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Denofcinema.com: Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, December 05, 2015

 
Saturday Night at the Movies


Blu Xmas: Best re-issues of 2015

By Dennis Hartley



























Since it’s now post Black Friday, pre-Cyber Monday, Tuesday Afternoon and Wednesday Morning 3am, I thought I’d toss out gift ideas, with my picks for the best Blu-ray reissues of 2015. But first, a gentle reminder. Any time of year you click a link from this weekly feature as a portal to purchase any Amazon item, you help your favorite starving bloggers get a nickel or two in the creel. Most titles are released concurrent with an SD edition, so if you don’t have a Blu-ray player, don’t despair. In alphabetical order:


The Beatles 1+ (1 CD + 2 Blu-ray edition)-Your degree of enthusiasm for this 3-disc CD/Blu-ray combo set from Capitol depends on what kind of Beatle fan you are. If you are a casual fan, it might be a bit too extravagant; but for completists, it’s a treasure trove. Admittedly, the CD holds no surprises, as it is a straight up reissue of the eponymous 2000 27-track collection of the Beatles’ #1 hits. While the CD tracks are “newly” remixed, I can discern little difference from the belated catalog-wide remix/remasters that were done a few years ago. It’s the Blu-rays that make it worthwhile. One disc contains the official music videos of the CD cuts, and the 2nd disc features alternate versions of 7 of the #1 hits, plus B-sides and deeper album cuts. This disc is a combination of live performance clips, original promotional films and a few more “official” post Beatle era video workups. Audio and image quality are outstanding on both Blu-rays. Totally gear!


Dont Look Back- This 1965 documentary (arguably the “granddaddy” of what we now routinely refer to as “rockumentaries”) is a textbook example of the right filmmaker (D.A. Pennebaker) hooking up with the right artist (Bob Dylan) at the right place (London) at the right time (1965) to capture a zeitgeist (“The Sixties”) in a bottle. Pennebaker takes a “fly on the wall” cinema verite approach to his subject, as a mercurial Dylan (and entourage) turn the tables on the British Invasion with an ecstatically received series of sold-out London performances. While there is a generous helping of concert footage, the most fascinating events occur between shows; at press conferences, in dressing rooms and hotel suites. I’ll confess I’ve never been a huge Dylan fan, but there’s something special, palpably electric about his (for wont of a better term) “aura” in this film that is compelling beyond description. Criterion’s Blu-ray is choked with extras, including additional short films by Pennebaker and an illuminating Patti Smith interview.


Breaker Morant - Few films have more succinctly conveyed the madness of war than Bruce Bereford’s moving 1980 drama. Based on a true story, it recounts the courts martial (i.e., scapegoating) of three Australian officers (Edward Woodard, Bryan Brown and Lewis Fitz-gerald) by their British higher-ups during the Boer War (the three were accused of shooting enemy prisoners, even though they did so under orders from superior officers). They are hastily assigned a military lawyer (a fellow Australian) with no previous experience in criminal defense (Jack Thompson, in a star-making performance), who surprises even himself with his passion and resourcefulness in the face of such stacked odds. Very similar in theme and tone to Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. Tightly directed, intelligently written (by Beresford, Jonathan Hardy and David Stevens, adapting Kenneth G. Ross’ play) and marvelously acted, it’s a perfect film in every way. Criterion’s Blu-ray sports a sharp transfer and extras that lend deeper historical context.


Day Of Anger - Just when I thought I had seen all the noteworthy spaghetti westerns…this obscurity came a hootin’ and a hollerin’ into my saloon recently (even self-proclaimed cineastes like myself miss a few). I’m not sure what was distracting me when this film came out in 1967 (aside from being 11 years old) but it’s quite the buried treasure, from director Tonio Valerii. Genre icon Lee Van Cleef stars as a cold-blooded gunfighter (what else?) who becomes a mentor to a street cleaner (Giuliano Gemma) Then what happens is, well, the best I can do for you is: Charly meets Shane. This is one blown western, baby! But it’s much smarter than you expect it to be. If you dig Leone, you’ll love it. Arrow Video’s Blu-ray features restored prints of both the Italian and (shorter) International versions. Extras include a 2008 interview with Valerii, and new interviews with his biographer Roberto Curti, as well as Day of Anger screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.


The Killers - (1946 and 1964 versions)-Criterion has given the HD bump to their already fabulous “twofer” package presentation of Robert Siodmak’s classic 1946 B&W film noir and the pulpy color 1964 remake by Don Siegel. Both films are adaptations from the Ernest Hemingway short story about a pair of hitmen and the enigmatic man they are stalking. Hemingway’s minimalist narrative lends a fair leeway of creative license to the respective filmmakers, and each runs with it in his own fashion. To noir purists, of course Siodmak’s original is the preferred version, with a young and impossibly handsome Burt Lancaster as the hitmen’s target/classic noir sap and the equally charismatic Ava Gardner as the femme fatale of the piece. Still, the 1964 version has its merits; Lee Marvin and Clu Gallagher are the epitome of 60s “cool” as the nihilistic killers, and it’s a hoot watching Ronald Reagan (quite convincingly) play a vile and vicious heavy in a film that came out the very same year he made his (politically) star-making speech at the 1964 Republican Convention (I’m thinking that there’s a Trump analogy in there somewhere).

Miracle Mile -“Someone” (in this case, Kino Lorber) finally has seen fit to release a properly formatted HD edition of this 1988 sleeper (previously available only as MGM’s dismal “pan and scan” DVD). Depending on your worldview, this is either an “end of the world” film for romantics, or the perfect date movie for fatalists. Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham give winning performances as a musician and a waitress who Meet Cute at L.A.’s La Brea Tar Pits museum. But before they can hook up for their first date, Edwards stumbles onto a reliable tip that L.A. is about to get hosed…in a major way. The resulting “countdown” scenario is a genuine, edge-of-your seat nail-biter. In fact, this modestly budgeted 90-minute thriller offers more heart-pounding excitement (and more believable characters) than any bloated Hollywood disaster epic from the likes of a Michael Bay or a Roland Emmerich. Writer-director Steve De Jarnatt stopped doing feature films after this one (his only other credit is the guilty pleasure sci-fi adventure  Cherry 2000  which also made its Blu-ray debut this year courtesy of Kino Lorber). Extras include a commentary track by film critic Walter Chaw, along with the director.

Mulholland Dr - David Lynch’s nightmarish, yet mordantly droll twist on the Hollywood dream makes The Day of the Locust seem like an upbeat romp. Naomi Watts stars as a fresh-faced ingénue with high hopes who blows into Hollywood from Somewhere in Middle America to (wait for it) become a star. Those plans get, shall we say, put on hold…once she crosses paths with a voluptuous and mysterious amnesiac (Laura Harring). What ensues is the usual Lynch mindfuck, and if you buy the ticket, you better be ready to take the ride, because this one of his more fun ones (or as close as one gets to having “fun” watching a Lynch film). This one grew on me; by the third (or was it fourth?) time I’d seen it I decided that it’s one of the iconoclastic director’s finest efforts. Criterion’s sparkling transfer brings new depth to the light and shadow of Peter Deming’s cinematography. Extras include new interviews with Deming, Lynch, Watts and Harring.


The Quay Brothers: Collected Short Films - It’s difficult to describe the stop-motion mini-universe of twin brother filmmakers Stephen and Timothy Quay. In a recent piece I wrote about them, I attempted to do so thusly:

Their films can be unsettling…but not for the reasons you might assume. There’s no inherent violence, nor are they trying to “scare” you. Their films are more like pieces of dreams, or perhaps a screen capture of that elusive nanosecond of Jungian twilight that exists between nodding off and disconcertingly jerking awake a moment later.

Get it? Got it? Good! So if you’re looking for something completely different, I’m heartily recommending Zeitgeist Film’s new Blu-ray collection, which is a substantial upgrade from their 2007 DVD set, Phantom Museums, in both sound/image quality, and in content (the new version contains three additional short films that the brothers have made since then, plus an eight minute profile by director Christopher Nolan called Quay).


2015 Blu-rays previously reviewed and also recommended:

The Decline Of Western Civilization Collection (My review)
Ride the Pink Horse
(My review)



More reviews at Den of Cinema



--Dennis Hartley