Thursday, February 12, 2015

Restored Bava On The Big Screen At The Alamo, Yonkers NY March 5th!

This exclusive theatrical screening of Mario Bava's BLOOD & BLACK LACE (1964), the prototype giallo, promises to be a colorful and powerful experience.  The source master is Arrow Video's new 2K HD scan of the original camera negative to be projected digitally (I assume) in its original Italian language version (apologies to the Paul Frees fans who love the English dub!).  I did see a pretty ratty 16mm print years ago at the Film Forum, NYC but that's much better  to be forgotten.  The Arrow blu-ray is available for pre-orders already!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

More Blu Rays from the U.K.!

These two upcoming blu-ray releases will be of special interest to VC readers.  FLYING DEUCES (1940) has long languished in public domain limbo and the definitive restored edition remains Kino's DVD from several years back.  It will be interesting to see Network's HD restoration.  DEADLIER THAN THE MALE was previously issued on DVD by Network and should look nice in HD!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Blu Ray Gems Coming Soon From Mill Creek!

There is good news for budget minded classic cinema collectors!  Two exceptional Columbia Studio clasics will hit the blu-ray budget bins- Orson Welles' masterful and nightmarish noir THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI co-starring Rita Hayworth and Marlon Brando as THE WILD ONE, the classic big daddy-o of biker brawls!  Each will sell for $14.93 SRP but should be had much cheaper at online and mortar shops.  While both appear to be bare bones releases there is a special edition SHANGHAI available from TCM for bigger bucks while THE WILD ONE is a first-timer on blu-ray.  Mill Creek boasts that they will utilize the same 4K restoration of SHANGHAI as TCM!

Hopefully Mill Creek will continue to mine the Columbia vaults and give us more titles like Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT (already an OOP limited release from Twilight) and perhaps Lugosi's RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE and Hammer's REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and much, much more!  Here's to wishful thinking!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sunday, October 5, 2014

CRY DANGER (1951 - U.S.) Olive Films DVD

D: Robert Parrish.  After five years, ex-marine Rocky Malloy (Dick Powell), is sprung early from jail for a robbery when an alcoholic, amputee, fellow ex-marine (Richard Erdman) clears him with a fake alibi.  In hopes of getting a cut of the stolen loot, the marine tags along while Rocky remains adamant about his innocence.  Rocky looks up his cellmate’s deceptively wholesome wife (Rhonda Fleming) and moves into the same trailer park.  He tracks down the bloated Castro (William Conrad of TV’s CANNON) to demand compensation for driving the getaway car and taking the fall for the gang.  As a consolation, Castro gives him a tip on a horse that pays off big but with marked bills that only add  to the ex-con ‘s anxieties.  This sends Rocky goes on a wild goose chase to discover the origin of the cash and clear  himself while an unrelenting detective tails him.

The film’s highlights include multiple double crosses, triple-crosses, shoot-ups, a tense game of Russian roulette, eccentric dames and some competent rear projection.  Powell is ultra-smooth as the chain-smoking, black coffee guzzling Rocky, a role that fits him like a glove after playing Philip Marlowe and enough hard-boiled types.  This is an excellent but lesser known RKO noir laced with dark humor and precision rapid-fire dialog that keeps the plot moving at a swift pace.  The Olive blu-ray features a solid HD transfer from a well kept fine grain print.

Director Parrish was an ex-child actor, an editor and one of a few who helmed CASINO ROYALE (1967).  Other directorial credits include the JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN (1969) and 1971’s  A TOWN CALLED HELL (aka A TOWN CALLED BASTARD) and some TWLIGHT ZONE episodes.  The assistant to the producer is credited to Maurice Binder who went on to design the iconic main title sequences for many a  classic 007 film.  I’m baffled by Olive Films annoying logo that features  a cyclopean buzzing bee with crackling, distorting audio.  What‘s that all about?   Why not an olive in a martini?  Olives are nice in salads too.   Previously on Republic VHS.


D: Joseph Kong (Joseph Velasco).
Lo Lieh (of FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH/KING BOXER fame) visits a sultry, shady lady named Rose, in search of Bruce Lee’s secret finger kung fu manual in the hopes of mastering the deadly finger-fu style (whatever the hell that is?}.  When the highly coveted book gets into the wrong hands, Bruce Le arrives and goes into full-on, ass-whooping mode, giving Lieh‘s gang the figurative middle finger!  Bruceploitaton hall of famer Bruce Le (aka Huang Jian Long/Wong kin Lung)  is Bruce Wong flies in from the states only to find his mom dead with his sister missing and rumored to be a call girl!  Pissed off, Wong visits an actress friend played by Nora Miao (from Bruce Lee’s FIST OF FURY, WAY OF THE DRAGON) for help as he descends into the dark, depraved depths of Hong Kong's underbelly, searching the brothels for his enslaved sister while trying to resist the many temptations and maintain his own moral standing.  In one instance, Bruce persuades a hooker not to strip by offering her a grape!

Aside from the fun, quality kung fu action, you can expect a dizzying plethora of precision zoom-crazy camera work (that they don‘t teach in film school!), head-scratching dialog, nudity, gynecological torture by reptile, bell bottoms, platform shoes and other mutant mod 70’s fashions and hairstyles.  You get a glimpse into a real wing chun studio where Le is offered some of Bruce Lee‘s old practice weapons as well as a training montage, a mini tribute to Yip Man, wooden dummy destruction, a gang bang in a circle of fire, eyeball dislocation, confusing editing, beer can finger fu, double nunchakus and other weaponry.   At around the ninety-minute mark, this grindhouse gem culminates in a crazy, gimmicky finale.

Old school fans will be thoroughly entertained and more than awed by the supporting cast of old school friendly faces that includes Chan Wai-Man (CHINESE GODFATHER, GALLANTS), Bolo Yeung (ENTER THE DRAGON), Ching-Ying Lam (MR. VAMPIRE) and so many others.  Overall, BRUCE’S DEADLY FINGERS offers up a delightful dish of solid fight choreography and schizo music scoring that runs the gamut from groovy prog rock to John Barry and jazz!  The film’s aspect ratio is closer to 2.35 than the 1.85 stated on the packaging.  Quality is mildly soft and fuzzy but colors are vibrant with deep blacks.  A  slight step up from the usual VCI sea of murkiness, at least the mono audio is crisp.  Extras Include window-boxed Chinese trailers for ENTER THE DRAGON, WAY OF THE DRAGON. THE BIG BOSS ( reissue trailer) and GAME OF DEATH; oddly omitting FIST OF FURY.  From the director of THE CLONES OF BRUCE LEE.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

HOUDINI (2014- U.S.)

Our special guest reviewer Stephen M. Jones provides an emotional rant (slightly edited) and original illustration for the new HOUDINI movie.  A more sober review will follow shortly after the blu-ray release in October.  Enjoy.
D: Uli Edel.  History Channel's two-part HOUDINI mini-series is a mixed bag that is entertaining enough but will severely date within 10-15 years.The narrative and structure of both episodes is very over-the-top and slightly annoying- a typical production of the 21st century with a sprinkling of cheap SYFY channel-style CGI throughout. The editing and pacing, especially during the tense or suspenseful moments, is appropriate and more stylish than what you might expect of a cable production of this sort.

The flow and structure of Nicholas Meyer's (SEVEN-PERCENT SOLUTION, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS) script is superior to the complete work of fiction that was the 50's biopic starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Each scene is centered around a specific magic illusion (or a close representation of that trick) that triggers a flurry of flashbacks to an inspirational or emotional event.  While much of the plot is fact-based but melded with myth, only on a few occassions does Meyer completely make stuff up; like Harry' wife Bess (Kristen Connolly) puffing a joint, Houdini's seduction by Margery the medium (Megan Dodds), Houdini’s career falter after 1914 (a plot device to pump up the drama?) or the depiction of Harry and Bess’s relationship as increasingly rocky as his career soars. Their marital struggles are evident throughout both episodes but was supposedly quite the opposite according to real life accounts.

I’m disappointed that they didn’t spend more time on Houdini’s successful film career.  Instead it's conveyed that he hated movies and held a grudge against Charlie Chaplin.  His movie work is only briefly referenced via a newspaper headline. What really angers me is the program's “hidden” meaning behind Houdini’s death. His demise is depicted as the tragic result of a curse put on him by disgruntled mediums for his disbelief in the afterlife. A sort of revenge for his not believing in ghosts. To me that kind of pisses on his serious work to expose mediums as rightful frauds and basically concludes he was wrong. The first episode also got carried away with a recent conspiracy theory promoting the idea that Houdini was a WW1 spy who aided the U.S. in bringing down political regimes. This gives the entire first episode the feeling that you're watching a bizarre 007 spin off. The real tragedy is that most viewers will come away believing this spy scenario as fact. 

Adrien Brody wasn’t exactly a smart casting choice for Houdini. Brody seems to play the same character in all of his roles and is a very middle of the road kind of actor. His portrayal of Houdini is okay - he’s likable. But he looks physically nothing like Houdini who was short and stocky with a wide face. Brody is too tall with a boney narrow face and a long lanky body and more suitable for The Shadow than the famous escape artist. From all accounts,  people who met Houdini said he was a very intense personality and everything about him said he was an entertainer.  Brody doesn’t project this strongly enough with his monotone voice, plain emotions and gestures.

John Debney's (SIN CITY, IRON MAN 2) music is absolute garbage as it follows the “300 trend” of using contemporary styles to set the mood and tone of a story that takes place in the early 20th century. The horribly composed and arranged bombastic, sterile synthesizer-ladened techno score comes off real pretentious. Some cues are literally just electronic noises mixed too loud and often competing with the dialogue.  I don’t understand this new trend that utilizes trendy music for a period piece movie! It’s not cool, clever, or creative at all. Just because it’s “totally not what you’d expect” doesn't mean it works. If you’re going to go for this stupid “artistic license” at least use good music. Even the upcoming John Adams special, promoted during commercial breaks, has a Rolling Stones soundtrack.  That I can live with because the ‘Stones’ aren’t some 30 year-old messing around on a laptop trying to make “cool” and “edgy” computer music.  Although in this case it isn't the proverbial "young dude", it's a composer who has cranked out some great scores in his day.  HOUDINI would have been better served with a traditional orchestral score instead of this awful new direction that'll be the main cause for this production's soon to be out-dated style.

All in all, HOUDINI was handled oddly as far as cast, music and plot choices.  Although it could've been A LOT WORSE it nevertheless remains entertaining, suspenseful and worthy of a few repeat viewings.
It's okay to come out Adrien, Stephen's done venting.