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  1. Top News Stories

    • Heaven's Gate on Blu-ray

    • Late in November of 1980 United Artists took out a glossy multi-page ad in Daily Variety extolling Heaven's Gate as the artistic triumph of the century. A few days later we read that the movie had been judged a complete washout, in some of the worst reviews ever read. It was pulled from exhibition in less than a week. More damning was the industry outrage that a director had been permitted to waste $40 million of Transamerica's investor dollars. In what amounted to a media lynching, "the biz" came down hard on Heaven's Gate. The newly elected Ronald Reagan was already in the process of forcing unions to bow to the needs of corporate America. The moneymen that controlled the studios blamed all their woes on profligate directors.

      Michael Cimino had been handed a once-in-the-history-of-movies opportunity with Heaven's Gate. Just a couple of years before, the heavy-hitting top brass of United Artists had defected to form Orion Pictures. The remaining UA executives green-lit Cimino's film and allowed him to run wild. This part of the story has been told in Steven Bach's book Final Cut as well as 1,001 sarcastic editorials decrying the expenditure of so much money on such a universally panned, totally uncommerical project.

      The movie has been in limbo ever since. The original 219-minute cut disappeared save for a few showings on the Los Angeles "Z" cable channel. United Artists was sold to MGM, which put out a truly terrible-looking non-anamorphic DVD in 2000. A couple of years ago Criterion licensed a group of MGM titles and set out to bring Heaven's Gate to Blu-ray in a new restoration.

      Is Heaven's Gate worth seeing? Yes, definitely. Is it an unrecognized masterpiece? No way, not by a long shot. Cimino's film is enjoyable in the way that many epics are enjoyable -- its size can be pleasing in itself. It has attractive stars, attractive scenes, and hours (and hours) of beautiful scenery. But it's also a heavy film, weighed down by its theme and a snail's-pace approach to the oft-told story of settlers forced to fight wealthy cattlemen for the right to settle the open plains. Starting with some research on barbed wire, Cimino fashioned an alternate, highly politicized version of this tale. The settlers are now impoverished Eastern European immigrants homesteading the inhospitable open range. The cattlemen are simplistic evil capitalists that place profits over human lives. To drive out the squatters, the cattlemen brand them as foreign degenerates, thieves and anarchists. The law, the army and the government look the other way Wyoming is 'cleansed' of undesirables.

      Cimino's main character is a mostly powerless witness to this social and political catastrophe. Twenty years after graduating from Harvard, the wealthy James Averill (Kris Kristofferson) is the Federal Marshall of Johnson County. Cully the stationmaster (Richard Masur) tells Averill that the Stockgrower's Association is hiring gunslingers from out of town to 'legally' kill 125 immigrants placed on a Death List. Association President Frank Canton (Sam Waterston) can't wait to secure the entire state as a privately owned ranch. One name on the Death List is Averill's girl friend, brothel madam Ella (Isabelle Huppert). She reportedly takes stolen cattle in lieu of cash for services rendered. Ella's other boyfriend is one of Canton's regulators, Nate Champion (Christopher Walken), who has already earned a bankroll by shooting immigrants that he catches with stolen cattle. A wave of murder is coming but Averill can't convince Ella to leave. Bartender John Bridges (Jeff Bridges) sympathizes with the immigrant mob but does nothing to help them. The local army commander (Terry O'Quinn) has been ordered to stand down. Upset that Ella has accepted Nate's proposal of marriage, Averill drinks himself into a stupor just as Canton and his mercenaries arrive by train to begin their war on the immigrant class. Spurred on by a socialist orator in their ranks (Brad Dourif), the disorganized homesteaders rush out to confront Canton's private army. It's class warfare, a rabble vs. the capitalists.

      Heaven's Gate has narrative similarities with Sergio Leone's later Italian westerns, operatic exercises in mythomania. As he does in parts of The Deer Hunter, Michael Cimino aspires to capture the free-flowing pageantry of Luchino Visconti or Bernardo Bertolucci, on a much larger scale and with a story that could be told in eighty minutes. After the situation in Wyoming is laid out, we soak up hours of detail and atmospheric set pieces while very little happens that is essential. Averill, Ella and Nate's romantic triangle amounts to a hangdog version of Jules and Jim minus forward momentum. Both rivals ask Ella to leave town at least three times, with a separate slow scene devoted to each attempt. Even after it has been made obvious that a militia is on its way to kill practically everybody, the main characters do not act. Scenes seem to be repeated, with little variation: noisy peasant gatherings, buggy rides, Canton marshalling his hired guns.

      James Averill's most heroic quality is a terrific fashion sense. He spends much of the movie avoiding the central story problem -- either passing the time with Ella or drinking himself senseless. When he does engage, he's only good for a random punch in the face or two. The dictatorial Frank Canton calls Averill a traitor to his class. One would think that Averill could use his Ivy League skills and connections to spread the word back East about the outrageous events in Johnson County. A scandal in the Yellow Press might nip Frank Canton's plans in the bud. Why is there no newspaper presence in Casper? Imagine the journalistic stink that the liberal firebrand Mark Twain could stir up over the plans of the Stockgrowers' Association.

      Cimino's style does not emphasize narrative pace or flow. He concentrates on real-time behaviors, the quality of the air, the feeling of 'being there'. We're given plenty of time for things like authentic clothing to soak in: the old-world rags of the poor people, the trendy dust coats of the mercenaries, Averill's stylish suits. Some secondary characters have a minimal effect on the story. John Hurt is fitfully amusing as Averill's fellow Harvard grad Billy Irvine (John Hurt), now become a dissipated fool. The abovementioned Brad Dourif rates dozens of close-ups reacting to the shouting immigrants, makes a weak speech about solidarity, and perishes in the battle. Geoffrey Lewis is a grizzled mountain man with one comedic scene, and Mickey Rourke an imbecilic pal of Nate Champion. A lot of minor characters mill about on Cimino's busy canvas, looking for something to do.

      After three hours of atmospheric scenery, cockfights, rollerskating, folk songs and static drama, Cimino builds to a near-apocalyptic climax. Averill absents himself for the first half of what becomes an enormous shootout amid beautiful scenery. The second half becomes the western equivalent of a Roman siege, with rolling barricades. Cimino turns a historical range war of isolated skirmishes into a huge battle, a mountain meadow Gettysburg.

      There is plenty to admire in Heaven's Gate. "Big Sky" westerns are enjoyable in themselves, and the show abounds with gorgeous scenery. When they finally arrive, the action sequences are truly impressive. All of Cimino's set piece scenes are elegant, even when they outstay their welcome; gorgeous images abound. Some scenes, such as a view of fifteen peasant women pulling a plow, look too much like an imitation of a classic painting. The film's nine solid minutes of roller skating and waltzing is a self-indulgence. Its poor folk's simple pleasure forms a contrast with the Association's decadent luxuries, belaboring the obvious. Even with Richard Mansfield's main violin theme it slows the narrative to a crawl.

      Cimino's visuals are rich but the associations they conjure are not always helpful. The crane shot that shows off the monster set for Casper's train station and main street will remind western fans of Sergio Leone's similar crane reveal of an entire town in Once Upon a Time in the West. The director would say he's being faithful to his vision, when he clearly wants to top the work of directors in the same genre. When the United Artists suits saw the enormous Casper set used in only a few seconds' worth of shots, they must have felt sick. Built mostly on government land and in National Parks, the big sets for Heaven's Gate all had to be demolished as soon as the filming finished.

      Other observations:

      Although he claims that politics wasn't his primary motivation for filming Heaven's Gate, Cimino's film is loaded with references to class and ethnic injustice. The Association's thugs brutally beat a poor farmer as if they were Nazis harassing Jews.

      Cimino is no George Lucas -- his dialogue is unforced and natural. He nevertheless betrays his bias with frequent 'author's message' howlers. The Army captain is a font of wisdom: "You can't force salvation on people Jim, it doesn't work." In the first charge against the invaders, Ella shouts from horseback: "For America!"

      Despite her small size and vulnerable appearance actress Isabelle Huppert is ready for anything, whether it be full-frontal nudity or hard horse riding under very dangerous conditions. As Heaven's Gate is pre-CGI, the daring exhibited in the mass action scenes is exciting in itself.

      Schematic visual themes connect several of the film's set pieces. Cimino uses "The Blue Danube" for the mass dance in Harvard Yard, with dozens of waltzing couples spinning in a giant circular pattern. Later on, the roller rink sequence sets more circular motion to music. The final battle seems a parody of both earlier events, with Ella leading a horse charge around the barricaded Association mercenaries, like Indians racing around the settlers' wagon train in Red River. In the aftermath of the siege, composer Mansfield's mandolin picks out "The Blue Danube" over a shot of the corpse-strewn battlefield.

      Of the three "circular" events only the rollerskating seems natural. The waltz is an attractive but artificial piece of idealized choreography, and the battle seems rather ... exaggerated. The smoke, dust, shooting, screaming and chaos makes its point after six or seven minutes but continues for an eternity. The overkill causes us to disengage. The situation is not unlike Jack Buchanan in Vincente Minnelli's musical The Band Wagon. A dance rehearsal is overwhelmed by unnecessary smoke, flashing lights, explosions and moving scenery. Buchanan takes a look at the theatrical chaos and says, "It's all a bit too much, isn't it?"

      The stylized choreography of the Harvard waltz suggests a nostalgic dream, the same way that Averill's retirement-age "exile" to a millionaire's yacht in the epilogue seems slightly displaced from reality. Averill's little cigarette-lighting ritual with his listless trophy wife is downright spooky, what with their lumpy old-age makeup. We almost expect the couple to suddenly notice that, in the opposite corner of the room, stands a mysterious black monolith!

      Either that, or the very Nino Rota- like swell of music makes us think that Averill will see a passing steamship heading for Ellis Island, with little Vito Corleone among its cargo of unwashed immigrants. Fascinating to look at but sagging with self-importance, Heaven's Gate is an underdeveloped idea drowned in lavish visual detail. We search in vain for deeper significance.

      Criterion's two-disc Blu-ray of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate will please most fans of this unique epic. It inadvertently changed the direction of American moviemaking -- few directors would again be allowed to run free without budgetary restraints and committee oversight. The release represents a major production expenditure for Criterion. The film's original negative had been cut down to yield the film's short 1981 "desperation" release, which nobody liked. But as color separations had been made for the long version, Criterion went to the effort to digitally scan, scrub and recombine them. The new work was only done digitally, so this is not a film restoration job.

      The opportunity was there to do a comparison disc set between the long and short versions, but the connoisseur label has a policy of releasing 'director's approved' discs. The film is now called Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate to reflect his active participation. Michael Cimino has taken the liberty to change the film substantially. Although an extra on the disc is called a 'Restoration Demonstration', the key word should be revision. It's not a George Lucas- style obliteration of the original version, as only a handful of shots have been slightly altered. But the entire intermission has been removed, in an annoyingly slapdash fashion that ruins one of Cimino's most beautiful scenes. In the 1980 cut the drunken Billy Irvine sits on his horse quoting poetry, and is enveloped by a cloud of steam from the railroad engine. When it blows away, he has vanished. It's a perfect accidental magic trick, the kind of unrepeatable gem of a shot directors pray for. The scene fades as the smoke rises and the word "Intermission" comes up. This elegant transition evokes the heady days of the Road Show epic, giving us a chance to anticipate the promised violent confrontation in the second half.

      Cimino now chops off the smoke early, before we can appreciate Billy's disappearing act. The image jumps forward to the next morning, with the unlucky Cully discovered sleeping in the open by Canton's trigger-happy horde. This shot is trimmed as well. The film's best transition is now a ragged jump cut. For reference, the uncut take can be seen in the disc's extras.

      Cimino's second major decision is more complicated. Heaven's Gate was filmed by Vilmos Zsigmond, an artistic cameraman with visual tastes that sometimes ran counter to commercial considerations. The strongest example is perhaps Brian De Palma's Obsession, which Zsigmond shot through heavy filters. By the time the film had been duplicated for release prints, its images were degraded to a greenish grainy smear. Zsigmond originally timed Heaven's Gate to desaturate some hues, as if to eliminate the 'pretty postcard' appearance of the natural locations. The cameraman also approved MGM's earlier transfers of the film, as shown in 1080i on their MGM cable channel, where the brown-on-gold-on-brown color scheme was retained.

      Whatever the politics might be, Vilmos Zsigmond has not participated in the new disc. Michael Cimino has decided to ignore the original color and time the images for maximum beauty. This is a sticky problem. Before, the monochromatic color numbed the eye's rods and cones into a perceptual stupor. Watching the film is now a far more pleasant experience.

      Michael Cimino also supervised a re-mix of the film's soundtrack. At 2012's The Reel Thing AMIA symposium, Lee Klein of Criterion reported that the director had admitted that his inexperience at the original session was responsible for a soundtrack in which background noise frequently overwhelmed the foreground dialogue. James Averill's talks with Richard Masur's Cully at the train station and in downtown Casper were largely indecipherable, especially with Masur slurring some of his words with an Irish accent. The balance is still tight but most voices now cut through.

      Viewers accustomed to the drubbing given Michael Cimino and his producer Joanne Carelli in Steven Bach's book Final Cut will find that Criterion's extras stick closely to the Cimino version of events. In a long-form interview piece, the director talks in fond terms about the freedom he had to create a world from the ground up. Cimino shows the abridged intermission proudly and without explanation. There is no discussion of the revised color and little mention of Vilmos Zsigmond beyond his presence in a couple of still photos. Ms. Carelli explains how she pulled the film's music together.

      In his interview, Kris Kristofferson says that he took the film because he liked the way its politics commented on the direction of the country in the late 1970s: money is considered more important than people. Richard Mansfield discusses his music career and how Carelli spotted him playing with Bob Dylan. His fellow musician T-Bone Burnett is seen performing in the roller skating scene.

      Second assistant director Michael Stevenson doesn't talk about Cimino in a personal way, but compares him to the tough, difficult to please directors he helped make epics with a decade before -- David Lean, Anthony Mann, Richard Brooks, Stanley Kubrick. Stevenson does say that Cimino has an eye like Kubrick & Mann.

      A Teaser Trailer and a TV spot are included. The teaser avoids moving images from the film but the faded TV spot makes all the shots look brown. For comparison, this original trailer gives a close indication of the 1980 release's original color values.

      The insert booklet contains an American Cinematographer interview with director Cimino, not Director of Photography Zgismond. Giulia D'Agnolo Vallan's essay lauds Cimino's film with odd comparisons (it's better than Soldier Blue?) and a positive view of the director's emulation of Visconti's style in The Leopard. She takes the European critical viewpoint, missing completely the fact that American critics were appalled not by the film's "unconventional dramatic structure" but by its lack of dramatic focus and its digressions and repetitions, along with the frequently unintelligible dialogue and reels of scenes obscured by clouds of dust. Criterion's attractive new disc makes Cimino's controversial epic more accessible than ever.

      For more information about Heaven's Gate, visit The Criterion Collection.To order Heaven's Gate, go to TCM Shopping.

      By Glenn Erickson

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  1. New Books

    • A Touch of Stardust: A Novel

    • By Kate Alcott

      Kate Alcott, the best-selling author of The Dressmaker, takes a novelist approach to the making of the 1939 classic film Gone With the Wind and the passionate real-life romance between Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.

      Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, heroine Julie Crawford dreams of becoming a screenwriter but the only job she can find once she arrives in Hollywood is in the studio publicity office of Selznick International. It is a heady time at the office as the studio is producing its largest film to date, the historic drama that everyone is talking about, Gone With the Wind. Powerhouse producer David O. Selznick is overseeing every aspect of the film's production and has no problem firing screenwriters, directors and burning through money as he tries to bring Margaret Mitchell's sprawling epic into focus.

      Julie's big break comes when free-spirited actress Carole Lombard, also from Fort Wayne, Indiana, takes a shine to the young publicist and hires her as an assistant. Julie quickly learns that Lombard is not only glamorous but also wittily profane and uninhibited, eager to talk about her latest love, Clark Gable, despite the fact that Gable is still, at that point, a married man.

      In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of that era: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and, off-screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Amidst all that drama is the coming World War and the decisions to be made about her own yearnings and career.

      Kate Alcott is the pseudonym for journalist Patricia O'Brien, who has written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. As Kate Alcott, she is the author of The Dressmaker and The Daring Ladies of Lowell. She is the widow of Frank Mankiewicz and lives in Washington, D.C.

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    • The Sound Of Music Story

    • By Tom Santopietro

      Almost everyone it seems has seen this beloved classic musical but can you imagine the film starring Doris Day or Grace Kelly as Maria? How about Bing Crosby or Rex Harrison as Captain von Trapp? Did you know that the film was almost cancelled in the wake of Cleopatra? Or that it rescued its studio, 20th Century-Fox, from bankruptcy? This book, being released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the film, provides intriguing and little-known stories about how the successful Broadway musical became an award-winning film that smashed box office records.

      From the real-life story of Maria von Trapp, to the chronology of the Broadway play, Santopietro writes about the differences in those stories and the screenplay that captivated movie-goers around the globe as well as critical analysis of the careers of director Robert Wise and screenwriter Ernest Lehman.

      Those who like their film history a little less star-studded will enjoy the stories of the critical controversy which greeted the films release as well the film's relationship to the turbulent 1960s. The book provides a well-rounded history not only for those who love the musical but those who enjoy the 1960s era of film history.

      Tom Santopietro is the author of The Godfather Effect, The Importance of Being Barbra, Considering Doris Day and Sinatra in Hollywood. He lives in New York, New York.

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    • Madam Belle: Sex, Money, And Influence In A Southern Brothel

    • By Maryjean Wall

      Belle Brezing who grew up in Lexington, Kentucky and found her calling in a brothel run out of a house that once was the residence of Mary Todd Lincoln, has often been cited as the real-life inspiration for the bawdy, heart-of-gold character Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind.

      Author Maryjean Wall takes the reader through a tantalizing true story of vice and power in the Gilded Age South, as told through the life and times of the notorious Miss Belle. After years on the streets and working for others, Belle Brezing borrowed enough money to set up her own establishment--her wealth and fame growing alongside the booming popularity of horse racing. Soon, her houses were known internationally, and powerful patrons from the industrial cities of the Northeast courted her in the lavish parlors of her richly decorated mansion.

      Secrecy was a moral code in the sequestered world of prostitution in Victorian America, so little has been written about the Southern madam credited with inspiring the character Belle Watling. Following Brezing from her birth amid the ruins of the Civil War to the height of her scarlet fame and beyond, Wall uses her story to explore a wider world of sex, business, politics, and power.

      Maryjean Wall served as the turf writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader for twenty-five years. The author of How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders, and is an instructor in the Department of History at the University of Kentucky.

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    • Warner Bros.: Hollywood's Ultimate Backlot

    • By Steven Bingen

      Warner Brothers studio: the very name provokes images of Bette Davis telling Paul Henreid not to ask for the moon when they have the stars, Joan Crawford dressed in mink with a gun in her hand, Cagney and Bogart battling it out on the New York street filmed on the famed backlot. Before now, the only way film buffs could see the studio, the soundstages and backlot was to travel to Burbank and take one of the studio sanctioned tours. But now, there is a way to see the history of the studio without leaving home.

      As he did with his first book on the history of the M-G-M and its sprawling backlots, Bingen throws open the gates to the Burbank dream factory and offers an illustrated showcase of one of the oldest and most illustrious studios in film history.

      From the brothers Warners' humble beginnings in Hollywood, to their prophetic move to the Valley, to its heyday in the 1930s through the early years of television, the history of the studio is told through a detailed narrative and accompanied by behind-the-scenes photos, maps and rare photos from the vast Warner Brothers archives and the Bison Collection. This coffee table book is a true delight not only for fans of the studio but fans of the classic era of motion pictures.

      Steven Bingen is a historian, screenwriter, and former archivist at Warner Bros. Bingen has written and contributed to dozens of books, articles, and documentaries on Hollywood history. He coauthored MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot , the first significant book ever published about a movie studio lot. He lives in the world's largest backlot, also known as Los Angeles.

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  1. DVD Reviews

    • Point Blank on Blu-ray

    • When documentary filmmaker John Boorman made the leap to feature filmmaking with Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), a low-budget rock-n-roll vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, he transformed the quickie into a surprisingly biting satire of popular culture set to a bouncy soundtrack, displaying a remarkable sophistication and creativity unexpected from such a project. It was enough to land him his first American film, Point Blank, where he revealed an even greater ambition and talent.

      Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake), Point Blank shuffles the lean, straight-forward story of a gunman named Walker (Lee Marvin), who is double crossed by his partner in crime and returns (seemingly from the dead) for revenge, into a surreal, abstracted crime drama. The plot is faithful to original novel, a hard-boiled piece of crime fiction reimagined for the underworld culture of the sixties, but Boorman and Marvin, who requested the young director and supported his unconventional vision for the film, refract it through a modern lens. Walker's odyssey from Alcatraz in San Francisco to the underworld of Los Angeles is splintered with short, sharp shards of memory that cut through his story, as if reflecting Walker's attempts to put the pieces of cause and effect together in his mind.

      Boorman views L.A. through an alienated lens and edits it more like a European art film than an American crime thriller, but fills it with offbeat, ultra-stylized scenes of violence. It opens on a gunshot that should have killed him and he struggles to put it all together when he wakes up: "Cell. Prison cell. How did I get here?" Marvin is enigmatic, to say the least, as he tracks down his unfaithful, guilt-ridden wife (Sharon Acker), his wife's sister (Angie Dickinson), his old friend turned double-crossing heist partner Mal Reese (John Veron), and finally the syndicate bigwigs, all just to get his due: "I want my 93 grand."

      This vision of urban Los Angeles is alternately crowded and noisy and urban, and austere and empty and dislocated. His footsteps echoing through an empty, anonymous hallway becomes the disembodied beat of his march of revenge. A scatting, screaming R&B singer at a chic night spot called The Film Club is the feral soundtrack of a brutal backstage fight, at once visceral and abstracted in the clutter of 35mm film cans and nightclub supplies. The aftermath of a suicide becomes a psychedelic vision of destruction, which disappears in a cut to the apartment suddenly empty, a ghost house with no evidence of life or death, just transition.

      The dialogue is loaded with references to "a dream" and characters constant remind Walker that he's supposed to be dead. Keenan Wynn adds another level of remove as the devil whispering in Walker's ear, another unreal figure with a carefully concealed agenda who is preternaturally attuned to Walker's movements. More than an informant, he appears from nowhere to provide a name, an address, a piece of information on the trail to the top man in the Organization as Walker's debt keeps getting passed up the chain of command.

      Walker is both an unstoppable sentinel who seems more than flesh and blood and a vulnerable man wounded by betrayal who has armored over his emotions with a mission. Marvin delivers both sides of the character without compromising either. There's a cold fury under his deliberate movements and his eyes betray a moment of regret and sadness when he finds his wife dead by her own hand, but it is all pushed down and kept in check by his single-minded focus. "I just want my money" is his mantra, not a matter of greed but a debt to be settled to balance the scales. Marvin is at once deliberate and relaxed, a veteran criminal soldier alert to everything, which makes his character even more fascinating. He doesn't demand attention on screen, he commands it through confidence and ability and cool focus.

      That alone makes him more admirable than Mal, who is played by John Vernon as an oily, arrogant, amoral rat, selling out anyone and everyone to buy his way back into the Organization. The rest of the members of the cast don't play characters as much as cogs, functionaries in a criminal enterprise as a cutthroat corporation, simply doing their jobs as if Walker was a rival in a hostile takeover. Only Angie Dickinson's Chris has the passion and fury and emotional life of a human being, siding with Walker out of both loyalty and for payback against Mal ("He makes my flesh crawl") and the Organization that has taken over her business and her life. Sharon Acker, who plays Walker's wife, comes off less haunted than simply weak. She barely leaves an impression, which is fitting for her character but fails to offer any sense of tragedy to her story, and she's almost instantly forgotten after she exits the film. It's really the only weak element of the film, which otherwise is strong, confident, and sure from beginning to end.

      Point Blank has been called a modern film noir but it has more in common with Performance, another crime thriller that fractures time, offers enigmatic and ambiguous characters, and equates organized crime with big business. Boorman delivers meticulously executed set pieces that are designed for the wide CinemaScope frame with a sure sense of space and a dispassionate perspective. He emphasizes intelligence over action and presents Walker as total professional, never flustered and always emotionally removed from the situation. And if Walker is an extreme incarnation of the revenge driven noir anti-hero, the modern syndicate has transformed the old school mob into a world of paper jungles and corporate businessmen, an alienating concept to a two-fisted, gun-wielding independent like Walker. "Profit is the only principle," is their motto. Almost 50 years later, it's more modernist than modern, a fascinating time capsule of an era when young directors brought nouvelle vague style to classic genres, and a cryptic crime thriller that turns Marvin into the most enigmatic criminal professional in the movies.

      Boorman creates a hard, austere look for the film and the new Blu-ray delivers a sharp clarity to his vision of Los Angeles as an impersonal modern city. Apart from a few scenes, he strips the frame down to isolated figures in an empty urban landscape under the hard light of the California sun. It's an urban desert and the disc preserves that atmosphere of a ghost city by day and a shadowy underworld at night when the crowds gather on the streets and in the clubs. The impersonal palette of concrete surfaces and blank office interiors in the day gives way to the color of human habitation after dark, which oddly enough has a warmer atmosphere than the harsh light of day.

      Carried over from the earlier DVD release is an audio commentary track with director John Boorman and fellow director Steven Soderbergh, a fan of the film who essentially hosts the commentary. He engages Boorman in conversations about the film's style, the use of color and camera lenses, working with Lee Marvin (who became close friends with Boorman), and making his Hollywood debut with a film that refused to play by the studio rules. Soderbergh's The Limey was clearly indebted to Point Blank in both its theme of revenge and in its fractured storytelling and unconventional use of flashbacks. Taking part in this commentary is like paying tribute to his inspiration.

      Also features the vintage promotional featurette The Rock (in two parts), which looks at shooting the film on location in Alcatraz, and the original trailer.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Ravenous on Blu-ray

    • Ravenous (1999) channels the story reminiscent of the Donner Party disaster and the legend of Alferd Packer (the only American ever convicted of cannibalism) into a gruesome survival thriller with a crimson-hued streak of black humor and an elemental hint of the supernatural. The resulting film takes top honors as the definitive frontier cannibal movie. Not that there's a long list to choose from, mind you, but this earns its position with honors, thanks to a gleefully weird and savagely bloodthirsty sensibility.

      Guy Pearce is Captain John Boyd, whose battle cowardice during the Mexican-American war inadvertently results in making him an accidental hero. The ordeal of playing dead under the bleeding corpses of his fellow officers also puts him off meat, as the opening scenes so vividly illustrate. Director Antonia Bird cuts straight to the heart of the situation as she intercuts soldiers devouring bleeding-rare steaks at a military luncheon with the bloody casualties of battle stacked like cordwood: meat is meat, at least as far as this film is concerned. Boyd's commanding officer (John Spencer of The West Wing), who knows that his valor is a fraud, ships him out to the fringes of military reach: a fort in a California mountain pass, which runs with a minimal compliment during the impassable winter months. "This place thrives on tedium," smiles fort commander Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), who takes everything with a bemused indulgence. How else to survive a company made up of a useless drunk second-in-command(Stephen Spinella), a giggling weed-head idiot (David Arquette), a twitchy, mumbling chaplain (Jeremy Davies), and a macho soldier boy (Neal McDonough) who holds the rest of the company in utter contempt?

      The tedium is quickly dispersed when a bedraggled disaster survivor (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into camp. He spins a horrific story of a lost wagon train and an incompetent scout who strands them in the mountains, where as the winter snows traps them and desperation leads to feeding on human flesh. It's a tale right out of the Donner Party until it turns feral, but it's not even close to the real story of Carlyle's wild-eyed survivor. For a starving man, he looks remarkably fit when he doffs his shirt, and other clues suggest that this is no production gaffe. One night, while camping on the trail to his old camp to search for survivors, he's caught licking the bleeding wounds of an injured soldier. You know, tasting his next potential meal.

      That's when the film takes its twist into weird and wild horror, a bizarre plot that doesn't really make much logical sense but sure makes for a wicked mix of psychodrama and visceral body horror. The Native American Wendigo myth is referenced to explain madness, but you could say it's a vampire tale without the supernatural dimension--it turns out human flesh is addictive, and it helps to have a nest of fellow flesh-eaters to keep the diet coming--or call it a particularly gruesome metaphor for manifest destiny. However you label it, it is off-the-charts crazy, an eat-or-be-eaten thriller served very, very rare.

      British director Antonia Bird seems like an odd match for this material. She honed her craft on TV drama and made her reputation with the tough, wrenching dramas Priest and Face, two films with complex characters and socially conscious themes. What they have in common with Ravenous is star Robert Carlyle, who recommended Bird after the film's original director Milcho Manchevski was let go after three weeks and the producer's chosen replacement, Raja Gosnell, was rejected by the cast. Bird (who passed away last year at the relatively young age of 62 after a battle with thyroid cancer) was frustrated by the conditions of the production and the oversight of the producers and she complained that her cut was compromised in post-production. That may explain the awkward pace, jarring turns, and a climax that feels tossed together--an uninspired way to end such a devious film--but she is clearly the architect of the odd, offbeat key of the film's blackly comic tone and surreal atmosphere and Carlyle is her partner in outsized madness. He leads the cast in playing their eccentricities big, though next to Carlyle's juicy performance, Arquette and Davies come off more like actor's studio sketches in twitchy weirdness or fidgety indecision than actual characters. Guy Pearce provides the contrast, creating a character fighting to maintain control and keep his emotions and his reflexive revulsion in check as everyone else lets their freak flag fly. It oddly enough makes him the most intense character on screen. As all that fear and disgust and anxiety just bottles up behind his desperate eyes and increasingly battered body, Pearce shows us the toll this ordeal exacts on him. In this survival drama, he's the one in true survival mode.

      Scream Factory's Blu-ray features a solid new HD transfer that preserves the dynamic contrast between the white-out daylight scenes of snow and the ominous shadows of the deep forest and the dark rough-hewn quarters of the frontier fort. Night doesn't have to fall for the darkness to seep into the image. Given the elemental quality of the imagery--much of the film takes place in the snowbound wilderness, with the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia standing in for California--the transfer has a satisfying level of grain that not only preserves the texture of the film but gives the entire atmosphere an added level of authenticity. These images feel like they were carved into the film.

      The film was previously released on DVD over a decade ago with three separate commentary tracks. Director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn team up for the most informative track, with Bird talking in detail about the physical challenges of the production. Screenwriter Ted Griffin and co-star Jeffrey Jones tend to lapse into silences in their track and actor Robert Carlyle is even more intermittent in his the solo track. Also carried over from the earlier disc is a collection of deleted scenes (many of them in rough-cut form) with optional commentary by Bird and a gallery of stills. New to this edition is a 20-minute interview with Jeffrey Jones, who looks back on the themes of the film.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Southern Comfort on Blu-ray

    • A motley crew of Louisiana National Guardsman wade out into the swamps for weekend maneuvers. It's 1973, as the war in Vietnam is grinding away the soul of America and the heart of the military, and this platoon of weekend warriors--a volatile collection of rednecks, hotheads, jokers, and guys who probably signed up to steer clear of the draft--are like fresh recruits going into battle for the first time. They've got the fatigues and the cocky attitude but dubious discipline and training and their machine guns are loaded with blanks as they head into the bayou. To the Cajun swamp folk, the trappers and hunters living on the fringes of society, these men are invaders who trample their camps and steal their boats. And when one of the soldiers lets loose a burst from his weapon, laughing like the class bully after humiliating the new kid, these shadowy swamp dwellers defend themselves, becoming a guerilla strike force waging a war of terror on the utterly unprepared toy soldiers. They don't know that it's just blanks in those guns but it likely wouldn't matter if they did. They've been attacked and they will respond. These city dwellers are out their element and after their commanding officer (Peter Coyote) is gone, the first casualty in the war of attrition, they are out of their depth, flailing around with a panic that dumps their radio, compass, map, and pretty much everything else that was supposed to keep them alive.

      Southern Comfort will never be mistaken for a Nation Guard recruitment tool. Call it an anti-platoon movie. Hill gives the squad the outward accoutrements of a real fighting force, down to the uniforms and weapons, but this is a military unit in name only. Beyond the swaggering banter of the soldiers and self-deprecating comments of Spencer (Keith Carradine), the self-appointed company joker, they have no real training, no experience under fire, and no commitment to one another. These guys are more like barroom buddies playing soldier than a disciplined force.

      There are two voices of restraint in the wilderness, Spencer and new guy Hardin (Powers Booth), a transfer from Texas who doesn't know anyone in the company but sizes up their weaknesses quickly and realizes that they haven't much a chance as long as wild cards like Reece (Fred Ward) and Stuckey (Lewis Smith) go charging through the swamps looking for payback. Casper (Les Lannom) takes command by virtue of an essentially meaningless detail of rank and bumbles around quoting regulations and making speeches, doggedly following the book because he hasn't a clue what to do next. The filmmakers don't make him a figure of ridicule, mind you, just a guy falling back on the only thing he knows. In fact, none of them are necessarily "bad guys," though like any Hill ensemble, it has its share of jerks, bullies, racists, and anger management candidates and the pressure brings out their worst instincts.

      So yes, it's a story of American soldiers in an alien land, lost in an unfamiliar landscape and outmaneuvered by a guerrilla army at home in the jungle. Director / screenwriter Walter Hill and producer / co-screenwriter David Giler insist to this day that Southern Comfort was never intended to be an allegory for Vietnam, simply a survival tale in an overwhelming and unfamiliar environment. It's hard to take them at face value but it is easy to forget the allegory in the heat of the drama. It also shares DNA with Deliverance, another film about city boys with guns who take their sense of ownership and entitlement into the wilderness, threaten the locals, and end up hunted by them. But where John Boorman's primal thriller turns his Appalachian backwoods men into brutal outlaws who take pleasure in stalking the city invaders, Hill and Giler keep their Cajun soldiers hidden, seen as figures in the distance or blurs running behind the trees, ghosts on the fringes of sight. They treat the would-be soldier like wild game, silently shadowing their progress and whipping them into a state of panic to steer them into their traps. And whatever the short-fused guys in the platoon think, this is no cultural conspiracy to wipe out the invaders. Their enemy consists of a handful of isolated hunters who didn't start the war but by God are determined to finish it. The rest of the Cajun folks they meet don't seem to be a part of it, though after a couple of days in the swamps, the paranoia is powerful enough to make every sidelong glance look ominous. Ry Cooder's eerie and haunting score only intensifies the paranoia.

      What ultimately differentiates them from the soldiers of a classical platoon drama is that they haven't bonded under fire and have never had to put their trust in one another. This group unravels and tears itself apart from fear and panic and unfocused rage. And in classic Hill manner, there are no philosophical musings or existential conversations. The closest the film comes to putting its theme into words is from the mantra of a terrified Simms (Franklyn Seales), who finds himself cut off from the group and suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he is. "I'm not supposed to be here," he repeats, as if begging the universe to correct some cosmic planning error. And then he's no longer there.

      While this band of infighting brothers wades blindly through the swamp without a clue as to their bearings or direction, Hill's direction never falters. He has always had a sure hand as a storyteller, keeping his plots uncluttered and letting the details of character, conflict, and the world around them define the story. Southern Comfort limits the world to the middle of the swamp, where we (like the soldiers) are unable to find any point of reference, and observes how the discomfort of the environment and the constant disorientation takes its toll on what little good sense the characters bring with them to the mission. It exacerbates the already dysfunctional dynamics of this platoon of battle virgins and is as deadly on its own as the native hunters who use the environment as a weapon in their arsenal. It's not necessarily skill or even luck that saves the guardsmen who survive the ordeal. In classic Hill fashion, it is a matter of intelligence, awareness, teamwork, and the commitment to do what is necessary to survive. There's no sense of victory in survival, merely relief.

      Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack. Both discs feature the new HD master but the Blu-ray of course features superior clarity and richness of color. Both are clean, strong images while the Blu-ray shows off excellent detail. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack puts the mix right up front. A couple of scenes of chaos and confusion overwhelm the dialogue with background sound, which is surely intentional but still seems a little out of balance to my ears.

      New to this release in an original 27-minute featurette with new interviews with actors Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Lewis Smith, and Peter Coyote and, on low-resolution video via Skype, director Walter Hill and producer David Giler, who collaborated on the script with Hill. The actors share stories of shooting in the Louisiana swamps in February with wet suits under their uniforms, six weeks of working in the cold and damp, and they remind us that they were all in it together. The crew endured the same conditions so no one had the right to complain. More interesting is the discussion around the themes of the film. Hill and Giler maintain that while they did not intentionally set out to make a Vietnam allegory they were aware that audiences would make that connection, while the actors admit that they knew it was an allegory from the moment they read the script. Keith Carradine's reading is particularly detailed and interesting. Curiously, none of the six participants mention Deliverance.

      Carried over from the old DVD release is a brief collection of outtakes and the original trailer. All of the supplements are featured in both the Blu-ray and DVD discs of the Combo Pack.

      By Sean Axmaker

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    • Tess on Blu-ray

    • Tess (1979), Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1890 novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, has in 2014 received a sublime Blu-Ray and DVD release from Criterion. Restored by Pathe under the direct supervision of Polanski himself, the movie looks and sounds magnificent. At first glance, the lushly beautiful Tess is a seemingly unusual work for Polanski, whose films we tend to associate with horror and sex, but this was actually a highly personal project for the master filmmaker. It was his first picture after fleeing the United States in 1977, and also a project that his wife, Sharon Tate, had suggested he make as a vehicle for herself -- just before she was murdered by the Manson gang in 1969. Polanski read the novel after her death and realized it was indeed right up his alley, and he dedicated the eventual film to her with an on-screen inscription.

      Hardy's tale, to which the film is very faithful, is about a poor English girl, Tess, whose father learns he is a distant descendant of a once prominent, rich family, the D'Urbervilles. He sends Tess to the home of a remaining D'Urberville to find employment (or at least a handout), but Tess winds up being seduced by the ne'er-do-well Alec D'Urberville (Leigh Lawson), who becomes obsessed with her. Fleeing Alec, she eventually finds work at a dairy farm and starts a passionate relationship with a young farmer named Angel Clare (Peter Firth). But in this society, the revelation of the sins of her past, even if they were not her fault, could doom Tess to shame, ostracism and worse. Ultimately, Tess is about a woman struggling to make her way in the world, looking for happiness, or at least survival, but finding that a judgmental society, timing and even luck are all working against her.

      Polanski explores this theme vividly, sympathetically and cinematically. Costumes, speech and physical mannerisms of the actors all convince the audience of the time period and of the distinctions among the social classes, and the film's pictorial beauty does much to stress the contrasting cruelty of some of the characters. The movie is not "pretty" for prettiness' sake. Most important, one really feels the isolation of Tess throughout the film, which is at once sprawling and intimate. The plot itself, while important, feels less vital here than the depiction of Tess' emotional experience of the world she is forced to inhabit, and as a result, the long running time feels entirely appropriate and never tedious.

      Tess was shot entirely in France, mostly on locations in Normandy and Brittany, because Polanski worried that if he traveled to England he would be extradited to the United States. Polanski later wrote, "To tell the story at all, it was essential to find the proper setting, a twentieth-century equivalent of Hardy's nineteenth-century Dorset. The only way to convey the rhythm of his epic was to use that setting as an integral part of the film, signaling the passage of time and the change in Tess herself by means of a visible, almost palpable change in seasons. Once our rural locations were chosen, we would have to film throughout the year from early spring, through high summer, to the depths of winter." With such a shooting strategy, filming wound up lasting nine months over 80 separate locations, and Tess became, at $12 million, the most expensive film ever made in France to that point. Freak weather and labor strikes only added to the overall time and expense.

      If Tess is atypical of Polanski, it's in the way that The Age of Innocence (1993) is atypical of director Martin Scorsese. But in fact, both films are completely emblematic of their directors' concerns and are indeed suffused with violence. It's just that the violence is emotional, an undercurrent beneath a pristine surface -- exactly like the societies the films depict.

      That being said, it's hard to shake some of Tess's most exquisitely beautiful imagery, such as the lovely natural light of an outdoor dance, or the riders and dogs on a fox hunt who appear out of a sublime mist, or the face of Nastassia Kinski, who is heart-stoppingly gorgeous (a quality, incidentally, that is vital to the story). Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who had shot such films as Becket (1964) and Cabaret (1972), died a few weeks into production and was replaced by Ghislain Cloquet, who sadly would himself pass away two years later. They shared the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The film also won for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Score.

      Criterion's dual-format release contains one Blu-ray disc and two DVDs, with both formats containing the film and identical extras. And there are plenty, starting with three short documentaries about the film's making (originally included in Columbia's 2004 DVD release), directed by Laurent Bouzereau and totaling 73 minutes in length. Bouzereau expertly interviews key players like Polanski, producers Claude Berri and Timothy Burrill, co-writer John Brownjohn, actors Nastassia Kinski and Leigh Lawson, set decorator Pierre Guffroy, costume designer Anthony Powell, hair and makeup artists, the crew electrician, the assistant editor and others. The artists discuss fascinating details of production, like the challenge of getting the "strawberry seduction" scene between Kinski and Lawson just right (which astonishingly was shot on a rainy day despite looking on-screen like the height of warm summer), the creation of the Stonehenge set outside of Paris, and the design of the costumes to be authentic and truly expressive of character -- beautiful without being decorative. Powell is fascinating as he discusses his approach, and also about the little splotch of blood he put on the hem of Tess' dress at a key point in the story, which Polanski shot for maximum impact.

      Burrill recalls that on location the filmmakers were only able to see the rushes days after shooting, rather than the next day, and not always under the best conditions. But gradually, he says, "we started to see what was happening, the magic that was coming off the screen, and the extraordinary professionalism of Nastassia.... I don't think there was ever one day when she fluffed a line. She was word-perfect, always."

      Second is a 52-minute documentary from 2006 by Daniel Ablin and Serge July entitled Once Upon a Time... Tess. This is also interesting, but it covers much of the same material as the Bouzereau pieces, with many of the same interviewees telling the same stories. It's also not as smoothly edited. But unlike the Bouzereau film, it includes composer Philippe Sarde, and delves more into Polanski's pre-Tess life and career. It also recounts the difficulties in Tess's post-production, particularly concerning the running time. Francis Coppola was brought in by producer Claude Berri to trim the film, which was deemed overlong, but Polanski hated the result, leading to a falling-out between Berri and Polanski and between Polanski and Sarde. Polanski himself eventually trimmed the film by about 20 minutes, resulting in the current running time of 171 minutes.

      Third, there's a 1979 episode of the French TV program Cine Regards, running 48 minutes, that looks at the making of Tess and interviews Polanski during the film's production. The interviews with Polanski are revealing, but the real strengths of the piece are the long, uninterrupted slices of life on the set as Polanski directs and thinks through scenes, conducting his orchestra of crewmembers. These sequences go on long enough to make us feel as if we are there.

      Fourth is a 1979 episode of the British TV program The South Bank Show, 50 minutes in length, in which host Melvyn Bragg interviews Polanski. And Criterion rounds things out with the film's trailer as well as a handsome printed booklet containing a fine essay by Colin MacCabe and crisp, colorful photos from the film, almost all of which feature the entrancing Nastassia Kinski. It's a beautiful package and motion picture, all very highly recommended.

      By Jeremy Arnold

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    • Used Cars on Blu-ray

    • The opening of Used Cars (1980) has the ominous, wind-scoured character of a modern crime film in a desperate southwest town where a Sergio Leone western wouldn't be out of place. The camera cranes down from a high shot over a struggling used car dealership, where a few pathetic beaters line the lot, and slowly glides over to one car with someone is crammed under the dashboard. The only sound is the lonely wind--the kind of strangled, desolate howl you get in dustbowl dramas and desert survival thrillers--and the grunts of the man struggling with the mechanics under the dash. And then we see the odometer turn back, shaving some 40,000 or so miles from the record. The title hits the screen, a brass band jumps in with "Stars and Stripes Forever," and the unidentified mechanic wriggles out to reveal Kurt Russell in a cheap, loud suit making his rounds to mask the sorry condition of the cars on the lot. It turns out that this is a crime movie after all, or at least a film of multiple misdemeanors and bald-faced misrepresentation, and the perpetrators are the good guys.

      The second feature from director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Used Cars comes right out of the screen comedy culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the underdogs snubbed their collective noses at authority, propriety, property and privacy laws and anything else that crossed their paths in slobs vs. snobs comedies like Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984). Used Cars is raucous and reckless and far more gleefully corrupt than any of its brothers in rebellion, embracing the confidence games and illegal stunts pulled by the skeleton crew that works for Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who is the closest thing that the film has to an honest man. The devotion of salesmen Rudy (Russell) and Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) to Luke is really all that separates them from Luke's rapacious brother and across-the-street rival Roy L. Fuchs (Warden again) and his slick sales force. That and the fun they have ripping off the rubes who wander on to their lot.

      The premise of film - two used car outfits at war with one another - was hatched by John Milius, who was one of the executive producers (along with Steven Spielberg), but the script is pure Zemeckis and Gale. The rivals are twin brothers, the Cain and Abel of used car dealers. When impending freeway construction threatens to destroy bad brother Roy's dealership and make the good brother Luke rich, Roy finds a way to speed the demise of Luke's bad heart and Rudy makes good on his promise to keep Roy from taking over the lot. Rudy has his own, more immediate motivation, of course--he's trying to buy his way into the local political machine and he's still a little short on the down payment--but it's also personal. Luke is something of a father figure to the crew, which makes them the mischievous sons who break the rules whenever dad's back is turned. After Luke dies, their antics more outrageous, from secretly burying Luke on the lot (his beloved convertible fittingly serves as his casket) to jamming satellite signals with wild pirate commercials replete with gratuitous nudity and senseless destruction of private property. The plot seems to careen from one comic collision to another but there's a nicely-constructed plan under it all, simple but ingenious enough that you don't actually see how the pieces are laid in place until it all comes together in the ragged spectacle of final act.

      It's not really a satire of American business so much as a wicked lampoon: lie, cheat and steal as the American way, as long as you do it with a sense of fun. Kurt Russell was just breaking out of his clean-cut post-Disney persona when he took on the role and he sinks his teeth into Rudy, turning the brash characters into the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises. Gerrit Graham is his partner in commercial piracy, unfazed by anything but harbingers of bad luck, notably red. Deborah Harmon is both romantic interest and plot complication as Luke's long lost daughter, who shows up just after dad's death. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is ubiquitous character actor and future director Alfonso Arau in his first great comic role in an American film (Romancing the Stone and Three Amigos soon followed). But the entire cast is in danger of being upstaged by the adorable dog Toby, who has his own role to play in the sale stunts. This pooch's hilarious performance makes him one of the greatest movie dogs.

      Zemeckis matured into a polished filmmaker and an ambitious storyteller and went on to make more sophisticated, more provocative, and certainly more subtle films, but he never made anything as savagely funny as Used Cars. Its banged-up ingenuity and rough-and-tumble energy and warped mirror reflection of the American Dream as a snatch and grab free-for-all is wickedly funny. Everyone is a crook here and the epilogue even enshrines mendacity as a virtue, at least when it comes to stepping into the used car game.

      Used Cars has a remarkably tidy visual aesthetic for a film about a seedy, shabby culture, with a screen that is uncluttered and flooded with desert sunlight in day scenes and blasted with floodlights as bold as a football stadium night game for the after-dark stunts. The new HD transfer shows a well-preserved print and is sharp and clear. Simply put, it looks superb.

      The commentary track with Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell, carried over from the 2002 DVD reelease, is almost as fun as the movie. "We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life, except he's totally corrupt," is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of Rudy. Kurt Russell laughs back: "So you cast me!" These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Few commentaries manage to balance the information and entertainment so well.

      There's a four-minute reel of outtakes (apparently taken from surviving video dub; it's all quite hazy), a radio interview with Russell, a car commercial featuring Russell, galleries of art and stills, and not one but two isolated score tracks: along with Patrick Williams' musical score heard in the film is an alternate, unused score by Ernest Gold. We don't quite get it in the context of the film (at least not with dialogue and sound effects) but it's a more conventional, less satirical approach. The accompanying 8-page booklet features another fine essay by Julie Kirgo.

      By Sean Axmaker

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  1. Press Release

    • John Wayne Birthplace Museum Grand Opening

    • WINTERSET, Iowa--Over the past 30 years more than one million visitors have journeyed to historic Madison County to tour the modest four-room home where film icon John Wayne was born on May 26, 1907. Guests have included President Ronald Reagan, movie legend Maureen O'Hara, Wayne's widow and all of his children and fans from 50 states and 40 foreign countries. And, as testament to the star's enduring popularity, they keep on coming.

      To provide a more meaningful visitor experience, the Birthplace organization has announced the May 23rd Grand Opening of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, a brand-new 5,000 square ft. facility which will offer an astounding collection of memorabilia from the screen legend's life and motion picture career. The only museum in the world dedicated to John Wayne, it will feature the largest diversified exhibit of John Wayne artifacts in existence, including original movie posters, film wardrobe, scripts, letters, artwork and sculpture, one of his customized automobiles and, of course, a movie theater.

      A birthday celebration of this magnitude requires considerable flourish and the weekend of May 23-25 will not disappoint. Providing patriotic fanfare for the opening ceremonies will be the 100-member Iowa Military Veterans Band, in addition to rodeo queens, reduced price admission to the new museum, free John Wayne movies, food and merchandise vendors, cowboy mounted shooters and much more.

      A highlight for many will be the Museum Benefit Dinner ($150 per person) headlined by country music legend and RFD-TV star Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives. Also featured will be an auction of unique and one-of-a-kind John Wayne collectibles including artwork and film wardrobe.

      For further information call 877-462-1044 or visit the website at

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    • Dick Dinman and George Feltenstein Salute Black and White on Blu-ray

    • DICK DINMAN AND GEORGE FELTENSTEIN SALUTE BLACK AND WHITE ON BLU-RAY: Defying initial doubt by some of the viability of releasing black and white film classics on blu-ray Warner Home Video has been instrumental in repeatedly demonstrating how visually effective the melding of both formats could be and their latest stunning blu-ray restoration releases such as YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, POSSESSED and CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT continue to hammer home the point with consistently beautiful results. Producer/host Dick Dinman's returning guest George Feltenstein (Warner Home Video Senior V.P. of Classic and Theatrical Marketing) extols the limitless visual virtues of back and white on blu-ray.

      DICK DINMAN AND GEORGE FELTENSTEIN SALUTE "PETE KELLY'S BLU-RAY.": Producer/host Dick Dinman welcomes back Warner Home Video Sr. V.P. George Feltenstein and both share their enthusiastic admiration for director/star Jack Webb's lavish and invigorating foray into the guns, gangster, gals, gams and most emphatically the musical traditions (flawlessly demonstrated by both Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar -nominated Peggy Lee) that made the roaring 20's roar all of which has been brought brilliantly to renewed sight and sound life in Warner's magnificent new blu-ray incarnation of PETE KELLY'S BLUES.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to or

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    • Dustin Hoffman, Alec Baldwin and Filmmaker Spike Lee Added to 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival

    • TCM is pleased to announce additional film luminaries have been added to the already-exciting 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival lineup: Oscar®-winner Dustin Hoffman, Oscar®-nominee Alec Baldwin, and Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee are set to appear.

      Dustin Hoffman will sit down for an extended discussion with Oscar® nominee and former co-host of TCM's The Essentials, Alec Baldwin following a screening of Bob Fosse's LENNY (1974). Hoffman earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as comedian Lenny Bruce.

      Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker Spike Lee will present a screening of his acclaimed biographical drama MALCOM X (1992), starring Denzel Washington in one of his most celebrated performances.

      The festival will also feature tributes to a pair of artists whose work behind the camera has helped shape the last half-century of movie-making. Oscar-winning film editor Anne V. Coates will appear at screenings of David Lean's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) and Steven Soderbergh's caper OUT OF SIGHT (1998). Stuntman and stunt coordinator Terry Leonard will introduce and discuss two of his best-loved films, Steven Spielberg's RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and John Milius' THE WIND AND THE LION (1975).

      In addition to the screenings of their films, Coates and Leonard also will participate in detailed conversations about their careers at Club TCM.


      Peter O'Toole makes one of the greatest screen debuts starring in the title role of director David Lean's epic about a bold young WWI British officer who unites Arab tribesmen against the mighty Turkish Empire. In attendance: Anne V. Coates, ACE

      LENNY (1974)
      Dustin Hoffman gives a devastating, Oscar-nominated performance in the title role of director Bob Fosse's biopic of the groundbreaking and drug addicted standup comic, Lenny Bruce. In attendance: Dustin Hoffman featuring an extended conversation with Alec Baldwin

      MALCOLM X (1992)
      Directed and co-written for the screen by Spike Lee and based on the autobiography by Malcolm X and Alex Haley, this epic drama earned Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination for his riveting performance in the title role as the still influential 1960s freedom fighter. In attendance: Spike Lee

      OUT OF SIGHT (1998)
      Romantic sparks fly between an escaped bank robber (George Clooney) and a kidnapped U.S. Marshal (Jennifer Lopez) in this big screen adaption of the Elmore Leonard novel directed by Steven Soderbergh. In attendance: Anne V. Coates, ACE

      Steven Spielberg directs and Harrison Ford stars in this thrilling adventure about an archaeologist who must find the lost Ark of the Covenant before it falls into the hands of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. In attendance: Terry Leonard

      THE WIND AND THE LION (1975)
      Loosely based on early 20th-century events, director John Milius' adventure film tells the exciting tale of an American woman and her children who are kidnapped in Morocco by Berber tribesmen and President Theodore Roosevelt's maneuvers to free them. Sean Connery, Candice Bergen and Brian Keith star. In attendance: Terry Leonard

      Passes for the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival are still available, but supplies are limited. Complete information about 2015 pass prices and levels can be found at the festival's website:

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    • TCM Announces Sally Field as Co-Host for THE ESSENTIALS

    • Turner Classic Movies announced Oscar®, Golden Globe®, Emmy® and Screen Actors Guild® Award winner Sally Field will co-host the 15th season of TCM's signature showcase: The Essentials. Field will take the chair opposite TCM host Robert Osborne each week to introduce a hand-picked classic film and offer commentary on its cultural relevance and what makes it a timeless, must-see movie. The new season of The Essentials, which airs on Saturday nights premieres Saturday, March 7, at 8 p.m. (ET) with a screening of William Wyler's classic, Roman Holiday.

      "We couldn't be happier that Sally will be joining us throughout 2015 on The Essentials," said Osborne. "Besides being an extraordinary actress with two Academy Awards® to her credit, Sally has a great passion for film and a unique understanding of how the movie industry works which will bring a refreshing and entertaining point of view to our weekly talks. Plus I can't imagine any one more delightful to sit and talk with about movies on a regular basis."

      The lineup of movies selected by Field and Osborne for the 15th season of The Essentials includes such enduring classics as:

      --David O. Selznick's adventure The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) starring Ronald Coleman

      --George Stevens' World War II comedy The More the Merrier (1943), starring Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn

      --Iriving Rapper's enduring love story Now, Voyager (1942) starring Bette Davis and Paul Henreid

      A complete lineup for TCM's 15th season of The Essentials, which airs each Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET), will be announced at a later date.

      Additionally, fans are able to watch TCM live whenever and wherever they want via and the Watch TCM mobile apps by logging in with a user name and password provided by their TV service provider. Watch TCM features live streaming of the network, industry leading in-depth movie information, as well as more than 300 titles available on demand each month.

    • More >
    • TCM and Walt Disney World Resort Team Up

    • Turner Classic Movies, Walt Disney World Resort and The Walt Disney Studios Team Up to Share Stories Centered on Classic Film

      Features Include New TCM Integration in Theme Park Attraction and On-Air Showcase of Disney Treasures

      Turner Classic Movies has announced new strategic relationships with Walt Disney World Resort and The Walt Disney Studios to broaden its reach in family entertainment with joint efforts centered on classic film.

      At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the "The Great Movie Ride" Attraction highlights some of the most famous film moments in silver screen history and is set to receive a TCM-curated refresh of the pre-show and the finale. TCM branding will be integrated into the attraction's marquee as well as banners, posters and display windows outside the attraction. In the queue line, families will enjoy new digital movie posters and will watch a new pre-ride video with TCM host Robert Osborne providing illuminating insights from the movies some of which guests will experience during the ride. The finale will feature an all-new montage of classic movie moments. After guests exit the attraction, they will have a photo opportunity with a classic movie theme. The TCM-curated refresh is set to launch by spring.

      As part of the relationship with The Walt Disney Studios, TCM will launch Treasures from the Disney Vault, a recurring on-air showcase that will include such live-action Disney features as Treasure Island (1950), Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) and Pollyanna (1960); animated films like The Three Caballeros (1944) and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949); classic nature documentaries, including The Living Desert (1953) and The African Lion (1955); made-for-television classics, such as the Davy Crockett series; special episodes from Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color; documentaries about the studio, including Walt & El Grupo (2009) and Waking Sleeping Beauty (2010); and animated shorts, such as 1932's Oscar®-winning "Flowers and Trees."

      Treasures from the Disney Vault is scheduled to premiere on TCM Sunday, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. The opening night will include the holiday and winter animated shorts "Santa's Workshop," "On Ice" and "Chip An' Dale," followed by The Disneyland Story. The night will also include The Reluctant Dragon, Disney's 1941 film that combined a live-action tour of the Walt Disney Studios facility with animated shorts; Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955), a compilation of the first three episodes of the iconic series starring Fess Parker; the Oscar®-winning documentary The Vanishing Prairie (1954), part of Disney's True Life Adventure series; the rarely seen Third Man on the Mountain (1959), an Alpine tale starring Michael Rennie and James MacArthur; and Perilous Assignment (1959), a documentary about the making of Third Man on the Mountain.

      "At TCM, it's our mission to share and celebrate the greatest films of all time," said Jennifer Dorian, general manager of TCM. "Disney provides the perfect relationship through which we can share the magic of the movies with every generation, not only through an amazing new showcase on TCM, but also through newly refreshed components of 'The Great Movie Ride' Attraction."

      "We are looking forward to this collaboration, which complements Disney's commitment to telling great stories and immersing our guests in family entertainment," said Tiffany Rende, senior vice president of Disney Corporate Alliances and Operating Participants. "Through this alliance, we are able to share more classic Disney stories with TCM audiences, while further enhancing the guest experience by showcasing TCM content and talent."

      This marks an expansion of TCM's already robust relationship with the family entertainment and media enterprise. TCM set sail on its fourth TCM Classic Cruise in October 2014, the second aboard the Disney Cruise Line's Disney Magic. In addition, TCM has collaborated with Buena Vista Home Entertainment on various initiatives, including the 2008 documentary The Age of Believing: The Disney Live-Action Classics, which premiered in conjunction with a 25-movie showcase of family classics. The 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood featured a multi-film collection of Disney classics presented in collaboration with D23, The Official Disney Fan Club. And the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival featured the 50th Anniversary screening of one of Walt Disney's most successful films Mary Poppins (1964) at Disney's El Capitan Theatre.

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Frank Capra: The Early Collection DVD
Frank Capra: The Early Collection DVD
was $49.99
Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection (DVD)
Turner Classic Movies and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment...
was $49.99
Hollywood Movie Stills: Art and Technique in the Golden Age of...
This photographic book is the most detailed and perceptive survey...


  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca