skip navigation

Movie News - Our extensive online Hollywood film and classic DVD news page.

  1. Top News Stories

    • Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project on Blu-ray

    • Film study literature has done its best to praise and promote filmmaking from around the world, produced and directed by local talent. Undeveloped countries in the 20th century had a spotty filmmaking tradition, mostly due to the domination of commercial films from America, Europe and more cosmopolitan regional neighbors. Yet distinctive and vibrant films were made in South America, Asia and Africa, sometimes supported by governments. In film school we were shown sample features by the Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène and the Brazilian political firebrand Glauber Rocha. None of the film prints were in particularly good shape. As art film houses couldn't draw a crowd with obscure foreign fare, film festivals were often a dead-end for 'World Cinema'. Politics also militated against the free circulation of films. When the Los Angeles Film Exposition showed a large number of post-revolution Cuban I.C.A.I.C. films in the mid- 1970s, most had not been screened here previously.

      Much more troubling is the poor state of film preservation in nations without developed film industries. For decades, much of the early film heritage of Argentina and Mexico was held in private hands, in unknown condition and mostly unavailable to the public. Conditions in Africa and Asia are worse.

      Martin Scorsese started The Film Foundation in 1991, connecting with studios to promote the preservation of neglected American cinema. In 2007 he helped initiate a program called The World Cinema Project, which in six years has restored nineteen feature films from around the world. Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project gathers six notable features from five continents, spread between 1936 and 1981.

      1973's Touki-Bouki is a 'young lovers on the run' picture with a unique vision. Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty's story expresses the desire of a generation to break free of the limits of reality in a former French colony where ordinary people have few or no opportunities. Less violent than Perry Henzell's Jamaican-set The Harder They Come, it's a surreal dream of freedom played out against realistic backgrounds. Mambéy has a great eye for arresting images, and gives the film pace and dramatic tension, not to mention animal imagery and a playful use of his soundtrack. Vintage French songs by Josephine Baker represent the elusive dream of Paris. Will the hero take the boat from Dakar to Paris? Should he?

      The picture is in excellent condition, restored from the original negative elements. Colors are bright and accurate, and George Bracher's cinematography is a fine match for Mambéy's visual imagination.

      Martin Scorsese provides brief intros for all six features. On Touki-Bouki he first reminds us that American awareness of foreign films has been limited mostly to a few name directors, often one per country. The visual essay on Mambéty's picture is by Abderrahmane Sissako, who does his best to express the director's special genius. Third World directors often go to America or France for formal film educations, but Djibril Diop Mambéty was self-taught. The remarkably accomplished Touki-Bouki was his first feature.

      Released in 1936, Mexico's Redes strains the ground rules of 'World Cinema' in that its co-director Fred Zinnemann and cinematographer Paul Strand came from abroad, much as had Sergei Eisenstein with his legendary unfinished project Que viva Mexico! But we're given to understand that this film's style set the standard for visuals in the Golden Era of Mexican filmmaking that followed: beautiful scenery and proud compositions of earthy figures silhouetted against the sky. Acclaimed photographer Strand also made impressive film art in America, the experimental 1921 short Manhatta and the poetic pro-union feature Native Land from 1942. Featuring the artistic input of John Dos Passos and composer Silvestre Revueltas, Redes is a committed, if formulaic drama about the exploitation of working men. Performed almost entirely by non-actors, it is often compared to Luchino Visconti's Italian neo-realist La Terra Trema, made over a decade later.

      The story concerns a fishing village doing poorly in a bad season. A local boss owns most of the boats and buys good catches at a price he determines, enjoying large profits at the markets in Vera Cruz. Fisherman Miro's child dies because the boss won't advance him money for a doctor. When the boss cuts salaries for a good day's fishing the bitter Miro leads an angry movement to set up a fisherman's cooperative. Unfortunately, a candidate for local office offers to serve as the Boss's henchman in exchange for financial assistance for his campaign. The candidate's talk of tradition and honor splits the fishermen into opposing camps. When a fight breaks out the opportunity arises to silence Miro with a gun.

      The film was made by a committee. Mexican co-director Emilio Gómez Muriel worked with the actors; cameraman Paul Strand imposed the aesthetics of still photography on most of the shots. Strand favored static poses while co-director Fred Zinnemann reportedly did his best to interject action into the frame. Zinnemann would later helm such classics as High Noon and From Here to Eternity. Backed by Silvestre's impressive music score, several montage scenes are works of visual art.

      Critic Kent Jones' visual essay for Redes presents a multitude of back-stories. His visual analysis of this attractive film is especially acute. The film exists only in surviving positive prints, but Criterion's transfer raises its presentation to a high standard. Scratches and a tiny bit of film damage remain, yet most scenes are remarkably sharp and Paul Strand's images retain the look of fine art photography.

      Redes won a pictorial spread in Life magazine but won little success commercially, as with much of critically acclaimed World Cinema. 1973's A River Called Titas is an epic-length tale of a lost way of life on the rivers of what is now Bangladesh. Director Ritwak Ghatak made few movies, and this one was considered too pessimistic to attract a wide audience. Yet the 2.5-hour show has enough story complications for three movies.

      While visiting a neighboring village fisherman Kishore (Probir Mitra) marries Basanti (Rosi Samad) and has barely had words with her before she's kidnapped on the river. She's found alive by strangers, but has lost her memory of the crime. She doesn't know her husband's name or have a clear idea what he looks like, but she remembers the name of his village. Ten years later she sets out with his son to find him. Basanti's story is only the first chapter in a long, impassioned series of events and side stories that eventually lead to even bigger tragedies. One emotional climax is almost unbearably sad.

      The movie sways between melodrama and documentary-like recreations of a riverside culture that has mostly disappeared. Occasionally, a burst of fantasy wish fulfillment will occur, as when Basanti's son envisions his mother as an idealized, bejeweled goddess. Much of the acting is primitive, and in some scenes the post-synched dialogue makes no effort to match the actors' lips. Some of the plot turns can be unclear for a few minutes, yet the movie is always compelling. Beautiful images record an entire cultural lifestyle -- the boats, the customs, the rituals.

      Ghatak's compositions are bold but his film is never merely pictorial in impact. We see fascinating moments of cultural interaction, as when the lovers on their wedding night are too shy to speak to each other. Ghatak makes good use of his soundtrack. One scene has only the sound of heavy breathing, and another, falling rain. We see several ceremonies and an impressive boat race.

      The movie is pessimistic in that the potential for disaster seems built-in to the lives of these people. They depend on the river for everything, and old men worry that it will some day dry up. A landowner uses his influence to bring legal and monetary penalties against the entire village. Some villagers seem cruel in refusing to share their food with needy new arrivals like Basanti. But that's only because the possibility of starvation is always near.

      A River Called Titas was restored from incomplete elements, so the film quality changes in a few scenes. An unsteady shot or two appear to be the result of a problem with the original cinematography, but most of the film is in extraordinary shape.

      Visual essay host Kumar Shahani tells us that director Ritwik Ghatak was deeply critical of the political situation in Bangladesh, and used his films to express the feelings of pain and loss in his partitioned country. Ghatak worked extensively in the theater as both a director and an actor. He plays an old boatman in a number of scenes.

      The Turkish Dry Summer (1964) was a big local hit for director Metin Erksan, and won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Erksan's tale could be a story from the Bible. The greedy farmer Osman (Erol Tas) has the only water spring in the valley. He decides to cut off his neighbors without a drop, against the wishes of his younger brother Hasan (producer Ulvi Dogan). Osman also covets Hasan's lovely new bride, Bahar (Hulya Kocylgit). When the other farmers take reprisals, Osman shoots one of them and then persuades his brother to go to prison in his place. Instead of helping as promised, Osman destroys Hasan's letters and begins a slow seduction of his lonely sister-in-law.

      An elemental story of universal interest, Dry Summer asks whether water resources are to be owned by some or shared by all. The loathsome Osman claims that he's a fair man safeguarding his interests, but those interests include lording it over his neighbors and finding a way to possess his own brother's wife. The gullible Hasan has no idea that his older brother spies on their lovemaking, and trusts that leaving major decisions to him is the right thing to do. We watch Dry Summer aghast at Osman's black-hearted deeds, fearing that he'll not be punished for his crimes.

      Metin Erksan's direction is superb. Bahar uses a mirror to signal Hasan for a romantic chase through the thick trees; the sexual attraction between them is expressed in positive, healthy terms. Erksan sketches his characters quickly. His 'sex scenes' are chaste yet supremely sensual; Bahar's flesh is as magical as Osman's water supply. Erksan makes the most of the precious substance water: hoarded in Osman's pond, running through his canals and restrained by an improvised spillway gate. In the satisfying ending Osman and his water become one and the same.

      The B&W presentation is excellent. The title sequence was lost so Criterion has provided a substitute. Although the production is modest at best, Ali Ugur's cinematography is precise and resourceful. Those mirror reflections figure several times in the film, and when Bahar becomes delirious with grief, the camera spins madly. Some of the film's music is by the celebrated Manos Hatzidakis. Viewers should be forewarned that one graphic scene shows what appears to be the actual shooting of a dog.

      In a new featurette Turkish director Fatih Akin praises Dry Summer and explains its historical context. He says that Turkey acted like Osman to the Syrians in the 1990, withholding water from a major river. Director Metin Erksan appears in an older interview to declare that the greatest enemy of Turkish cinema is oppressive censorship. Although it is a common custom for a surviving brother to 'inherit' his brother's widow -- to keep the land from being split up -- the censors objected to scripted scenes of Osman marrying Bahar.

      Trances from 1981 confirms that this grouping of films really is Martin Scorsese's personal selection. The director's The Last Temptation of Christ credits the Moroccan musical group Nass-El Ghiwane for inspiration. Trances is a concert movie showing the band performing their rhythmic, hypnotic songs. Traditional elements are present, especially with the ancient musical instruments being played. Repetitious chants predominate. The remarkable feature of a Nass-El Ghiwane concert is the participation of the audience, which becomes so complete that individuals work themselves into real gyrating trances.

      Director Ahmed El Maanouni gives us plenty of interview material with the band members. Nass-El Ghiwane began in 1969. Its member-musicians are more like traveling troubadours than performing celebrities. They perform in ordinary street clothes. Huge audiences dance in place, wave their shirts and come on stage if allowed. More than one band member says that music isn't 'something he does', but instead part of his essential personality.

      Also included are documentary scenes of Moroccan neighborhoods, and a few staged moments. Known as "the Rolling Stones of North Africa", the band's lyrics are a combination of non-militant calls for freedom and lamentations for lost family traditions.

      Martin Scorsese's intro explains how he discovered Trances while watching the TV show Night Flight during all-night editing sessions on The King of Comedy. The lengthy featurette includes input from Scorsese, director Ahmed El Maanouni, producer Izza Génini and Nass-El Ghiwane musician Omar Sayed.

      The Housemaid (1960) is a suspense thriller by Kim Ki-young, a once-forgotten director now championed by a new generation of Korean filmmakers. Made under heavy censorship rules, it is nevertheless a scathingly subversive critique of 'family values' among the emerging middle class. As if Luis Buñuel had moved to Seoul, director Kim's film is a series of socially uncomfortable, volatile confrontations. A blood-dripping main title tips us off that this tale of "Father Knows Best" will go in dark directions.

      The audacious film easily bests American thrillers about families disrupted by a sexual intruder. The husband (Kim Jin-kyu) is a handsome music teacher in a girls' factory school, who proudly moves his wife (Ju Jeung-nyeo) and two children into a larger house. Following school rules, he reports a student who slips him a mash note, and she's suspended. The girl's best friend becomes the husband's private piano pupil, and helps him find a maid to work in the new house. It's not long before the scheming housemaid (Lee Eun-shim) discovers a way to sexually compromise the husband. She wants to take the wife's place, and exploits the fact that her employers will do almost anything to avoid a scandal. The situation gets so bad that murder seems the next step -- and all know that there's a bottle of rat poison in the kitchen.

      The Housemaid's amorous intruder reminds us of Buñuel's Susana, a caustic satire about a sexy female convict who invades a 'proper' Mexican hacienda. A close look reveals that director Kim's happy Korean family is anything but. The outwardly decent husband only thinks that he can resist the temptations of the factory girls he teaches. The mother has another baby on the way, and overworks herself to better justify the television she covets. The children are not idealized. The daughter is a polio victim, and her selfish little brother swipes candy while openly making fun of her crutches. In keeping with the Korean culture of tough love, the parents do not object; the father declares that the steep stairs in the new house will force the daughter to exercise more.

      The mercenary, two-faced housemaid initiates a series of petty blackmail threats that escalate into a war of nerves. When she becomes pregnant all notions of normality break down: the servant's new orders include sleeping rights with the husband. Things go over the edge when a demand that the housemaid abort her unborn child leads to outright murder attempts. She becomes a monster, haunting the house by pounding on the keys of the husband's piano.

      With its lurid tailspin into despair and doom, The Housemaid is like a Douglas Sirk domestic drama gone mad. It defies prevailing entertainment norms that exalt family values as a shining ideal, and even a trick ending can't dissipate its power. Korean audiences must have felt that the uncompromising film revealed truths about middle class values, as it was very popular -- Kim Ki-young remade it twice at ten-year intervals.

      The World Cinema Project had a difficult time rescuing The Housemaid. It was considered lost for years because two reels of its negative could not be located. An export print was found in the 1990s, albeit marred by intrusive English subtitles. For two nine-minute sections, the film quality drops considerably. The digital patch job used to eliminate the burned-in subs is a little distracting as well.

      The expertly directed movie is a masterpiece worth seeing in any condition. The plaster patterns in the walls of the new house soon begin to resemble spider webs, or the 'cat's cradle' string game played by the children in the first scene. The director punctuates the seduction of the husband with a blast of lighting striking a tree. The family's perfect home soon becomes a house of horrors. I can see a lot of attractive housemaids losing their jobs, back in Seoul of 1960.

      In the featurette for The Housemaid director Bong Joon-Ho (The Host) expresses his enthusiasm for Kim Ki-young in no uncertain terms, noting the film's taut camera moves and superb direction of actors. Bong also provides a cultural analysis of the characterizations, especially the portrait of the 'perfect' Korean wife -- who also joins the murderous scheming as soon as her comfortable social status is threatened.

      Criterion's Blu-ray + DVD of Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project is a good cross-section of worthy international films not likely to be revived through normal commercial channels. Scorsese's selection covers a wide range of appeal. All of the restorations were performed at the Cineteca di Bologna. Most of the HD transfers yield excellent results, with flaws occurring only when original elements were missing or damaged. The English subtitles are up to Criterion's high standards. We hope that more World Cinema Project collections are on the way.

      As with all new Criterion releases, the disc set is a Dual-Format Edition with identical contents. Three Blu-rays share two feature films each, while each title also gets its own DVD disc. A 64-page booklet contains essays on the Project's aims as well as scholarly pieces on each of the pictures by Richard Porton, Charles Ramírez Berg, Adrian Martin, Bilge Ebiri, Sally Shafto and Kyung Hyun Kim.

      By Glenn Erickson

    • Comment
  1. New Books

    • King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue

    • King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue tells the story of the making, release, and restoration of Universal's 1930 Technicolor extravaganza King of Jazz. Authors James Layton and David Pierce have uncovered original artwork, studio production files, behind-the-scenes photographs, personal papers, unpublished interviews, and a host of other previously unseen documentation. The book offers a richly illustrated narrative with broader context on the film's diverse musical and theatrical influences. The story concludes with an in-depth look at the challenges Universal overcame in restoring the film in 2016. Additionally, the book's appendix provides a comprehensive guide to all of the film's performers, music, alternate versions, and deleted scenes.

      King of Jazz was one of the most ambitious films ever to emerge from Hollywood. Just as movie musicals were being invented in 1929, Universal Pictures brought together Paul Whiteman, leader of the country's top dance orchestra; John Murray Anderson, director of spectacular Broadway revues; a top ensemble of dancers and singers; early Technicolor; and a near unlimited budget. The film's highlights include a dazzling interpretation of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," which Whiteman had introduced to the public in 1924; Walter Lantz's "A Fable in Jazz," the first cartoon in Technicolor; and Anderson's grand finale "The Melting Pot of Music," a visualization of popular music's many influences and styles. The film is not only a unique document of Anderson's theatrical vision and Whiteman's band at its peak, but also of several of America's leading performers of the late 1920s, including Bing Crosby in his first screen appearance, and the Russell Markert Dancers, who would soon become Radio City Music Hall's famous Rockettes.

      James Layton is Manager of the Museum of Modern Art's Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center. Prior to this he worked at George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, where he curated two gallery exhibitions and the website Technicolor 100. Layton has also acted as Cataloguer and Workflow Coordinator at the East Anglian Film Archive in Norwich, UK, and is co-author of the Image Permanence Institute's informational poster Knowing and Protecting Motion Picture Film (2009).

      David Pierce is an independent film historian and archivist. He was formerly the Head of Preservation and Curator of the National Film and Television Archive at the British Film Institute. His articles have appeared in numerous journals, and his report on the survival of American silent feature films was published by the Library of Congress in 2013. He founded the Media History Digital Library, providing free online access to millions of pages of motion picture magazines and books.

    • More >
    • The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best

    • Edited by Peter L. Winkler, with a foreword by George Stevens Jr.

      Attending the prestigious Actors Studio in New York and starring in three major motion pictures--which earned him two posthumous Academy Award nominations--James Dean did more in his 24 years than most people do in a lifetime. He also touched the lives of many others along the way, including family members, drama teachers, fellow actors, directors, and lovers of both sexes. After he was gone, those who knew him shared their cherished memories of the gifted performer in the pages of movie magazines, newspapers and autobiographies, now long out of print. Their writings and interviews are finally available again--this time all in one place.

      The Real James Dean: Intimate Memories from Those Who Knew Him Best (Chicago Review Press; August 1, 2016), edited by Peter L. Winkler, with a foreword by George Stevens Jr., is an invaluable compilation of firsthand recollections from dozens of the actor's friends, family and colleagues. There's Dean's estranged father, speaking to the press about his son, just once, in 1955. There's William Bast, Dean's first serious biographer, recalling their time together in college and Dean's struggle to succeed in show business. There's Dean's doting speech and English teacher from his time at Fairmont High School in Indiana; the girl he nearly married; costars such as Rock Hudson, Natalie Wood and Jim Backus; directors Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray and George Stevens; gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Sidney Skolsky; and even Rolf W├╝therich, the auto mechanic who was riding shotgun on the fateful road trip that ended with Dean's death.

      Collected from writings published over six decades but presented largely in chronological order from his childhood to his final days, The Real James Dean offers further insight into the actor's outlook, talent, and growth during every phase of his short life. Rich not only with revealing details but also clarifying footnotes and editorial asides, it's a great read for fans and an excellent resource for film scholars and historians, and it will help carry Dean's legacy forward for new generations of cinephiles.

      Peter L. Winkler is the author of Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel. He has also written for Filmfax, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Playboy, among other publications. He lives in Valley Village, California. George Stevens Jr. is the son of George Stevens, the director of James Dean's final film, Giant. The writer, director and producer founded the American Film Institute and is now cochairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

    • More >
    • Sylvia Sidney- Paid by the Tear

    • By Scott O'Brien

      The path to stardom for Sylvia Sidney wasn't easy. Her father abandoned her when she was five. She was a shy, albeit bullheaded stutterer, and high school dropout. Acting brought her out of her shell. At age fifteen, critics raved about her "fragile charm and quiet grace" in the Theatre Guild School's production of Prunella. Off-stage she had a run-in with the school's director, who dismissed her. Sidney rationalized, "I just raised a little hell."

      It was the play Bad Girl that got Sidney a Paramount contract and the amorous attentions of producer B.P. Schulberg. In the arms of Gary Cooper, she was a knockout in City Streets. She followed that film with An American Tragedy and Street Scene, which established her reputation as the screen's Depression heroine. Throughout her career, Sidney acquired an impressive list of leading men: Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, and James Cagney. She claimed that Hollywood "paid me by the tear," but hated being pigeonholed, so she signed with producer Walter Wanger in 1935 and, with him, made her most famous hits: director Fritz Lang's Fury, Hitchcock's Sabotage, and William Wyler's Dead End.

      In the 1950s, Sidney played a variety of roles on stage, including as the title character in the acclaimed Auntie Mame cross-country tour. As a character actress, she finally got an Academy Award nomination for Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973). Her surprise-turn in Tim Burton's immensely popular Beetlejuice (1988), as well as in Mars Attacks! (1996), brought her a whole new generation of fans.

      Sylvia Sidney- Paid by the Tear (BearManor, 2016) offers an insider's look into the personal life of the salty, opinionated, funny, natural-born actress. Scott O'Brien's exhaustive research is complimented by a treasure trove of 134 photos from Sylvia's personal life and career. 488 pages.

      Scott O'Brien's biographies Kay Francis: I Can't Wait to be Forgotten (2006) and Virginia Bruce: Under My Skin (2008), made the "Best of Year" category in Classic Images. He appeared in the documentaries Queer Icon: the Cult of Bette Davis (2009) and Reabhloidithe Hollywood (2013). His Ruth Chatterton - Actress, Aviator, Author (2013), and George Brent - Ireland's Gift to Hollywood & its Leading Ladies (2014), were listed among The Huffington Post's "Best Film Books of the Year."

    • More >
    • THE ESSENTIALS: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter

    • By Jeremy Arnold
      Forward by Robert Osborne

      Since its inception on Turner Classic Movies in 2001, The Essentials has become the ultimate for movie lovers to expand their knowledge of must-see cinema and discover or revisit landmark films that have had a lasting impact on audiences everywhere.

      Based on the hit series, THE ESSENTIALS by Jeremy Arnold showcases 52 must-see movies from the silent era to modern times. Readers can enjoy one film per week, like on the show, for a year of great viewing, or indulge in a movie-watching binge-fest. Each film is profiled with entertaining discourse on why it's an Essential, and running commentary is provided by TCM's Robert Osborne and Essentials guest hosts past and present: Sally Field, Drew Barrymore, Alec Baldwin, Rose McGowan, Carrie Fisher, Molly Haskell, Peter Bogdanovich, Sydney Pollack, and Rob Reiner.

      Featuring full-color and black-and-white photography of the greatest stars in movie history throughout, THE ESSENTIALS is the ultimate curated guide to 52 films that define the meaning of the word "classic."

      Jeremy Arnold, a writer and film historian, is the author of Lawrence of Arabia: The 50th Anniversary, a coffee-table book companion to that film's Blu-ray release. In addition to his work for numerous film trade publications, he has written over five hundred programming articles for the Turner Classic Movies website and contributed audio commentaries and historical essays to the DVD and Blu-ray releases of classic films.

    • More >
  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

    • More >
    • 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

    • More >
    • 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

    • More >
    • 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

    • More >
    • 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

    • More >
  1. Press Release

    • Acclaimed documentary TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL released on DVD & Blu-ray

    • FilmRise has announced the September 1 Blu-Ray and DVD release of Tab Hunter Confidential. After an incredible year on the film festival circuit and a theatrical run across fifty cities in the United States, the acclaimed documentary will be available to rent or own from all major retailers. Based on Hunter's New York Times best selling memoir, producer Allan Glaser and director Jeffrey Schwarz (I Am Divine) have assembled dozens of past and present Hollywood stars, and most importantly the man himself, to talk frankly about being a survivor of the Hollywood roller coaster. The Blu-Ray & DVD will be available nationwide at all major retailers, with autographed copies only available on Tab Hunter's official website, Click here to learn more and order Tab Hunter Confidential on Blu-Ray & DVD (with optional autograph).

      Throughout the 1950s, Tab Hunter reigned as Hollywood's ultimate heartthrob. In dozens of films, and in the pages of countless magazines, Hunter's astonishing looks and golden-boy sex appeal drove his fans to screaming, delirious frenzy, solidifying him the prototype for all young matinee idols to come. Bristling against being just another pretty face and wanting to be taken seriously, Hunter was one of the few to be able to transcend pin-up boy status. He earned his stripes as an actor to become a major movie star and recording artist. But throughout his years of stardom, Hunter had a secret. He was gay, and spent his Hollywood years in a precarious closet that repeatedly threatened to implode and destroy him. Decades later, Hunter's dramatic, turbulent and ultimately inspiring life story has become an explosive documentary feature.

      Tab Hunter Confidential offers unprecedented access to the man behind the marquee smile, who shares first hand what it was like to be a manufactured movie star during the Golden Age of Hollywood and the consequences of being someone totally different from his studio image. The film traces Hunter's dizzying rise to Hollywood super-stardom, his secret life in an era when being openly gay was unthinkable, and his ultimate triumph when the limelight finally passed him by and true love won.

      Punctuating Tab's on-screen presence are rare film clips and provocative interviews with friends and co-stars including John Waters, Clint Eastwood, George Takei, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Portia de Rossi, Noah Wyle, Connie Stevens, Robert Osborne, and dozens more.

    • More >
    • Dick Dinman & Eddie Muller's Bogart Bonanza!

    • DICK DINMAN & EDDIE MULLER'S BOGART BONANZA (PART ONE): Producer/host Dick Dinman welcomes back distinguished Film Noir Foundation head honcho Eddie Muller as both dedicated Humphrey Bogart fans rejoice about the fact that no less than four revered Bogart classics have hit the streets recently on Blu-ray. In this first of two shows Dick and Eddie trade thoughts about the amazing cult favorite IN A LONELY PLACE (Eddie's single favorite film!) which has been released by the Criterion Collection in typically outstanding Criterion fashion and no slouch in the Blu-ray visual perfection department is the Warner Archive's release of Bogart and Bacall's most unusual thriller DARK PASSAGE which reunites them in a tale of so many unexpected twists and turns that fortunate viewers will be on the edge of their seats.

      DICK DINMAN & EDDIE MULLER'S BOGART BONANZA (PART TWO): On this second Bogart Bonanza show acclaimed Czar of Noir Eddie Muller and producer/host Dick Dinman marvel at the omnipresent degree of authenticity displayed in the rare Bogart newspaper drama DEADLINE U.S.A. which has just hit the streets (with a sublime Eddie Muller commentary) on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino's KL Studio Classics and rabid fans who've been pleading for the Blu-ray release of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (which is Bogart and Bacall's first and most scorchingly incendiary pairing) can now revel in the white hot perfection of this latest exemplary Warner Archive release.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD and Blu-ray. 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

    • More >
    • Library of America's The Moviegoer on LAURA

    • Library of America's new regular web feature called The Moviegoer is devoted to great films inspired by classic American writing. This biweekly column features columns by Megan Abbott, David Denby, Wendy Lesser, Charles McGrath, Farran Smith Nehme, Carrie Rickey,Terrence Rafferty, Harold Schechter, Michael Sragow, & others and launched on January 27, 2016.

      American literature has proven an endlessly renewable resource for filmmakers, its originality and vitality inspiring whole catalogues of memorable movies. Now Library of America, the acclaimed nonprofit publisher of the nation's greatest writing, presents The Moviegoer, a biweekly column in which curator Michael Sragow (Film Comment) and other leading writers and critics offer fresh, penetrating examinations of the best of these films, gems that readers will want to revisit or watch for the first time. Standing at the intersection of classic American writing and classic filmmaking, The Moviegoer, offers not reviews but full scale reevaluations that explore the creative alchemy involved in translating a masterwork from page (or stage) to screen. It takes its inspiration, and its catholic compass, from the hero of Walker Percy's famous novel, and, in the words of curator Sragow, "aims to generate new enthusiasm for cinema as well as for literature."

      To read the entry in the series on Laura by Megan Abbott and to sign up for an alert when a new Moviegoer is published, click here.

    • More >
Alan Ladd: The 1940s Collection DVD
was $44.95
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir on DVD
was $14.98
Hard-boiled detective Sam Spade gets caught up in the murderous...
was $19.98


  • 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