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Favorite Discs of 2014

[Savant Links] [Year Five Report]
Write Savant (Glenn Erickson) at

Tuesday March 31, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

Odd Man Out
The Criterion Collection

  Carol Reed's classic never looked better. Wounded and abandoned on a raid, James Mason's Irish rebel is begins a feverish odyssey through Belfast, handed off from those who wish to help to those that want to profit from him. Kathleen Ryan commits her life to seeing Mason set free; Robert Newton is the deranged artist who wants to paint the look of death in his eyes. A hugely effective blend of realism and expressionist flourishes; great acting, great direction. Some prefer this to The Third Man. With extras sketching the film's relationship to 'the troubles', and a fine docu about star James Mason. In Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.

Massacre Gun
Arrow Video (US)
Blu-ray + DVD

 Chipmunk-cheeked stone killer Jo Shishido is the center of the action in a Nikkatsu crime picture about a gang war that breaks out after a Yakuza chieftain orders his number two man to kill his own girlfriend. Soaked in violence but also ultra-cool lounge-jazz music, frequently played in after-hours night clubs. One brother is the requisite hothead and the other a coulda-been boxer with broken hands. It's retribution and violence all the way to the finale on an unfinished freeway in a windstorm. Director Yasuharu Hasebe is a disciple of Seijun Suzuki, and uses a similar visual style. In Blu-ray + DVD from Arrow Video (US).


U Turn
Twilight Time

  Oliver Stone is on the loose again, churning out a colorful, well-acted and completely overcooked Southwestern noir annihilating melodrama. Hardboiled and oversexed pulp stereotypes come at us from all sides. Sean Penn's acting is so good that it almost glues the movie together, but the rest of the cast -- Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Claire Danes, Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Voight -- scream and threaten their way through dark double-cross schemes as if they'd been xeroxed from a bad graphic novel. It's blessed with a great Ennio Morricone score (on an Isolated Track) and an interesting commentary with the legendary Mike Medavoy, the über-producer uncredited but behind the scenes on many movies. In Blu-ray from Twilight Time.


I see that the Warner Archive's website has been folded back into the WBShop website... I'd like to hear from readers if they perceive any change in how the company works. They seem to have stopped the almost-daily, highly creative email pub ads, but I still get a weekly update on new releases. Actually, today the WAC announced the Cameron Mitchell - James Whitmore Face of Fire that I wrote about last year in my June 20, 2014 Savant Column (you'll have to scroll down a bit). The new WAC DVD will be properly formatted for widescreen. I'll try to review it soon.

Other discs I am planning to review (which means I have them in hand) are Twilight Time's The Bounty & Solomon and Sheba; Kino's Hester Street; Criterion's Sullivan's Travels, and I might dig back for Olive's Psych-Out.

Not yet in for April but much anticipated are Twilight Time's Zardoz, Shout Factory's Thunder Road (right), The Cohen Group's That Man from Rio & Up to His Ears, Arrow's Blood and Black Lace; Criterion's The River, The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Silence de la mer. I normally don't go into discs I haven't nailed down promises for, but I'm still hoping to review Universal's Silent Running, Journey to the Far Side of the Sun and, if it ever really shows up, The Andromeda Strain.

Thanks for reading! --- Glenn Erickson

Saturday March 28, 2015

Savant's new reviews today are:

Hand of Death
20th Fox Cinema Archives

  John Agar is the jolly nerve-warfare scientist who gets a dose of his own joy juice. Before you can say Napalm Napalm Napalm he's been transformed into a mass of puffy black sponge rubber. Seen on this excellent remastered disc (surprise!), what was once a grade-Z graveyard shift '60s snoozer is now a good little monster movie. Yeah, yeah, it's an un-ambitious, plot-challenged mediocrity -- but rather well played (by Agar!) and somewhat creatively directed by ex-dancer Gene Nelson. With Paula Raymond, Butch Patrick and one of the more bizarre movie bogeymen of all time. Few realize that it was remade by Jean-Luc Godard as the recent Goodbye to Language. (am I alone up here?) In DVD from 20th Fox Cinema Archives.

Without A Clue
Olive Films

  Critics sneered at this Sherlock Holmes comedy, that's actually a lot of fun thanks to amusing performances from Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley. It's a concept re-think: Kingsley's Doctor Watson is the brilliant crime solver and 'Holmes' a literary invention, played for the public by a hired ham actor (Caine). Caine's schtick imitating a genius is pretty hilarious, even if some of the jokes run thin. Too broad and basic to compete with Billy Wilder, this 1988 movie is nevertheless a 7% solution of pure fun -- as are almost all affectionate spoofs of Sherlock Holmes. Kingsley is marvelous. Also with Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony and Paul Freeman, with a sweet music score by Henry Mancini. In Blu-ray from Olive Films.

The White Buffalo
KL Studio Classics

  As Wild Bill Hickok, Charles Bronson dons cool sunglasses to do battle with the legendary monster buffalo he sees in his nightmares. The entire bison population of North America is now a pile of bones next to the rail-head, making the huff 'n' puff, locomotive-like Super Buff seem like a ghost from Tatonka Hell. Helping Mr. Squint nail the Moby Dick of the Rockies is Will Sampson's formidable Crazy Horse, a limber Lakota with a Bronson-like "Death Wish" score to settle -- he's taking names and kicking buffalo burger. Carlo Rambaldi's Animatronic monster (Savant saw it in person) is a little wonky, but the movie is better than its reputation. In Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics.


The Day Mars Invaded Earth
20th Fox Cinema Archives

  What? It's the same &%$@# review as Hand of Death up above. Savant's just padding his review list, cheating like everyone else -- including the downright sneaky Martians that blindside NASA chief Kent Taylor and Marie Windsor's family with an invasion of the doppelgänger people. Beverly Hills real estate agents take notice -- the prime historic property that this film uses as a location isn't just haunted, it's infiltrated and infested with serious Red Planet radicals. Rocket scientists shouldn't be needed to get to the bottom of this invasion, but this particular rocket scientist is definitely not up to the job. In DVD from 20th Fox Cinema Archives.


Next week will welcome the Noir City Film Festival back to Hollywood's Egyptian Theater for a 17th go-round. I braved kidney stones last year to see a killer double bill of Hell Drivers and Try and Get Me! on the big screen, with an attentive audience blown away by every sordid revelation and appalling plot twist! Screenings are all introduced by the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller and/or the equally enlightened Duke of the Dark Alan K. Rode, both of the revered Film Noir Foundation. Check out the Full Schedule for this year's slate of gripping tales of murder, double dealing and duplicitous demoiselles.

Kicking things off on opening night April 3 is an Ann Sheridan double bill of a newly-restored Woman on the Run and the David Goodis- penned thriller The Unfaithful. Other hot nights give us British noirs, Argentine noirs and a Cornell Woolrich night pairing a rare 35mm restored print of The Chase with Jacques Tourneur's The Leopard Man (my personal recommendation, although I ought to see those Spanish-language rarities). Write me if you want more can't-lose suggestions. Take it from Savant, these screenings attract the right kind of revival moviegoers -- the attendees remind me of the UCLA movie crowd from the long-gone '70s.

"Duke of the Dark?"

Have a heap of discretionary cash that's giving you grief? Fear not, Savant's consumer advisor Gary Teetzel has located essential keepsakes for the sci-fi fan: Essential Purchase One and Essential Purchase Two. Gary notes that "both come with angry, pissed-off expressions, perfectly capturing the strong emotions we all remember from the movie!"

Yes, you too can have both these action figures for the low, low price of . . . Holy moley... "I'm afraid I can't do that Dave." Gary reports that he'll be holding out for the Mighty Monolith action figure, which should be a little cheaper since it won't have as many points of articulation.

DVD Savant correspondent Joe Baltake asked about an upcoming disc a few weeks ago, and I was able to find him some information. Joe now has an official announcement to back it up: Twilight Time's upcoming Blu-ray of Michael Ritchie's film adaption of the musical The Fantasticks will include an encoding of the original, longer edit, in Standard Def. Back at MGM I saw about twenty minutes of this rare cut before being tossed out of the screening room -- not sure by who. But I understand that it's pretty rare.

I've also been checking out Joe's own film-related blog The Passionate Moviegoer. So far I'm liking what I see - Joe calls Jake Gyllenhall the best actor from last year, and I agree. As yet no sign of the 'questionable' content he warned me about, but I'll keep my hopes up.

Thanks for reading, and putting up with my slightly giddy mood today --- Glenn Erickson

The Imitation Game
  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
  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
 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.

First Men in the Moon
  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
  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
  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
  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).

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.

March 2015
 Goodbye to Language  3-D Blu-ray  Forbidden Hollywood Volume 8: Blonde Crazy, Strangers May Kiss, Hi Nellie!, Dark Hazard  The Soft Skin  Blu-ray  The Falcon and the Snowman  Blu-ray  Alice's Restaurant  Blu-ray  Like Water for Chocolate  Blu-ray  Musicals: 4-Movie Collection: Kiss Me Kate  3-D, Calamity Jane, The Band Wagon, Singin' in the Rain  Blu-ray  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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