they constantly turn their heads right and left to follow the action. It would be ideal for travelogues or perhaps some experimental shorts–but when was the last time you saw a travelogue or a short subject in a mainstream theater?
For more information on ScreenX, check out their website. For Angelenos interested in seeing the process for themselves, the ScreenX version of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is still playing at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown and Buena Park. Note that the film has English audio, but Korean subtitles. — Gary Teetzel
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Crooked treasure hunters tangle with menacing black gangsters in this crime-action siege movie from 1992, with a fine filmmaker pedigree – Walter Hill, Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis. The late Bill Paxton leads a great cast — William Sadler, Ice-T, Art Evans — in a tense standoff that turns into a murderous ordeal when it’s discovered that a million-dollar cache of gold is to be had. The Shout Selects extras include an informative interview with co-writer Bob Gale. On Blu-ray from Shout Selects.
The Ballad of Cable Hogue 05/30/17
Easily the most mellow of the films of Sam Peckinpah, this relatively gentle western fable sees Jason Robards discovering water where there ain’t none, and establishing his own little way station desert paradise, complete with lover Stella Stevens and eccentric preacher David Warner. Some of the slapstick is sticky but the sexist bawdy humor is too cute to offend . . . and Peckinpah-phobes will be surprised to learn that the movie is in part, a musical. On Blu-ray from The Warner Archive Collection.
It’s a mass review of two multi-title Blu-ray sets: Universal continues to amaze with their ongoing HD releases of classic-era monster movies. Fast on the footsteps of 2016’s Frankenstein and Dracula Legacy collections are the hot-off-the-presses Dracula and The Mummy editions. Trailers from Hell’s esteemed Charlie Largent takes a look-see. Separate Blu-ray purchases from Universal.
We’re trying to get these Tuesday reviews off early, so as to take advantage of the Monday holiday!
I finally got a gander at all of MGM’s 1933 Men Must Fight the other night, DVR’d from TCM. It’s a real jaw dropper, a creaky adaptation of a creaky play with one insanely good special effects sequence. Diana Wynyard, a nurse in WW1, loses her flyer boyfriend (Robert Young) in France but bears his child. To make everything morally Kopasetic for the high-class Diana, she marries her generous admirer, Lewis Stone. The theatrics are beyond stiff.
Back in the USA and twenty years later it’s now a futuristic 1940, complete with picture phones. All other progress seems stuck in 1933, however. Stone is now the Secretary of State trying to bolster a failing peace plan. Diana is a vocal pacifist, a position that gets sticky when war breaks out with an enemy unidentified only vaguely as the ‘Eurasian States.’ When Diana proclaims that the world’s mothers must stop producing sons to die in men’s wars, the savage hecklers at her speeches turn into an angry mob, screaming death threats and attempting to storm her 5th Avenue home. Diana’s grown son Phillips Holmes proclaims that he subscribes to the same pacifist credo, which prompts his outraged fianceé to break off their engagement, and his stepfather to finally divulge the fact that he’s a bastard rather than part of his family. The bizarre finish sees the son flip-flopping and racing to a biplane to battle the enemy (who?) in the skies over New York City. Learning that his real dad died a hero, the son becomes a dashing air pilot, seemingly in just one day. An inane final scene sees the three generations of rich women now rooting for the fight, yet also lamenting their abandonment of pacifist ideals. Grandmother May Robson says her last line, that mothers will just be ignored the same as always, as if it’s supposed to be funny. Having made no coherent dramatic point, the movie just ends, in mid-war.
TCM’s print has a patch with a bad buzz on the soundtrack but is otherwise okay. The shocker is in the next-to-last reel. For over sixty minutes the show has taken place in stuffy interiors, with out-the-window cutaways to silent stock footage of victory parades, etc. Just as the family is breaking up over the pacifism issue, a full-on air raid hits NYC. Massed biplanes (in 1940) drop little wing bombs. One tiny bomb is all that’s required to wipe out the Brooklyn Bridge, and just two are enough to blow up the Empire State Building. The miniature effects are excellent, with blasted skyscrapers falling into the streets via traveling mattes and more miniature explosions. It looks like thousands should be killed, but the only casualty we see is Diana, whose arm is broken when her taxi is hit by one of those bombs that obliterate entire buildings. I’d never heard of Men Must Fight until a few years ago when I think Richard Harland Smith mentioned it . . . is it the first negative-subjunctive future history war movie? For the prediction of an aerial war in 1940 it beats Things to Come by three full years.
See you next Saturday — Thanks for reading — Glenn Erickson
Ghost World 05/27/17
Daniel Clowes’ comics creation receives an A-Plus film adaptation through the directorial filter of Terry Zwigoff. The show has more going for it than the bleak alienation of disaffected quasi- gen-Xers — the script offers a depth of character revealing the insecure, hopes and fears behind all the insulting attitudes and behaviors. Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson and Steve Buscemi carve out uniquely affecting characters, with help from Illeana Douglas, Stacey Travis, Bob Balaban and Teri Garr. It’s caustic, funny and also strongly affecting. On Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
One, Two, Three 05/27/17
Some like their comedy hot and some like it cold. Billy Wilder opted to step on the joke accelerator to see what top speed looked like. One of the most finely tuned comedies ever made, this political satire crams five hours’ worth of wit and sight gags into 115 minutes. The retirement-age James Cagney practically blows a fuse rattling through Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s high-pressure speeches, without slurring so much as a single syllable. With Arlene Francis, Pamela Tiffin, Horst Buchholz, Lilo Pulver and Hanns Lothar – plus a fine new commentary by Michael Schlesinger. On Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Inferno 3-D 05/27/17
Now in Region A — One of the best releases from the early- ’50s 3-D boom. Millionaire Robert Ryan is abandoned to die in the desert by his wife Rhonda Fleming and her lover; the ‘useless’ executive earns self-respect by focusing on the problem of survival. Ryan’s terrific, and the depth effects in the attractive desert locations are great, thanks to cinematographer Lucien Ballard. On 3-D Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
I’ve been impressed lately with Phil Hall’s The Bootleg Files reviews over at Cinema Crazed, wherein he’s tracked down information about barely-known titles not released on, uh, authorized discs. Phil was one of the first critics to welcome me at the Online Film Critics Society, going on sixteen years ago. I think he’s found a good vein of reporting here, as every Bootleg entry I’ve read has been news, and I tend to be one of those people with the illusion that I’ve seen everything. This week the subject is The Bootleg Files: Afrique 50. Phil’s back-story explanation of the film’s suppression says a lot about colonial politics — the filmmaker René Vautier paid the price for defying French law, when he filmed actual conditions in French West Africa. I knew that the French were really touchy about such subjects, because they even censored the old western Major Dundee, taking out dialogue that implied that French colonial Legionnaires used torture. Phil’s column serves a useful purpose. Each entry begins with ‘just the facts’ data: ‘where last seen,’ ‘reason for bootleg status,’ ‘chances of seeing a commercial DVD release.’ Good show.
I’m hoping for a full report next week on the much touted new “ScreenX” format, from a special correspondent. Movie audiences (prompted by David Letterman) rejected Peter Jackson’s attempt to raise the frame rate in his Hobbit movies, but maybe they’ll respond favorably to what sounds like an exaggeration of Abel Gance’s silent ‘Polyvision’ tryptich effect. Apparently, either the whole show or certain sequences will open up to cover a 270- degree field of vision. That slice of a circle goes beyond ear-to-ear coverage . . . are they looking for a virtual reality effect? I’ll be curious to learn more about the format: is it worthwhile? Does the image have seams? Do the ‘sides’ show matching live action, or is everything relevant concentrated in the front panel (if there are indeed panels)? Does the camera pan to follow action, or do we instead turn our heads? What happens in close-ups and fast cutting? The good part about this is that my contact knows enough to give an accurate report. Here’s the Hollywood Reporter article on the film and the ScreenX format.
Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson
Who’ll Stop the Rain 05/23/17
A killer book (Dog Soldiers) must hide behind a Credence Clearwater tune. Karel Reisz’s killer movie about the moral residue of Vietnam scores as both drama and action, with disillusioned counterculture smugglers versus corrupt narcotics cops. Just don’t expect it to really have much to say about the Vietnam experience. But hey, the cast is tops — Nick Nolte, Richard Masur, Anthony Zerbe — and the marvelous Tuesday Weld is even better as a pill-soaked involuntary initiate into the pre- War On Drugs smuggling scene. On Blu-ray from Twilight Time.
Things to Come 05/23/17
Mia Hansen-Løve’s portrait of the travails of a middle-aged philosophy teacher is a plum acting vehicle for Isabelle Huppert It steers clear of crazy, extraordinary events to instead offer insights into how real people live and cope. The professor must dip into her subject matter to make sense of her life, and comes up sane. Folks expecting a feel-good satire about ‘goofy’ women can make do with Sally Field in Hello, My Name is Doris. Mia and Isabelle do well here. On Blu-ray from MPI Media Group.
After four years Martin Scorsese is back with another six filmic gems from all corners of the Earth: Insiang, Mysterious Object at Noon, Revenge, Limite, Law of the Border, Taipei Story. Love struggles in the slums of Thailand and the economic boom town of Taipei; underdog heroes undertake troubled missions in Turkey and Kazakhstan, a Malay storyteller plays cinematic games with basic narrative, and a vintage Brazilian art film is pure visual poetry. They’ve all been rescued by the World Cinema Project. A Dual-Format edition on Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection.
Those Redheads from Seattle 3-D 05/20/17
Another 3-D breakthrough, this time for a Paramount musical rescued from oblivion and remastered by the 3-D Archive. Rhonda Fleming and Gene Barry star in a blend of songs and Alaskan adventure filmed in downtown Hollywood. The depth effects are great, but the big surprise is Teresa Brewer, the radio star turned one-shot movie musical wonder whose voice resurrects memories of pop vocals just prior to the arrival of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Also with the Bell Sisters, Guy Mitchell and Agnes Moorehead. The story of what was required to bring this one back from the brink of extinction, is fully covered — and 3-D fans can’t get enough of these shows! On 3-D Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.
Guest Article by Wayne Schmidt Fires, clerical errors, and lab mistakes have caused films to be lost forever, or to become unavailable in good quality; studio indifference also allows vintage films to be ignored to death, while their negatives rot in cans. So it’s great to hear a ‘lost film’ story with a happy ending. Guest writer Wayne Schmidt recounts how the original version of one of our favorite horror pictures was accidentally rediscovered, only for its priceless, irreplaceable original film element to be almost lost forever. Wayne had a tricky problem to solve: how to get it back from a collector, without making a federal case out of it.
The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers 05/16/17
Les plus belles escroqueries du monde. A breezy five-episode compilation movie about swindles plays out in five film capitals, under the eye of five different directors including Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard. But Roman Polanski’s Amsterdam segment couldn’t be included, which is a shame. It’s in B&W ‘scope, and everybody gets to bring their favorite cameraman and composer along. On Blu-ray from Olive Films.
Decoy (TV Show) 05/16/17
Unsung actress Beverly Garland becomes TV’s first lady cop, in what’s claimed to be the first TV show filmed on the streets of New York City. This one-season wonder from 1957 has vintage locations, fairly tough-minded storylines and solid performances, from Bev and a vast gallery of stage and TV actors on the way up. It’s a full season, when a season of TV shows was 39 episodes. On DVD from Film Chest Media.