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Write Savant (Glenn Erickson) at

Tuesday March 24, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

The Imitation Game
Anchor Bay / Weinstein
Blu-ray + Digital HD

  Last Oscar season's major contender is an impressive movie about a can't-lose double whammy Oscar-bait subject. Fine acting, commendable point of view, strong dramatics -- and then we're given some flat-footed storytelling, along with enough distorted history to make any umpire drop a penalty flag. Benedict Cumberbatch and Keiran Knightley construct a giant Tinkertoy computing device to break the toughest German code ever -- but our secret hero has a bigger secret that, shame on the nation, buries his contribution to the victory and the progress of computer science. But now we know. A Blu-ray + Digital HD Download from Anchor Bay / The Weinstein Company.

The Babadook
IFC /Shout! Factory / Scream Factory

  It's grim, it's depressing, it seems to gather up all the miseries a single mother could possibly suffer -- and it's a great horror movie, always intelligent, never going for cheap shocks. The director is Jennifer Kent. A cursed children's book helps drag a disturbed boy and his emotionally exhausted mother down a horrible path of insane hallucinations. It's a rarity, a scary show where anything can happen, yet is not unduly cruel or exploitative -- just creepy as all hell. Did I enjoy it? Well, sort of. It has William Friedkin's endorsement, too. In Blu-ray from IFC /Shout! Factory / Scream Factory.


Journey to the Center of the Earth
Twilight Time
4K Blu-ray Restoration

 James Mason and Pat Boone -- in his one lasting star vehicle -- explore the interior of the earth and find monsters, mushrooms, massive oceans and the lost city of Atlantis. Writer-producer Charles Brackett broke fresh ground with this big-scale studio fantasy hit, a treasured memory of baby boomers. With a superb stereophonic music score by Bernard Herrmann, auditable on an Isolated Music Track. This new limited edition release is a quantum visual improvement, in a 4K Blu-ray Restoration from Twilight Time.


It's time for my promised full report on the gala 're-premiere' of the extended, tweaked, re-mixed version of Steven Spielberg's 1941, last Sunday at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Blvd. Organizer Mike Matessino promoted the screening as a culmination of his five-year effort reconstituting the film's music tracks for a soundtrack CD, and reconstructing the film's preview cut with all the music cues back in the correct scenes. The impressive event sold out quite a bit before show time. Gary Teetzel brought his camera to help me figure out how best to cover the event. We found quite a crowd gathering at the door, where commemorative posters were being sold. Little dog tag-like pendants got us into the VIP section, where, as usual, the real VIPs were vipping merrily away in a small group. Not the best place to seek out handshakes or photos or 'remember me?'s. Then I ran into my old boss, effects miniatures specialst Greg Jein  (above)  and had a good talk.

Gary had overheard that actress Dianne Kay  (right)  was on her way in, and suddenly there she was. She responded to my greeting like a delighted old friend, giving me a chance to renew introductions. Just a complete doll, as ever. We had talked back in 1979 for maybe ten minutes total, if that much; and then again at a laserdisc signing in 1995, but it felt like meeting a member of the family. Unless she wondered who that guy always hanging around the set was, it would be impossible for her to remember me… but who knows. Maybe because of the making-of book?

Matessino preceded the show with a half-hour prologue consisting of a slide show of photos of Hollywood Blvd, and headlines about the fear-generated 'air raid' panic from 1942. Appropriate music played, accompanied by vintage radio recordings of radio announcements from the false air raid. Then came a rare teaser with John Belushi and his P-40 fighter plane, narrated by Dan Aykroyd.

The feature screening was big and loud, and 1941 comes off best big and loud. Every time a big star or favorite player came on screen there was applause. Did Elisha Cook Jr. ever get applause in a screening? He did on Sunday. I have never seen the long version on a screen, which is why the Egyptian was packed with avid fans. When there are just one or two name guests at these things the atmosphere can get weird. Matessino had lined up over a dozen veterans of the production. Most of the guests were on the movie for six months, while Greg Jein's miniatures unit was busy for almost two years.

After the screening Matessino brought all the name celebs up front and the questions started. Most responded with humorous anecdotes. If each guest talked for just ten minutes we'd have been there for two additional hours. As it was the entire audience listened in rapt attention for seventy minutes or so. Verbal tributes were given to the late Wendie Jo Sperber, the powerhouse spirit of the movie. Matessino explained that executive producer John Milius couldn't make it. Writer Bob Gale  (left)  contributed several stories about Milius, most involving guns. He also recounted the terrific bit of timing that brought the 1941 screenplay to Milius' attention.

Both of 1941's romantic 'couples' made the screening and panel. Bobby Di Cicco  (above)  flew in for the show (I'm pretty sure), looking very different but sounding much the same. He praised the film's Jitterbug Dancers, two of whom were in attendance. Dianne Kay remembered the dance riot scene, when she was desperately hoping that she'd be able to hit a difficult action cue for Spielberg in one of the Rube Goldberg gags. Nancy Allen  (below)  described what it was like doing a sex scene in a cramped airplane cockpit, with only the drone-like Louma camera crane poking in her face and Spielberg's voice on a microphone saying, "No that looks terrible, do it the other way." Tim Matheson  (below)  recalled that he was forming a crush on Nancy by the second of what must have been a dozen days of make-out scenes. On the third day she came to work and breathlessly told him that Brian De Palma had just proposed to her.

Twice Oscar-nominated Greg Jein explained how his crew got a second take of the giant (twelve foot diameter) Ferris Wheel model rolling down the model pier and into the Pacific, with just a few hours' turnaround time to repair broken lights and re-plank the entire forty-foot pier. The Wheel rolled many times, but I believe off the end only twice, falling into MGM's giant Esther Williams water tank. 'Polar Bear' girl and former shark-bait swimming stunt artiste Susan Backlinie asked why Steven always waited 'til the dead of winter to send her into the water. Leslie Hoffman talked about stunt-doubling for Wendie Jo Sperber, but added that Wendie did all of her own stunt work in the USO dance riot scene. 'Macey Douglas' Jordan (Brian) Cohen said he still can't believe he got out of school for half a year to be in the film. Producer Buzz Feitshans  (below)  recalled John Belushi and some 'rock stars' destroying a motor home dressing room, while Second Assistant Director Chris Soldo provided accurate details about the kind of unpredictable script changes that occurred during filming. Bob Gale chimed in on that, explaining that the fairly thin script had so many day-to-day changes that they ran out of alternate colors for the replacement pages. (They didn't mention that Gale and his partner Bob Zemeckis also eliminated standard margins to cram more words on each page!)

When Spielberg suddenly decided that the Beach House should fall off a cliff, Bob remembers running to his typewriter and hammering out the entire last daytime scene in just one hour. I was there on set when Spielberg received the instant revision. He took two minutes to check it out, gave a big laugh, and it was officially part of the movie. Who knows how much the budget leapt upward?

I'm glad I was able to be there and pleased that Mike Matessino acknowledged everyone in the audience who worked on the movie in lesser capacities. That old book has given me a bigger association with 1941 than logic merits. The night's only disappointment was that Eddie Deezen came to the pre-film mixer but didn't stay for the screening or the panel. He would have enjoyed the hoots and applause for him when his character Herbie made his entrance: "Safety bar? We don't need no safety bar!"

I think I'm a bit burnt out on 1941 for a few weeks ... but I will try a longer review if a screener for the single-disc Blu-ray release shows up in April.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson

(Photos by Gary Teetzel)

Saturday March 21, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

First Men in the Moon
Twilight Time

  It's a new Harryhausen Blu-ray, always a good sign for the biz... and I have no doubt this title will sell out toot sweet if it hasn't already. Harryhausen and Schneer's solitary H.G. Wells venture is a solid entertainment thanks to a charming script by Quatermass scribe Nigel Kneale, who uses a clever flashback structure to make contemporary a story set sixty years in the past. Edward Judd is the raffish troublemaker, Lionel Jeffries the anti-gravity genius and Martha Hyer the woman along for the ride -- an amazing Victorian jaunt to visit the woman in the moon. Twilight Time has exclusive extras that include the participation of the late Harryhausen and one of his most dedicated fellow stop motion animators, Randall William Cook. Plus an Isolated Track for Laurie Johnson's impressive music score. In Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
Olive Films

  An important noir rediscovery but also an uncommonly sharp 1940s acting piece, about what happens when a romantic outsider intervenes in some twisted family relationships. George Sanders plays against type as a commercial artist dominated by two sisters -- one of them possessive to the point of incest -- who dares fall in love with a no-nonsense gal from the big city. It's a field day for Sanders, Ella Rains, Moyna MacGill and especially the underrated Geraldine Fitzgerald. The movie also bears a strong kinship with the entire Alfred Hitchcock legacy. A curious discussion is included, especially about the film's controversial final scene, which obliterated its chances for greatness. In Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Miami Blues
Shout! Factory

  In his first leading role, young and trim Alec Baldwin shines as Junior Frenger, a weird sociopath-thief who experiences an identity crisis -- he steals a detective's badge and gun and has so much success committing crimes with them that he forgets who he is. Star Fred Ward is Hoke Mosely, the crude, toothless homicide cop humiliated by Junior's murderous antics. But the show is stolen by the terrific Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose innocent, not-too-bright Susie only slowly realizes that she's married an outrageously reckless crook. An unsung classic from 1990, produced by Jonathan Demme and written and directed by George Armitage from he book by Charles Willeford. In Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.


Day of Anger
Arrow Video (U.S. + UK)
Region A+B Blu-ray + DVD

  On a major career roll as the Italo western's second most popular spaghetti gunslinger, hawk-beaked Lee Van Cleef cuts 'em up and guns 'em down in Tonino Valerii and Ernesto Gastaldi's cynical tale of a revenge-seeking sharpshooter who enlists the town garbage man (Giuliano Gemma) to back him up in the rough stuff. We're shocked, shocked to discover that the town's upstanding citizens are corrupt thieves; better start digging graves. Lengthy interviews are included with the director and screenwriter -- those Italo filmmakers love to talk. With this title this U.K. disc company embraces the U.S. market - it's compatible with both Region A and B. In Region A+B Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video (U.S. + UK).


First up is a helpful announcement for fans of science fiction films. On Thursday Olive Films announced a May 19 date for their new Blu-ray of United Artists 1958 space epic IT! The Terror from Beyond Space, and posted an Aspect Ratio of 1.37:1 for it. Within minutes my mailbox had three hits about this issue -- there must be more Edward L. Cahn fans out there than I thought. Most all disc producers make an effort to release pictures in their original theatrical ARs whenever possible, so I inquired right away. My contact checked, and yes indeed, the blurb for IT! was in error: Olive was granted access to MGM's 1.85:1 HD master and that's what we'll see.

I remember IT! projected on a big screen, at some American Cinematheque Sci-fi August special six or seven years ago. Matted to 1:85 widescreen, with the excess empty acreage above and below the widescreen area cropped away, the drama is indeed much more intense. Now we'll all be able to a frame by frame comparison with Ridley Scott's Alien.

Now for something historically significant: correspondent John Bernhard sends along a link to the National Film Preservation Foundation, where can be found a complete high quality presentation of Orson Welles' Too Much Johnson. I'm told that this has been up for a while, but it's pretty important stuff: the legendary unfinished (naturally) film Welles made in the late 1930s, to be shown as an audiovisual adjunct to a stage play. The star is a pre-Hollywood Joseph Cotten. A lengthy essay with much (or all?) of the play is included to help explain things. Until now this filmic footnote has been a couple of blurry photos and two paragraphs of explanation in old Orson Welles bios ... and now it's suddenly here. The surprise is that it's not some crude home movie, but an impressively realized semi-experimental film - at least the part where Welles reportedly completed his editing.

John pointed out that TCM has scheduled a Too Much Johnson cablecast for May 1, but the time slot is much shorter -- the show at this site reportedly runs a full 66 minutes. I wish Welles and Cotten could have seen this.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  Peter Jackson finishes out both the three-film Hobbit Saga and the six film Middle-earth Saga with a 2.5 hour picture that's at least 60% battle scenes. It begins with the dragon Smaug's aerial fricasee job on Lake-town and proceeds to a five-army, four-way battle for a mountain piled high with dwarves' gold (including a sizeable hardened lake of the stuff, by now). Saved by our great fondness for Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen, and a violent wrapup in which (gasp) A-list characters actually bite the dust. For a while I thought those ugly-mug Orcs were going to end up as ineffectual as Imperial Storm Troopers. Plenty of grand action and sentiment, and it all looks very good in 3-D video. In 3-D + 2-D Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD from Warner Home Video.

Goodbye to Language
  Jean=Luc Godard is back again with a theoretical treatise in the form of a near random assemblage of sort-of scenes that sort-of tell a story, but really add up to more academic questioning and intellectual position arguments, or fragments thereof. He tells us he thinks nothing of 3-D, which is why he produced the show in that format. But expect some surprises, even a 3-D effect that, even if it's a joke, can be said to extend the vocabulary of cinematic gimmicks grammar. See Savant struggle with every reviewer's dilemma: is the answer to simply admit that understanding is beyond my reach? A Dual-Format edition in 3-D and 2-D Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Forbidden Hollywood Volume 8
  The WAC offers four more worthy and surprising pre-Code thrillers to tease us with incipient immorality and questionable subject matter, not to mention risqué situations and suggestive dialogue.
It's A-Team talent all the way: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Norma Shearer, Robert Montgomery, Paul Muni, Ned Sparks, Edward G. Robinson and Glenda Farrell.
The titles are Blonde Crazy, Strangers May Kiss, Hi Nellie! and Dark Hazard.
In DVD-R from The Warner Archive Collection.

The Soft Skin
 François Truffaut goes Hitchcockian (a little) in this visually intense examination of an 'ordinary' episode of adultery. Literary notable Jean Desailly strays when he catches sight of stewardess Françoise Dorléac; wife Nelly Benedetti gets left up in the air, frustrated and angry. Here's where Truffaut ditches the 'New Wave' and embraces the same 'quality' movie values he once condemned in traditional French filmmaking. The extras make a good case for the Hitchcock influence angle -- and the best extra is a long docu on the making of the famous Truffaut/Hitchcock book. Great B&W camerawork by Raoul Coutard. In Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.

The Falcon and the Snowman
  John Schlesinger and writer Steve Zaillian knock us out with this superb true-life story of two well-off guys in Los Angeles that take their grudge against the system way too far. Smug Daulton (Sean Penn) deals heroin from Mexico, while politically disillusioned Chris (Timothy Hutton) ends up in the worst job possible in a high-security TRW message center with access to a lot of dirty C.I.A. secrets. They did business with Russian agents in Mexico City, seemingly just for the hell of it. Things get a lot more hairy from there. Beautifully filmed in L.A. and South of the border, with great performances by Pat Hingle, David Suchet, Boris Leskin, Richard Dysart, Dorian Harewood, Lori Singer and Chris's pet falcon. In Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

Alice's Restaurant
  Arthur Penn's ode to the dying end of home-grown protest movements, union activism, vagabond folk singers and hopeful alternative lifestyles was advertised as a wacky hippie pot party, which it's not. We instead get Arlo Guthrie playing himself. He reenacts the Thanksgiving Garbage Massacree for some good laughs but spends most of the movie observing Alice and Roy Brock (Patricia Quinn and James Broderick) trying to make their no-rules artistic hospitality lifestyle work... and visiting the bedside of his famous, dying father Woody. It's moody and downbeat but also a rare picture about the hippy dippy era that has not become an embarrassment. With Shelley Plimpton, Pete Seeger and the actual Stockbridge cop who found Arlo's name under that big pile of garbage. In Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Like Water for Chocolate
 Alfonso Arau's blockbuster arthouse item translates Laura Esquivel's Magic Realism novel into a semi-erotic fantasmagoria, an inside-out portrait of the Mexican cultural spirit. Cheated from love, a dutiful daughter uses her cooking skills to assert her identity, and perhaps win back the man taken from her. With Lumi Cavazos and Marco Leonardi, and glowing cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki and Steven Bernstein. This dual-Format edition contains a feature length commentary with the director and his two stars, recorded 23 years later. In Region B Blu-ray and PAL DVD from Arrow Films.

Musicals: 4-Movie Collection
  Refusing to play the old double-dip shell game, Warners has given us the three new Blu-rays in this great boxed set with as separate releases as well. The Band Wagon and Calamity Jane are stunning new restorations, while Kiss Me Kate is for the first time in widescreen and 3-D. The only repeat item is Singin' in the Rain. Stars include Fred Astaire, Doris Day, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor. In Blu-ray from Warner Home Video.

March 2015
 Kiss Me Kate  3-D Blu-ray  The Liberator  Blu-ray  Muscle Beach Party  Blu-ray  Ride the Pink Horse  Blu-ray  The Manchurian Candidate  UK Region B Blu-ray & PAL DVD  Dear Heart  DVD
February 2015
 In the Land of the Head Hunters  Blu-ray  The Prowler  Blu-ray  The End of Violence  Blu-ray  The Sure Thing  Blu-ray  Incident  DVD  To Sir, With Love  Blu-ray  Caveman  Blu-ray  A Day in the Country  Blu-ray  Stormy Weather  Blu-ray  The Night They Raided Minsky's  Blu-ray  The Killing  UK Region B Blu-ray  The St. Valentine's Day Massacre  Blu-ray  Syncopation  Blu-ray  How to Murder Your Wife  Blu-ray  Black Sunday  Blu-ray  The Connection  Blu-ray  Rabid  UK Region B Blu-ray  Lust for Life  Blu-ray  The Wild Angels  Blu-ray  Watership Down  Blu-ray  Kiss Me, Stupid  Blu-ray  The Day They Robbed the Bank of England  DVD  Nightcrawler  Blu-ray  The Purple Rose of Cairo  Blu-ray  A Hole in the Head  Blu-ray  Don't Look Now  Blu-ray  Far from the Madding Crowd  Blu-ray  God Told Me To  Blu-ray
January 2015
 Why Don't You Play In Hell?  Blu-ray  Running On Empty  DVD  55 Days at Peking  UK Region B Blu-ray  Pork Chop Hill  Blu-ray  The Palm Beach Story  Blu-ray  The Black Scorpion widescreen  DVD  No Highway in the Sky  DVD  The Weapon  Blu-ray  The Bride Wore Black  Blu-ray  May in the Summer  Blu-ray  World for Ransom  Blu-ray  Breaking Away  Blu-ray  The Night Porter  Blu-ray  The Girl Who Knew Too Much  Blu-ray  The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming  Blu-ray  Fury  Blu-ray  Bloody Sunday  DVD  52 Pick-Up  Blu-ray  Till the End of Time  DVD  Into the Woods  Blu-ray  The Twilight Samurai  Blu-ray  The Ultimate Invaders from Mars Savant Article Reboot  Ten Seconds to Hell  Blu-ray  Adua and Her Friends  Blu-ray  Kinoshita and World War II  DVD  The Boys from Brazil  Blu-ray

  Reaching further back in time?
A Chronological List of DVD Savant's Reviews for 2014
... and for 2013 ... 2012 ... and 2011

 Savant's DVD Wish List FINAL NOTE 2012

Hundreds more Savant reviews at the Other End of this Link!


Don't forget to write Savant at dvdsavant@mindspring.com.

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