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Amar Akbar & Tony (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

July 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Atul Malhotra’s “Amar Akbar & Tony” is an entertaining comedy film that touches upon culture and contemporary life in London without having to become deep or banal.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2015 AAT Films Limited. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Amar Akbar & Tony

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 96 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1:85:1 aspect ratio, English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: N/A

Release Date: June 28, 2016


Directed by Atul Malhotra

Story and Written by Atul Malhotra

Produced by Victoria Barrell, Atul Malhotra

Executive Producer: Rohit Kumar, Sandeep Puri

Associate Producer: Martin Delaney, Rez Kempton

Music by Rishi Rich

Cinematography by Jorge Luengas

Edited by Gareth Blower, Alex Morgan

Casting by Shakyra Dowling, Kristina Erdely

Production Design by Damien Creagh

Art Direction by Annalisa Andriani

Costume Design by Julie Jones


Starring:

Rez Kempton as Amar

Sam Vincenti as Akbar

Martin Delaney as Tony

Karen David as Meera

Laura Aikman as Samantha

Goldy Notay as Sonia

Meera Syal as Honey

Nina Wadia as Seema

Tanveer Ghani as Uncle Jay

Amrita Acharia as Richa

Mark Moraghan as George Williams


A Sikh, a Muslim and an Irish Catholic take stock of their lives in contemporary London in Atul Malhotra s coming of age romantic comedy drama Amar Akbar & Tony. The title is an homage to a 70s Bollywood classic and sets the tone for a unique film marrying the storytelling styles of British Independent cinema with that of the Bollywood narrative as Amar Akbar & Tony come of age, cause chaos and fall in love in multicultural London.


From filmmaker Atul Malhotra (“Card Shark”, “Lethal Attraction”) comes his British comedy “Amar Akbar & Tony”.  A title that pays homage to the ’70s Bollywood action film but in this case, a comedy.

The film stars Rez Kempton (“The Mummy”, “I Can’t Think Straight”), Sam Vincenti (“Alfie”, “Brothers”, “I Can’t Think Straight”), Martin Delaney (“Now You See Me 2”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Beowulf & Grendel”), Karen David (“Once Upon a Time”, “Cold Feet”, “The Scorpion King 2”), Laura Aikman (“Casualty”, “The Mysti Show”, “Keith Lemon: The Film”), Meera Syal (“Doctr Strange”, “The Jumars at No. 42”, “Beautiful Thing”), Goldy Notay (“Sex and the city 2”, “It’s a Wonderful Afterlife”), Amrita Acharia (“Game of Thrones”, “The Devil’s Double”) and more.

And now the film will be available on DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The film follows three friends from childhood, a Sikh named Amar (portrayed by Rez Kempton), a Muslim named Akbar (portrayed by Sam Vincenti) and an Irish Catholic named Tony (portrayed by Martin Delaney).

Amar is a law student who is about to graduate and is engaged to Richa (portrayed by Amrita Acharia) and life is looking great for him. His family owns a restaurant and are proud of his son who is embarking on a new chapter of his life.

Meanwhile, Akbar is pursuing a career in real estate and hopefully inheriting his father’s business and loves flirting with the women.  But unfortunately, their buddy Tony isn’t so good at girls.

So, the guys often try to get their friend Tony to go after a beautiful woman but her overprotective brother ends up giving Tony a black eye.

Meanwhile, Tony finds out that the woman goes jogging at the park and unaware that her brother is nearby and sees Tony trying to get close to his sister and once again, chases him down, but Tony manages to escape.

As the group celebrate Amar’s engagement and have fun, afterward, Amar and his fiance, Akbar and Tony all head to a club where the man (whose sister Tony keeps trying to flirt with), spots him going to the bathroom and the man and his friends beat Tony up badly and are near killing him until Amar and Akbar intervene.

Amar spots the man pulling out a knife and is about to hurt Akbar, but Amar jumps in and a fight ensues and the man ends up getting stabbed in the belly.

Amar ends up getting arrested and goes to prison for three years.  Losing his career, losing his fiance and literally losing everything.

Fast forward three years later and, Amar’s sister Sonia (portrayed by Goldy Notay) is driving her father’s brother, her Uncle Jay (portrayed by Tanveer Ghani) and his wife Meera (portrayed by Karen David) to their home.  Meera is sad about leaving her home and visiting England.

Meanwhile Amar’s father and mother and Jay discuss Amar’s upcoming release from prison and his father could only hope he holds his head up high.  No one has seen Amar since he went to prison, as he didn’t want anyone to see or visit him.

As for Akbar, he now is a doing well as a real estate agent and he meets Samantha (portrayed by Laura Aikman) and often flirts with her.

And as for Tony, he wants to meet a woman and tries to go to a business that arranges weddings.  And when he is assigned to a possible wife who just came from India, he finds out that it’s an older woman named Honey (portrayed by Meera Syal), who turns out to be too much for him.

After his release from prison, Amar has changed.  Harboring anger towards Tony for all that has happened, he tells his Tony that he wants him to feel sorry for what he had done.

When Amar goes to visit his father’s restaurant, he meets Meera and finds out that his Uncle Jay has taken over the family business.

When Amar meets his father, his father tries to give him wise words to hold his head high and explains to him why the restaurant didn’t go to him and his father tells him that he wants him to work hard to earn his own self-respect.

As Amar is unemployed, and when he meets up with Akbar, Akbar tells him that a restaurant defaulted and he wants Akbar to run it, since he has restaurant experience and that there is a room upstairs that he can live in, rent free as payment for saving his life from the attack three years ago.

But with Amar out of prison, how will life work out for Amar, Akbar & Tony?


VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Amar Akbar & Tony” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio) and for the most part, picture quality is as good as it can get on DVD.  While I wished the film was released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber, for the most part picture quality is very good.

The soundtrack is in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and while dialogue is crystal clear, the film features a lot of music which sounds great on DVD.  Surround channels are reserved for ambiance and crowd-based scenes.

 

Closed Captions are included.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Amar Akbar & Tony” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Director Atul Malhotra
  • Cast commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Karen David, Laura Aikman, Rez Kempton, Sam Vincenti and Martin Delaney.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Footage – (3:34) Featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the film.
  • Deleted Scenes – (9:22) Deleted scenes from the film.
  • On Location – (2:50) A featurette featuring the crew and talent on location.
  • Premiere Footage – (1:20) Featuring the premiere of “Amar Akbar & Tony” and cast and guests posing for photographers.
  • Trailer – The theatrical trailer for “Amar Akbar & Tony”.

In America, we are often introduced to buddy films that involve the banal, sex, drugs and hilarious (or really dumb) comedy.

But with Atul Malhotra’s “Amar Akbar & Tony”, we have a buddy film that has the sex and comedy but most importantly, it showcases three friends, a Sikh, a Muslim and an Irish Catholic.

A homage to the classic 1977 Indian action comedy film “Amar Akbar Anthony” about friends who were also raised in three different faiths but a much different setting (and also deals with criminal syndicates and revenge), “Amar Akbar & Tony” is a film that begins like comedy.

Almost reminiscent to a scene in the ’80s film “The Wanderers” where friends cajole their buddy to take part in a game to talk to women, Akbar gets their buddy Tony to talk to a beautiful woman, who happens to have an overprotective brother that will kill anyone who gets near her.

But the direction of the film changes when law school graduate and newly engaged Amar gets caught up in Tony’s mess, when the brother comes to a club where the friends are at and a fight ensues.  The man pulls out a knife but before anyone can get hurt, Amar grabs the mans arm and while struggling, the man ends up getting stabbed.  And poor Amar, who just celebrated his engagement party and a celebration to his new job in law, now sees everything disappear  as he is arrested and eventually serves three years in prison.

While Tony serves as the film’s source of comedy due to his hijinks of trying to find a woman, Amar finds himself getting closer to his uncle’s wife, while Akbar finds himself falling for a Caucasian woman named Samantha.

And the film does explore race relations because Akbar is Muslim and his family as Samantha’s family is curious about Akbar’s family and how they feel about Muslim extremists and terrorism.

But for the most part, I found it fascinating of how writer/director Atul Malhotra was able to craft a multicultural film that touches upon race relations, family, arranged marriages, marriage, homosexuality, honor and losing face within society for a crime or something troublesome to the culture.

There are a variety of topics that the film touches upon and while it seems those topics can get too deep and serious, Malhotra manages to keep things loose, enjoyable and entertaining.

Picture quality and audio is as good as one can expect on DVD.  But as for special features, while there are numerous featurettes and deleted scenes, the film also comes with two audio commentary tracks.

Overall, Atul Malhotra’s “Amar Akbar & Tony” is an entertaining comedy film that touches upon culture and contemporary life in London without having to become deep or banal.  Recommended!

 

Who’s Crazy? (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Thomas White’s “Who’s Crazy?” is a fascinating film that captures creative energy on film but also through the mesmerizing music of Ornette Coleman Trio.  A wonderful, frenetic blend of free cinema and free jazz that I highly recommend.

Images courtesy of © 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Who’s Crazy?

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1966

DURATION: 73 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), English 2.0 Stereo, B&W

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: July 25, 2017


Directed by Thomas White, Allan Zion

Written by Thomas White, Allan Zion

Produced by Thomas White, Allan Zion

Music by Ornette coleman, David Izenzon, Charles Moffett

Cinematography by Bernard Daillencourt

Edited by Denise de Casabianca


Starring:

Wimme Andre

Melvin Clay

Tom Edmonston

Carl Einhorn

Michael Elias

Warren Finnerty

Peter Glaze

Gene Gordon

Diane Gregory

Leroy House

Nona Howard

Steven Ben Israel

Gene Lipton

Michele Mareck

Dorothy Shari

William Shari

Barry Shuck

Esther Silber

Luke Theodore

Steve Thompson

James Tiroff

Lester Waldman


Long thought to be lost until the only surviving copy was salvaged from director Thomas White s garage, Who s Crazy? (1966) is a wild, free-form burst of 1960s experimentalism.

Accompanied by an ecstatic original soundtrack by the great Ornette Coleman, and starring actors from The Living Theatre, Who s Crazy? follows a group of mental patients who hole up in a deserted Belgian farmhouse, where they cook large quantities of eggs and condemn one of their own in an impromptu court. The actors don t have much need for words when they can dance around, light things on fire, and drip hot wax on each other instead.

Ornette Coleman and the other members of his trio David Izenzon and Charles Moffett recorded their score for Who s Crazy? in one go while the film was projected for them, and the result feels like a slapstick silent film with the greatest possible accompaniment.


Back in the ’60s, many creative individuals looked towards experimentation with media.  May it be musical or film, it was the sign of the times.

And for Thomas White, who lived in Paris at the time, produced a semi-improvised movie featuring the members of the avante-garde Living Theater and featured the music by the free jazz innovator Ornette Coleman and bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett.

While the film was screened at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival, the film was never seen again and was considered as lost.

But filmmaker Vanessa McDonnell, a fan of Ornette Coleman, started a search for the film after Coleman’s death (she saw a short version online via streaming video website Vimeo and found Thomas White’s name) and wanted to find out if a surviving copy exists.  So, looking for a Thomas White, she contacted every Thomas White she can find and managed to find Thomas White in Connecticut and learned that he had a print of the film in the shelf of his garage and has been there for decades.

As White lived a Bohemian lifestyle in Paris, next door to his apartment was a fathering place for musicians, writers and artists.  And that is how he was able to recruit members of the Living Theater to take part of his film in 1964.

And immediately, the film was cleaned and repaired by Anthology Film Archives and the film which was screened in 2016, is now made available to the public via Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The film which was fully improvised begins with a bus transporting psychiatric patients in the middle of nowhere.  When the bus breaks down, an in inmate runs and as the two guards go after him, the rest of the patients escape from their keepers and run to an abandoned farmhouse to take shelter and creating their own new beatnik society.

And as the patients take part in various activities such as playing music, screaming, trying out breathing exercises, staring into one’s eyes, playing with candles, taking part in a ritual or wedding and more.


VIDEO:

“Who’s Crazy?” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:331 aspect ratio) and is presented in black and white. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is very good in terms of clarity and sharpness and Anthology Film Archives did a good job with restoring the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Who’s Crazy?” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the music presented for this release is a wonderful as the music is a key highlight as it features the Ornette Coleman trio and just listening to the musical soundtrack, it was magnificent.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Who’s Crazy?” comes with the following special features:

  • David, Moffett & Ornett – (28:17) Featuring a 1966 episode of Tempo International.
  • Q&A with Director Thomas White – (27:48) Moderated by Vanessa McDonnell and Nicolas Rapold, courtesy of the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
  • Trailer – The theatrical trailer for “Who’s Crazy?”.

EXTRAS:

Includes a booklet essay by Adam Shatz, contributing editor at the “London Review of Books”


Call it experimental.  Call it avant garde.  Call it a film that was a sign of the times.

Watching Thomas White’s “Who’s Crazy?” brings us a creative look into a film where everything is improvised, everything goes and while watching these individuals, who happened to be members of the Living Theater, improvising and coming up with things creative and wild.  And while the troupe do their thing, captivating one’s senses it he music by the Ornette Coleman Trio.

What people may not realize is that visually, you are watching actors being creative.  Not knowing what will come next but just running with it while Thomas White captures them on film.  And as wild and crazy they may be, Ornette Coleman and his technique could be seen as the same.  A master of the alto sax (and other instruments), hearing his music sets the mood as these individuals, who happen to be psychiatric patients, enjoying their freedom.

While one must think this is a film about mental health, director Thomas White has said it wasn’t.   While mental health is in the forefront of news today, the mindset towards the mentally ill were different.   This film is not about people suffering but creative freedom, the freedom of expression and free will.

Gone are the prison clothes and when the men and women get dressed up, the group shows us a display of limitless energy.

But as the film will be enjoyed by man, one of the biggest inclusions to the Blu-ray release of “Who’s Crazy?” is the inclusion of “David, Moffett & Ornette”, a 1966 episode in which one see what has taken place behind-the-scenes in the making of this film as the Ornette Coleman and musicians play to what they see on screen but also the mindset of the times and the disagreements that people had.

Watching this featurette alone, you can’t help but be amazed to see the music being played and recorded.  It gave me a deeper appreciation for the music for the film.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray release also features the Q&A with director Thomas White recorded in 2016 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and also included is a booklet essay by Adam Shatz, contributing editor at the “London Review of Books”.

Overall, Thomas White’s “Who’s Crazy?” is a fascinating film that captures creative energy on film but also through the mesmerizing music of Ornette Coleman Trio.  A wonderful, frenetic blend of free cinema and free jazz that I highly recommend.

 

Zaza (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

If you are a silent film fan, definitely consider Allan Dwan’s “Zaza” and discover one of many films featuring legendary actress, Gloria Swanson.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1923 Paramount Pictures. 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Zaza

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1923

DURATION: 84 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), B&W,

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: June 6, 2017


Based on the Play by Pierre Berton and Charles Simon

Directed by Allan Dwan

Written by Albert S. Le Vino

Produced by Allan Dwan

Executive Producer: Adolph Zukor

Music Performed by Jeff Rapsis

Cinematography by  Harold Rosson


Starring:

Gloria Swanson as Zaza

H. B. Warner as Bernard Dufresne

Ferdinand Gottschalk as Duke de Brissac

Lucille La Verne as Aunt Rosa

Mary Thurman as Florianne

Yvonne Hughes as Nathalie, Zaza’s Maid

Riley Hatch as Rigault

L. Rogers Lytton as Stage Manager


Gloria Swanson is all flounce and swagger as Zaza, a street gamine turned music hall star, strutting her stuff, tossing off quips and taunts with her irrepressible backside, which is sometimes adorned with a pert bow for emphasis. Over the course of the film, directed by Allan Dwan (Robin Hood), she engages in two knock-down drag-out cat fights, frisks through playful love scenes, writhes in a hospital bed, nurses a broken heart, and evolves into a soberly dignified woman. Her physicality dominates the film, which does not suffer from being essentially a well-crafted frame for her performance. Swanson s ebullience in Zaza was unfeigned; she called it the fastest, easiest, most enjoyable picture I ever made. Imogen Sara Smith


Back in 1899, the French play “Zaza” had entertained audiences.  So, popular that the play was produced on Broadway and the first film adaptation was released by Paramount in 1915.

While there were a few more adaptations of “Zaza” created, in 1923, a silent romantic drama directed and produced by Allan Dwan (“Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, “Sands of Iwo Jima”, “Robin Hood”) and executive produced by Adolph Zukor was released.

Starring Gloria Swanson (“Sunset Boulevard”, “Queen Kelly”, “The Trespasser”, “Indiscreet”), H.B. Warner (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”), Ferdinand Gottschalk (“Grand Hotel”, “Les Miserables”, “Tonight or Never”), Lucille La Verne, Mary Thurman, Yvonne Hughes, Riley Hatch and L. Rogers Lytton.

And a print of the film is housed at the George Eastman House and the Library of Congress.

During this time, Gloria Swanson was the most sought-after actress in Hollywood and a box office draw for Paramount.  In fact, what she wore on screen influenced fashion  all over the world.

And now the silent classic will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Zaza” is set in France and begins with showing us how Zaza (portrayed by Gloria Swanson) is a popular performer with a temperament.  Often taking things out on her maid Nathalie (portrayed by Mary Thurman) when she loses things and is frustrated, when she is kind, she can be a major giver of fine jewelry to her maid.

Meanwhile, many men desire Zaza including Duke de Brissac (portrayed by Ferdinand Gottschalk) but the only man Zaza is interested in is Bernard Dufresne (portrayed by H.B. Warner) of the diplomatic corps.  Who often comes to visit the stage as he also fancies Zaza.

While Florianne (portrayed by Mary Thurman), Zaza’s stage rival, was once popular in the Odeon, she also fancies Dufresne.

At the show, it was said whoever catches Zaza’s shoe can be with her and when one man comes to claim his “prize”, he manhandles Zaza, in which Bernard Dufresne comes to her rescue.

But as both Zaza and Florianne vie for Dufresne’s attention, which woman will win?

Meanwhile, what secrets is Bernard hiding from Zaza?  And will the fact that Bernard lives far from Zaza affect any chance of a relationship?


VIDEO:

“Zaza” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:331 aspect ratio) and is presented in black and white. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is very good in terms of clarity and sharpness. The film is does have scratches but for the most part, the film looks very good on Blu-ray considering its over 90-years old.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Zaza” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the music presented for this release is a wonderful piano score by Jeff Rapsis.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Zaza” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Frederic Lombardi (author of Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios)

A silent romantic drama about love discovered, distance that hinders romance but secrets that can tear people apart.

This is the story of “Zaza”, among one of the well-known silent films starring the legendary actress Gloria Swanson and actor H.B. Warner and also one of the last films to star Mary Thurman (who could come down with pneumonia working on a film a year later and would die from complications from the illness the following year), who was also engaged to the film’s director, Allan Dwan.

In some ways, since the film is based on a play, the film can also get a little bit of exhausting wondering if these two individuals, Swanson’s Zaza and Warner’s Dufresne would be together.

While Zaza comes off as impetuous and bombastic early in the film, we see her character transform.  Transformed by love, by jealousy, by anger and by sadness.  Gloria Swanson had to no doubt show various sides of Zaza and for the most part, it was a very well-done performance.  From emotional to even action as she and Thurman’s Florianne engage in a few tussles onscreen.

H.B. Warner plays a stoic Bernard Dufresne.  A man who is captivated by Zaza but there is something preventing him from going to far in his relationship wtih Zaza, which we find out the truth later in the film.

The film on Blu-ray features wonderful detail for the film over 90-years old and for its lossless audio, you get a piano score composed and performed by Jeff Rapsis, adapted from the original 1923 cue sheet.  And also included is a very informative audio commentary by Frederic Lombardi.

Overall, I really welcome Allan Dwan’s “Zaza” on Blu-ray.  One of the things that I hope to see is more silent actresses films on Blu-ray.  There have been so much focus on Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, on Blu-ray, which is understandable but it would be nice to see more Pickford, more Swanson, more Gish, Bow, Brooks, Talmadge, Normand, Davies, Bara, Thomas, to name a few on Blu-ray.  So, Gloria Swanson’s “Zaza” on Blu-ray is a major plus and hopefully this means more silent actress greats and their films will be featured on Blu-ray in the near future.

If you are a silent film fan, definitely consider Allan Dwan’s “Zaza” and discover one of many films featuring legendary actress, Gloria Swanson.  Recommended!

 

The Son of the Sheik (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Son of the Sheik” is no doubt an exciting romance/action silent film worth watching.  And will forever be remembered as a Rudolph Valentino classic.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1926 Artcinema Associates. 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Son of the Sheik

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1926

DURATION: 80  Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p, Color tinted, DTS-Master Audio 2.0

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: May 30, 2017


Based on the Novel by Edith Maude Hull

Directed by George Fitzmaurice

Screen Adaptation by Frances Marion, Fred De Gresac

Titles by George Marion Jr.

Produced by George Fitzmaurice

Music Composed and Performed by Alloy Orchestra

Cinematography by George Barnes


Starring:

Rudolph Valentino as Ahmed/The Sheik

Vilma Banky as Yasmin

George Fawcett as Andre

Montagu Love as Ghabah

Karl Dane as Ramadan

Bull Montana as Mountebank

Agnes Ayres as Diana – Wife of the Sheik


In this visually intoxicating sequel to Valentino’s career-defining film The Sheik, the silent screen’s greatest lover portrays a cultured yet untamed young man who is lured into a thieve’s trap by a beautiful dancer, Yasmin (Vilma Banky). After escaping, he kidnaps the damsel and holds her captive in his desert lair, dressing her in Arabian finery and threatening to unleash his violent passion upon her. Exotic romance saturates every frame of this Orientalist epic; its sadomoasochistic fantasies are acted out against the lavish set design of William Cameron Menzies (The Thief of Bagdad) and lushly photographed by George Barnes (Sadie Thompson). The Son of the Sheik proved to be Valentino’s final film. He died suddenly on August 23rd, 1926 at the age of 31, just before the picture’s release. This edition is mastered from the best surviving 35mm elements and features a dazzling score by Alloy Orchestra.


In 1921, “The Sheik” was the film that launched Hollywood’s first male sex symbol, Rudolph Valentino.

Despite the success of “The Sheik” and his 1922 film “Blood and Sand”, due to his divorce with Jean Acker and the negative publicity he had received for being romantically involved with silent film costume and set designer, Natacha Rambova, thus earning a reputation of a bigamist, he was also in a battle against Famous Players which earned him a reputation of having an ego and being a diva for not settling for the proposed salary that they had given him.

And Valentino would then go on a break until his return to make more films and eventually signing with United Artists thanks to his friends and fellow silent actors, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks.  And in 1926, he would go on to film “The Son of the Sheik” despite his known hatred to use the sheik image.  But took on the role in order to pay off his debts.

While “The Son of the Sheik”, which is based on a 1925 romance novel by Edith Maude Hull was a success in the box office (grossing $1,000,000 within the first year of its release) and many decades later would be selected for preservation in the United Stations National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, it was not a film that Valentino would enjoy.

While on a nationwide tour to promote the film, Valentino collapsed in his New York hotel room and doctors discovered that he had a perforated ulcer which required surgery.  But unfortunately, after the surgery, Valentino developed peritonitis and would die on August 23, 1926.  As critics raved Valentino’s performance as his best, the film would be released two weeks after the actor’s death.

“The Son of Sheik” was directed by George Fitzmaurice (“Suzy”, “Raffles”, “The Devil to Pay!”) and features a screen adaptation by Frances Marion (“Camille”, “The Scarlet Letter”, “The Red Mill”) and Fred De Gresac (“Sweet Hearts”, “Vida Bohemia”, “Hell Harbor”).

The film would star Valentino in a dual role as The Sheik (of the original film) and who is the father of the film’s protagonist, Ahmed.  The film would also star Agnes Ayres reprising her role as Dianna, the mother of Ahmed.  And the film would star Vilma Banky (“The Eagle”, “The Winning of Barbara Worth”, “The Awakening”), George Fawcett (“Flesh and the Devil”, “The Wedding March”, “The Merry Widow”), Montagu Love (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “Gunga Din”, “The Mark of Zorro”) and Karl Dane (“The Big Parade”, “The Big House”, “The Scarlet Letter”).

And now “The Son of the Sheik” will be released on Blu-ray in May 2017 (as well as the 1921 film, “The Sheik”) by Kino Lorber.

The film begins with an introduction to a gang of criminals who disguise themselves as a troupe.  The daughter of the gang’s leader is Yasmin (portrayed by Vilma Banky) who is a dancing girl that performs in front of men and keeps their eyes fixed on her, while her father and his men do their crimes.

One day while dancing in the ruins of Touggourt, she and Ahmed (portrayed by Rudolpha Valentino), the son of the Sheik (an older version of the character from the the first film, also played by Valentino), fall for each other and have a secret romance.  When one of the men catches the two together, her father is disappointed as she is promised to Ghabah (portrayed by Montagu Love).

Meanwhile, Ahmed is captured by the gang, as they feel they could collect a large ransom because he is the son of the Sheik.  When Ahmed asks for Yasmin, he is told by Ghabah that it was all a ruse and that Yasmin was faking everything to lure him in.  Ahmed is beaten and tortured.

While Ahmed’s men would come and rescue him, Ahmed can’t believe the woman he loved was using him.

Will his love turn to anger?  And when his father finds out that Ahmed was having a romantic relationship with a dancing girl, how will his parents react?


VIDEO:

“The Son of the Sheik” is presented in 1080p High Definition(1:331 aspect ratio) and is color-tinted. It’s important to note that the last version I have of this DVD is the 2000 Kino Lorber DVD. And I can say that the quality of the film on Blu-ray is much better in terms of clarity and sharpness. The film is color-tinted (not black and white) and while there are scratches and some frames look blurrier, the entire film actually looks very good considering the film is over 90-years old. The picture quality is definitely an improvement over the 2000 DVD.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Son of the Sheik” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the music presented for this release is music composed and performed by Alloy Orchestra.  The orchestra version really gives an exciting adventure-action film type of feel to it. but I’m sure there are people who may be wondering if a second musical score is included and the theatre organ score by Jack Ward featured on the 2000 Kino Lorber DVD is not included on this Blu-ray release.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Son of the Sheik” comes with the following special features:

  • Introductions by Orson Welles –  (17:34) Orson Welles discusses Valentino and “The Son of the Sheik”.
  • Newspaper Headlines Announcing Valentino’s Illness and Death – (1:29) Newspaper clips featuring the headlines regarding Valentino’s illness and death.
  • Valentino: His Life and Times – (8:32) A short documentary about Rudolph Valentino.
  • Valentino at the Beach – A Short Subject – (2:25) A small short shot during a time Rudolph Valentino was not with a film company.
  • The Young Rajah Theatrical Trailer – (2:30) A trailer for Valentino’s 1922 film “The Young Rajah”.

As Rudolph would continue to make women swoon and men would question his masculinity because of the actor’s European upbringing and style.  While it has been a few years since Valentino had a major box office hit, “The Son of the Sheik” would become the actor’s finest film that would earn a significant amount of money in the box office for its time.

But the film would also showcase the final work of Valentino, as the actor passed away during the promotion of the film at the young age of 31.

Reuniting both Valentino and his “The Eagle” co-star, Vilma Banky to star in a film showcasing the love and passion between the two individuals, their love is put to the test as Valentino, playing the young Ahmed (son of “The Sheik” character of Ahmed) is captured, tortured by a gang and offered for ransom.  To make things worse, the gang puts in Ahmed’s head that his girlfriend Yasmin was using him and was in on the plan of luring him.

While Ahmed is eventually freed by his men, he has developed a hatred towards the woman he once loved.  But what happens when he captures Yasmin and keeps him at his home, his father, The Sheik is disappointed in his son’s actions.

Meanwhile, the gang wants Yasmin back and it would lead to an action-packed battle between Ahmed, his father and their soldiers versus this gang of ruffians.  What will happen to Ahmed and Yasmin?  Can their love be tested in such fashion and can these two overcome this test?  Or will Ahmed’s hatred towards Yasmin for thinking he wronged him, start to consume him?

A worthy sequel to “The Sheik”, which showcases Valentino in dual roles and also featuring the return of Agnes Ayres as the Sheik’s wife, Dianna, the sequel was a major success because of its stars but also because it had a sultry storyline which showcase Valentino and Banky showing amazing chemistry (on the big screen) with one another.  But also delivers in action, which many people will love because there is so much of it.

So, there is a good balance of drama and action in “The Son of the Sheik” and it’s a silent film that showcases Valentino’s strength as an actor.

As the film looks fantastic on Blu-ray and the Alloy Orchestra musical score is quite awesome.  But I can understand if there are those who are not thrilled that Jack Ward’s theatre organ score from the 2000 Kino Lorber DVD is not included on this Blu-ray release.

You also get a few special features which also includes another different way of seeing the funeral of Valentino, news headlines of his sickness and his death but also an introduction by Orson Welles showing his respect towards Valentino.

Overall, “The Son of the Sheik” is no doubt an exciting romance/action silent film worth watching.  And will forever be remembered as a Rudolph Valentino classic.  Recommended!

 

The Sheik (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Sheik” is a film that no doubt made Valentino popular despite the fact that in reality, he didn’t care for the film, nor being a Sheik. But it did cement him as Hollywood’s first sex symbol and those details may overshadow the actual film, “The Sheik” is still quite entertaining after all these years. And one should at least watch this film before watching “The Son of the Sheik”. Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1921 BY AMOUS PLAYERS AND LASKY CORP. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Sheik

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1921

DURATION: 75 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p, Color tinted, DTS-Master Audio 2.0

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: May 30, 2017


Based on the Novel by Edith Maude Hull

Directed by George Melford

Adaptation by Monte M. Katterjohn

Music Composed and Performed by Ben Model

Cinematography by William Marshall


Starring:

Rudolph Valentino as The Sheik, Ahmed Ben Hassan

Agnes Ayres as Lady Diana Mayo

Ruth Miller as Zilah

George Waggner as Yousaef, Tribal Chieftain

Frank Butler as Sir Aubrey Mayo

Charles Brinley as Mustapha Ali, Diana’s Guide

Lucien Littlefield as Gaston

Adolphe Menjou as Dr. Raoul de St. Hubert

Walter Long as Omair, the Bandit


Hollywood’s first male sex symbol, Rudolph Valentino, appears in his most iconic roles in The Sheik (1921). Agnes Ayres stars as Lady Diana Mayo, a headstrong Western woman who infiltrates the private party of the handsome Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Valentino). When the Sheik later encounters Diana in the desert, he abducts her and takes her to his sumptuous lair. Unable to resist the Sheik’s cruel magnetism, Diana’s defiant nature crumbles and she begins to develop affectionate feelings for her captor. The Sheik plays upon a long tradition of Orientalism in Western art, which romanticized the sands of Northern Africa as a hotbed or seduction and captivity. Theatrical organ score by Ben Model.


“The Sheik”, it was the film that launched Hollywood’s first male sex symbol, Rudolph Valentino.

A man who made women swoon and angered many men due to being different from the typical male actors of his time, as Valentino was seen as a man who was very much into high fashion, slicking back his hair and was considered by the American male populace as being effeminate.

Needless to say, while Valentino was very much a different looking man in Hollywood courtesy of his Italian father and French mother and raised with a European influence.

And with the success of the 1921 film, “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”, earning $1,000,000 at the box office and Valentino’s looks, it would ear lead to Valentino working with Famous Players-Lasky (which would become Paramount Pictures) and Jessy Lasky wanting to capitalize on Valentino’s looks, cast him for “The Sheik” as the film’s protagonist Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan.

The film is based on the bestselling romance novel by Edith Maude Hull and the adaptation was directed by George Melford and the adaptation written by Monte M. Katterjohn.

“The Sheik” starred Valentino along with Agnes Ayres (“Forbidden Fruit”, “Eve’s Love Letters”), Ruth Miller (“The King of Kings”, “The Affairs of Anatol”), George Waggner (who would later become a director of films such as “The Wolf Man”, “77 Sunset Strip”, “Operation Pacific”), Frank Butler (who would go on to write films such as “Going My Way”, “Road to Morocco”, “Road to Bali”, Babes in Toyland”), Charles Brinley (“Moran of the Lady Letty”, “In the Days of Daniel Boone”), Lucien Littlefield (“Sons of the Desert”, “The Little Foxes”), Adolphe Menjou (“Paths of Glory”, “A Star is Born”, “A Farewell to Arms”) and Walter Long (“The Birth of a Nation”, “Intolerance”).

And now the film will be released on Blu-ray  Kino Lorber in May 2017.

The film begins with an introduction to Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan as the Arabs are having a wife lottery.

Meanwhile, in the North African town of Biskra, we are introduced to the independent Lady Diana Mayo (portrayed by Agnes Ayres).  Many of the women are gossiping about Lady Diana because she plans to go to the desert alone and take on a month-long trip escorted only by natives.

While her brother tries to convince her to not go, Lady Diana is dead set in going.  And her friend proposes to her but she tells him that she doesn’t want to be married because it would make her a captive and she would rather live a life of freedom.

As she goes to a local casino, the people tell her she can not enter because an important Sheik, Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan is there for the evening and because she is not Arab, she is not permitted to go inside.  But when the Sheik arrives, he is captivated by Lady Diana’s beauty.

And Lady Diana decides to sneak into the casino by swapping clothes with a dancer and disguising herself as one of the women.  And what Lady Diana sees is women being given away for her marriage, which she can’t fathom.  And when Lady Diana is selected as one of the women to be put up in the lottery, the Sheik sees the woman’s reluctance and realizes its the woman he saw outside of the casino.  And for her protection, he escorts her out of the casino.  And he is told by Lady Diana’s guide that he will be escorting her for her trip.

As Lady Diana goes to ride with her guide for her month-long trip through the desert, the Sheik and his men arrive with their horses and while Lady Dianna tries to flee, the Sheik captures Lady Diana and takes her to his home.

As Diana is distraught and wants to leave, the Sheik tells her that she will learn to love him.

And as her captive, will she learn to love him or will she escape from him?


VIDEO:

“The Sheik” is presented in 1080p High Definition and is color-tinted.  It’s important to note that the last version I have of this DVD is the 2002 Image Entertainment DVD.  And I can say that the quality of the film on Blu-ray is much better in terms of clarity and sharpness.  The film is color-tinted and while there are scratches and some frames look blurrier, the entire film actually looks very good considering the film is nearly a hundred years old.  The picture quality is definitely an improvement over the 2002 DVD.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Sheik” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the music presented for this release is music composed and performed by Ben Model.  And once again, another splendid musical composition by Ben but I’m sure there are people who may be wondering if a second musical score is included, there is only one and the Gaylord Carter composition is not included.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Sheik” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by historian Gaylyn Studlar.
  • Archival Footage  – (3:02) Archived footage taken at Rudolph Valentino’s funeral.
  • “Blood and Sand” (1922) Theatrical Trailer – (2:02) The original theatrical trailer.

Considered as one of the biggest box office silent films and also socially influential films of all time, “The Sheik” is also known for propelling the career of Rudolph Valentino, making him Hollywood’s first sex symbol.

In someway, the film was an unknown risk.  As Edith Maude Hull’s best selling novel “The Sheik” was controversial for racial miscegenation and rape, the film left out certain aspects from the film.

The other risk was by Jesse Lasky of Famous Players-Lasky (which would eventually become Paramount Pictures) casting the not too established actor, Rudolph Valentino.  But wanting to capitalize on Valentino’s “Latin Lover” reputation, the risk paid off as many women turned out to the film to watch Valentino on the big screen.

For me, watching the film again over a decade later, I appreciate the film much more today.  For one, the film features Lady Diana Mayo, an independent woman, who speaks against herself getting married, as she sees marriage as being in captivity and the end of independence.  And the character, keeps her strong demeanor throughout the film, despite being distraught of being captured and possibly being forced to do things against her will.

In the original novel, the character of Lady Diana was raped by the Sheik but in the film, while the Sheik wants to take advantage of her, he sees her crying and distraught, that he decides to leave her alone.  Many critics wrote that they wish there was no deviation from the original novel, but perhaps rape would be strong for a major film and it works to the favor of Rudolph Valentino as he is shown as a man with sensitivity and not going primal and making his captive, his sexual plaything.

I also am in awe of how far the director and film crew had gone to ensure a desert setting involving many extras, especially many who are on horseback.  And while there is no clear answer of where the film was shot, set design to costume design is really well-done for this 1921 classic silent film.

My enjoyment of watching this film on HD is seeing the clarity of the film on Blu-ray versus how things looked on DVD 15-years ago.  While not pristine, the film still looks much better than it ever has.  And for the accompany musical score by Ben Model, he did a wonderful job scoring the film from beginning to end.  And you also get a small featurette featuring Valentino’s funeral and the original theatrical trailer for “Blood & Sand”.

While “The Sheik” will be remembered for being a successful film that propelled both Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres, a film so beloved by women that it made women in the audience faint and “The Sheik” would also become part of teenage lingo and even created a fashion trend for Arabian clothing.  And the moniker “Valentino” has been used to describe certain type of guys still goes on today, despite many of those saying it, probably don’t know much about Rudolph Valentino at all.

“The Sheik” is a film that no doubt made Valentino popular despite the fact that in reality, he didn’t care for the film, nor being a Sheik.  But it did cement him as Hollywood’s first sex symbol and those details may overshadow the actual film, “The Sheik” is still quite entertaining after all these years. And one should at least watch this film before watching “The Son of the Sheik”.

Recommended!

 

The Gianfranco Rosi Collection (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Each of these four films presented in the “Gianfranco Rosi Collection” are entertaining but also highlight the artful technique of the skillful documentarian, Gianfranco Rosi.  Observational and enlightening, “The Gianfranco Rosi Collection” is an excellent addition to one’s cinema collection featuring the works of one of the most awarded and and respected documentarians of today.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2017 Kino Lorber, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Gianfranco Rosi Collection

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: Fire at Sea (2016), Below Sea Level (1988), Boatman (1993), Sacro GRA (2013)

DURATION: Fire at Sea (113 Minutes), Below Sea Level (117 Minutes), Boatman (57 Minutes), Sacro GRA (91 Minutes)

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: Fire at Sea (1:85:1, 5.1 Surround), Below Sea Level (1:85:1, 2.0 Stereo), Boatman (1:33:1, 2.0 Stereo), Sacro GRA (1:78:1, 2.0 Stereo)

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: PG

RELEASE DATE: April 25, 2017


Fire at Sea

Written by Gianfranco Rosi

Idea by Carla Cattani

Produced by Roberto Cicutto, Paolo Del Brocco, Camille Laemle, Serge Lalou, Donatella Palermo, Gianfranco Rosi, Martine Saada

Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Olivier Pere

Cinematography by Gianfranco Rosi

Edited by Jacopo Quadri

Blow Sea Level

Written by Gianfranco Rosi

Boatman

Written by Gianfranco Rosi


Fire at Sea

Samuele Pucillo, Pietro Bartolo, Samuele Caruana, Maria Costa, Maria Signorello, Mattias Cucina, Francesco Paterna, Giuseppe Fragapane, Francesco Mannino


Gianfranco Rosi has emerged as one of the most awarded and provocative documentarians working today. His observational films artfully and sympathetically depict the lives of subcultures and displaced peoples the world over. The Gianfranco Rosi Collection includes four of his greatest films. Fire at Sea (2016), an Academy Award® Nominee for Best Documentary Feature and winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, is a heartwrenching portrait of African refugees pouring into the Italian island of Lampedusa. Sacro GRA (2013), winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, is an engaging tour of Rome s ring road, populated by a fascinating group of eccentrics. Rosi spent five years shooting Below Sea Level (2008), which documents the hand-to-mouth existence of California flatland squatters. And his first feature, Boatman (1993), captures life and death on the Ganges River in India.


One of the most prominent documentary filmmakers in Italy is Giafranco Rosi.  A man who not only directs, also is a camera operator, producer and screenwriter.

Rosi gained prominence when his 2013 documentary “Sacro GRA” won a Golden Lion at the 70th Venice International Film Festival and was the first documetnar film to win a Golden Lion in the history of the Venice Film Festival and the first Italian film to win at the festival in 15 years.

Rosi followed up with another award-winning documentary in 2016 titled “Fire at Sea”, which won a Golden Bear at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival.

Rosi has created a total of six films since 1993 and now his four films: “Fire at Sea”, “Below Sea Level”, “Boatman” and “Sacro GRA” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The first film featured is Rosi’s most recent film “Fire at Sea” (2016) and is shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa.  Shot during the European migrant crisis but also featuring the reality of many people who are refugees and those who risk their lives to travel through the Mediterranean Sea in hopes to get to Lampedusa and start a new life.

The film gives us perspectives of those living in Lampedusa.  A young boy named Samuele who belongs to generations of fisherman living in Lampedusa and gives us an innocent look at life on the island.  The film also shows us a perspective through the life of Dr. Bartolo, the doctor and director of the hospital at Lampedusa who is sensitive and wanting compassion towards refugees.  To not turn them away and lead them to their deaths but to let them, treat them and then discussion can begin.  But far too often the harsh reality is many who travel far to go to Lampedusa do not survive.

And we learn from the refugees of why many of them risk their lives to travel to Lampedusa.

For the 2008 film “Below Sea Level”, the film gives us a perspective of people who live their lives in Slab City, a desolate area in Imperial County, California where many RV owners and squatters from North America come to live permanently.  Some to stretch their retirement income, others to live off the grid and others to get away from society.

“Below Sea Level” was shot over a five-year period and documented the lives of a small group of homeless residents living in RV’s, buses or tents.

For Rosi’s first film “Boatman” (1993), the film is set in the River Ganges in India which stretches from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal.  The river is considered sacred and millions of Hindus cremate their dead.

It is believed by practicing Hindus that an unwed girl given a water burial will ensure she is born again into the family.  Also, due to poverty, to avoid the cost of cremation, many conduct water burials.

Also, many go into the river to cleanse themselves, believing that the river will cleanse them of sin and free them from the cycle of rebirth.

While the film interviews and showcases many who have come to the river to bury the dead including travelers who are in awe of what they are seeing, as boats run through the river with dead bodies floating up in the water.

The film focuses on a boatman whose job is to ferry people through the rivers and Rosi gives us a personal look at the life of the boatman, his job and the questions that he receives from foreigners so often.

And the final film is “Sacro GRA” (2013), the film features life for those who live along the Grande Raccordo Anulare, the ring-road highway that circles Rome.

Rosi spent two years filming and another eight months to edit and the film was inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel “Invisible Cities”, which is about Marco Polo as imagined describing his travels to the Emperor of China Kublai Khan.

The film showcases those who live near the highway such as EMS worker Roberto and taking care of his elderly mother.  Francesco is a scientist who catalogues palm trees that were ravaged by the red palm weevil.  Paolo and his daughter Amelia from northern Italy transferred to a new housing block.  Cesare is one of the last eel fisherman on the Tiber River who talks about the endangered traditions due to the GRA.  Filippo is a proprietor with a home with statues and an emporium of memorabilia that is rented out for movie sets and theater companies.  Also, to host parties and also is a B&B.  Also, life featuring prostitutes and go-go dancers at some of the neighborhoods.

No interactions with the camera, just the camera capturing the day and the life of the various people living near the GRA.


VIDEO:

For “The Gianfranco Rosi Collection”, the more recent the film, the better the picture quality.  “Fire at Sea” and “Sacro GRA” being the latest films (the former presented in 1:85:1 aspect ratio and the latter in 1:78:1 aspect ratio) by Rosi looks great on Blu-ray, “Below Sea Level” (presented in 1:85:1 aspect ratio) also looks very good, while “Boatman” being the oldest of the films, is presented in black and white 1:33:1.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

Each of the films from “The Gianfranco Rosi Collection” is presented in 2.0 stereo, with the exception of “Fire at Sea” which is is presented in Italian 5.1 surround.  “Below Sea Level” is presented in English, “Boatman” in English, Italian and Hindi” and “Sacro GRA” in Italian.  Each with optional English subtitles.

Dialogue is clear through the front channels and English subtitles are easy to read.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Gianfranco Rosi Collection” comes with the following special features:

  • Interview with Gianfranco Rosi – (5:12) Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi talks about his filming style and waiting for the right moments to shoot and how the location and the people are important.
  • Interview with Pietro Bartolo – (29:55) Interview with Pietro Bartolo, doctor and director of the hospital of Lampedusa.
  • NYFF: Q&A with Gianfranco Rosi  – (23:41) Q&A with filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi.  Q&A is moderated by Dennis Lim, courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center.

EXTRAS:

“The Gianfranco Rosi Collection” comes with a 12-page booklet featuring an essay “Unsentimental Journeys: The Films of Gianfranco Rosi” by Nicolas Rapold.


Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi is known for his attentiveness to form, waiting for the right moments to capture emotion and reactions and showcase reality in its purest form for his documentaries.

Kino Lorber’s “The Gianfranco Rosi Collection” features four different type of documentaries capturing humanity in various levels.

The first film featured is Rosi’s “Fire at Sea”, a heartbreaking film that shows us the reality of African, Syrian and other refugees from other countries who have risked their lives to leave their country in hopes for a better life in Lampadusa.

Visually, “Fire at Sea” is Gianfranco Rosi’s most impressive film.  Each shot is beautiful one side and the other side is tragic.  As the film tries to show us the more joyful side of Lampadusa of young Samuele on the island, the reality is that the island is the destination for those seeking refuge away from Africa, the Middle East and so many people perish because no other country would allow them in, but the island of Lampadusa.

We watch as a boat of African refugees arrive.  While at first you think everyone on top is safe and has made it, you start to learn the reality that the boat is a triple decker.  Those who paid more are put in the boat like sardines on top, others who have windows through the middle but those on bottom, with barely enough air to breath and to move, these are the ones that paid only a few hundred dollars less and have the most terrible conditions and where most of the dead are found.

Dr. Pietro Bartolo is a man we learn on how tragic things are, as he is the main physician and director at the hospital trying to help these refugees.  And questioning why so many have to die, when others could have let them into their countries, maybe not to live but at least give them treatment because the rid on the Mediterranean Sea is not only treacherous but they are in inhumane conditions to begin with.

And to see death as Italian authorities remove people from the boat one by one is shocking and heartbreaking and gives a new perspective to those wondering why people sacrifice their lives.  And for these people, it’s hope.  Hope that they can start a new life away from a country they once called home but is actually a living hell.  Having lived in that hell, to confront death on sea in hopes that they can survive and live a new life in a new country.

“Below Sea Level” is not as heartbreaking but more of a day in the life of those who chose to live in Scab City, away from society, homeless and all they have is whatever is in their RV or bus and just trying to make it.  Those who have called the region their home, a desolate area where many joint together to play instruments and have fun.  While others get annoyed by their neighbors.

The main highlight of the film is watching two intelligent individuals, a man and woman who are together for intelligent conversation but also for companionship.  But because their nasty living conditions with scabies and unclean areas, the female woman known as “Doctor” (who helps those in the area with medical needs) has enough and complains to her companion that she can’t live in such conditions.  But the man retorts with the fact that they are both homeless and she shouldn’t be complaining.

Others who have families, stays in touch with them via cell phone but know they chose a life of desolation.

This is not a film for one to feel bad about the individuals because for many of them, this is the life they live and are used to living.  Only a few of them want to escape that life but for the most part, it’s the only life they have lived and are comfortable with.  And Rosi just captures their conversations and their day-to-day life without questioning their lifestyle.

The third film “Boatman” is probably one of my favorites in the collection because of the correlation of what is presented on camera back in 1993 but then reading in the newspapers of the problems today.

The documentary shows us a boatman rowing through deep waters, many coming to the River Ganges to cleanse themselves of their sins or the poor to bury their loved ones in the water.  The problem today, 25-years after the film was shot is that the river has receded and the bodies are now all floating, the stench is gastly and dogs and vultures feed upon the deceased.

Eliminating the problems of the present, the film is rather interesting because we see many people who flock to the river for river burials or cleansing, travelers being taken on a tour through the river as the foreigners take pictures of the thousands who have flocked to the river, meanwhile dead bodies are floating all around.  And we learn from the Boatman of why their are bodies floating, why people bury their loved ones and while non-natives may question the Hindu tradition, the Boatman looks at it as part of life.  How it has been and no one questions it…just the foreigners who have so many questions.

Also, featured are interviews with foreigners living in India.  This includes an Italian man who is broke and homeless and stuck in India, an English doctor who cleanses himself in the waters, to foreigners who immersed themselves in Hinduism and more.

But “Boatman” is a compelling and fascinating documentary.

“Sacro GRA” is the final film which shows us the various people living near the highway circling Rome.  The winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the film is also a day-in-the-life of various people.  Whereas “Below Sea Level” features people who are homeless and living as a community in a desolate area in California, “Sacro GRA” is about the different people, each with different lives, living near Sacro GRA.

Each of these four films presented in the “Gianfranco Rosi Collection” are entertaining but also highlight the artful technique of the skillful documentarian, Gianfranco Rosi. Observational and enlightening, “The Gianfranco Rosi Collection” is an excellent addition to one’s cinema collection featuring the works of one of the most awarded and and respected documentarians of today. Recommended!

 

 

Anatahan (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Josef von Sternberg’s “Anatahan” is his personal and also his final film that looks amazing with the new 2K remaster.  If you are a fan of Josef von Sternberg’s cinematic works, you will no doubt enjoy “Anatahan”.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1976 Meri von Sternberg. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Anatahan

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1953 & 1958 (uncensored version)

DURATION: 91 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1:33:1, Monaraul English with optional English SDH Subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: PG

RELEASE DATE: April 25, 2017


Based on the Novel by Michiro Maruyama and translated by Younghill Kang

Directed by Josef von Sternberg

Screenplay by Tatsuo Asano, Josef von Sternberg

Produced by Kazuo Takimura

Executive Producer: Nagamasa Kawakita, Yoshio Osawa, Josef von Sternberg

Music by Akira Ifukube

Cinematography by Kozo Okazaki and Josef von Sternberg

Art Direction by Takashi Kono


Starring:

Akemi Negishi as Keiko Kusakabe, the “Queen Bee”

Tadashi Suganuma as Kusakabe, Husband of Keiko

Kisaburo Sawamura as Kuroda

Shoji Nakayama as Nishi

Jun Fujikawa as Yoshisato

Hiroshi Kondo as Yanaginuma

Shozo Miyashita as Sennami

Tsuruemon as Bando

Kikuji Onoe as Kaneda

Rokuriro Kineya as Marui

Daijiro Tamura as Kanzaki

Chizuru Kitagawa

Takeshi Suzuki Takahashi

Shiro Amikura

Narrator: Josef von Sternberg


Inspired by actual events, ANATAHAN explores the conflicting personalities of a dozen Japanese sailors stranded on a remote island in the Pacific during the waning days of World War II. For a time, they maintain their military discipline, but when they discover a young woman (Akemi Negishi) living on the island, the paradisal island becomes a nest of jealousy, violence, and desire. Filmed in Japan on elaborately constructed sets, with non-English-speaking actors, ANATAHAN was a deeply personal project for director Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel, Morocco, The Scarlet Empress), and provided a thoroughly unique capstone to his extraordinary career.


Anatahan.  An inhabited island in the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean due to its active and violent volcano and frequent typhoons.  But was used for coconut plantations in the 1800’s for the production of copra.

But the island was also the control of the Empire of Japan during World War I and in June 1944 during World War II, 30 survivors from three Japanese shipwrecks reached Anatahan.  But after the surrender of Japan, many of the castaways refused to believe the war had ended and fled to the interior of the island as Japanese holdouts.

But by 1950, it was realized that the holdouts were led by Kazuko Higa, the only woman left on the island and was discovered to live with a harem of five men, eleven who did of unknown circumstances until each surrendered in 1951.

The story of the holdouts inspired the film “Anatahan” (or “The Saga of Anatahan”) in 1953 by filmmaker Josef von Sternberg (“The Blue Angel”, “Dishonored”, “The Last Command”, “Shanghai Express”).

The film would receive an uncensored version, which is Sternberg’s preferred cut of the film.  Both were remastered in 2K and the 1958 version is mastered from film elements preserved by the Library of Congress and Cinematheque Francais.

The film begins in 1974 when a Japanese ship is sunk by enemy aircraft.  Survivors who swam from the Mariana’s Trench were able to find an island thought deserted.  One of the survivors found a village and when the survivors go to the village, they meet Kusakabe (portrayed by Tadashi Suganuma), a farmer of the coconut plantation.  While Kusakabe is not thrilled by seeing the men on Anatahan, he first tells them that he is alone.  But out of his home comes the beautiful Keiko (portrayed by Akemi Negishi) and immediately all the men become smitten that a beautiful woman is living on the island.

In truth, Kusakabe has a wife and son and Keiko had a husband, but everyone had evacuated on a boat during the war to Saipan four years earlier and the two were the only ones left alone and became a common law couple.

But as men try to get close to Keiko, she eventually gets close to one of the young survivors.  Kusakabe ends up beating on Keiko and warns the men to not go near his wife.

As the survivors are expecting to be rescued on the island, time goes on longer and longer and what becomes days, becomes months and eventually years.

And as time goes on, each of the men start to feel lustful towards Keiko and wanting her to belong to them.  And eventually, men succumb to savagery as they vie for her.

Will any of them be rescued or will they want to be rescued?


VIDEO:

“Anatahan” is presented in 1080p (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Presented in black and white, the film looks magnificent.  Clarity and sharpness are noticeable, blacks are nice and deep, while the contrast between white and gray levels look fantastic.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Anatahan” is presented in English Dolby Digital Monaural. Dialogue and music are crystal clear through the center channel, I didn’t notice any pops or clicks considering the age of the film. The monaural lossless soundtrack is very good.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Anatahan” comes with the following special features:

  • 1953 Theatrical Version – The original censored version of the film without any nudity.
  • Saga: The Making of Anatahan – (15:34) Interview with Nichgolas von Sternberg about his family living in Japan during the filming of “Anatahan”.
  • Visual Essay by Tag Gallagher – (16:16) Tag Gallagher’s visual essay.
  • Outtake Footage– (2:54) Featuring unused (nude) footage shot for the 1958 version of the film.
  • U.S. Navy Footage – (7:52) Actual video footage of the real Japanese holdouts who have surrendered and went home.
  • Comparison of the 1953 and 1958 versions – (8:16) A comparison of scenes and the differences between the 1953 and 1958 version of the film.

When I was younger, I would often hear stories from my family about Japanese soldiers who were still hiding in remote areas and didn’t know World War II had ended.

My parents would talk about the soldier (who turned out to be Hiroo Onda) found 30-years later in the jungles of the Philippines had refused to believe the war was over until his former commanding officer traveled to the Philippines to meet with him.

I have read about Japanese holdouts, those who refused to believe that Japan would surrender.  And that would lead me to read about Kazuko Higa and the group of sailors who were shipwrecked and found their way to the island of Anatahan, which was left uninhabited due to a vicious volcano and terrible typhoons.

The real life story of how these survivors were taken in by the real Kikuichiro Higa (who ran a coconut plantation) and his live-in wife Kazuko.

What is known is that the survivors had lived with Kazuko, a few died and stories came out that the men died as they submitted to savagery for their love for Kazuko.

Needless to say, this story which was big news in the media worldwide and also a novel based on actual events written by one of the survivors, Michiro Maruyana, translated by Younghill Kang, became an inspiration for filmmaker Josef von Sternberg to create a movie based on the true story.

With the Sternberg family living in Japan and having enjoyed their time in the country, Sternberg was able to get funding from Japanese producers and he would create his final film, “Anatahan” in 1953.  While the film did well in Japan, due to anti-Japanese sentiment (as the film was released a few years after World War II), the film didn’t do well in America.

The film was a deeply personal project for Sternberg, as he created the film for his love of Japanese culture but also wanted to create a film that had an anti-war message.  Also, a film that he was involved in ever facet down to directing, writing a screenplay, the set design, camera and more.

And the fact that all actors were Japanese and had no knowledge of English, led Sternberg to find ways to communicate with his actors of what he wanted to achieve through storyboards and creative planning.

While the film was released in 1953, a preferred uncensored cut of the film was released in 1958.  And many decades later, both versions of the film had been remastered in 2K from film elements preserved by the Library of Congress and Cinematheque Francaise.  And this remastered version is what is available in the 2017 Blu-ray release of “Anatahan” from Kino Lorber.

Watching this film, it’s not a surprise to see many lonely men being attracted to the only woman on the island with them.  In the film, Keiko Kusakabe (portrayed by actress Akemi Negishi) is attractive and sexual.  She is a common-law wife of Kusakabe, because their own loved ones had evacuated to Saipan during the outbreak of the war and the two were left behind to watch over the plantation on the island of Anatahan.

Not having heard from their loved ones, they had only each other for the next four years.  And eventually, a dozen of shipwrecked sailors now living with them and how it would become a problematic situation for Kusakabe, as he knows nearly every man wants his wife and if anything, she is the person who keeps them all going.

But as days turn to months and months turn to years, these men eventually start to think about whoever has the power (weapons) would be the leader and have the right to be with Keiko.  And this would lead certain men to challenge other men to be with Keiko.

While messages are broadcasted towards the island that Japan has surrendered, none of the soldiers believe it and think that it’s their enemies lying to them.

But while Sternberg made sure to let viewers know that the stories were from one and that actual situations can’t be verified, the story of what happened in Anatahan still remain a mystery.  Fortunately, in 1998, the story was revived by Japanese author, Kaoru Ohno who researched and interviewed a few people who survived or were rescuers and the new information became Ohno’s novel, “Cage on the Sea”.

And the more people read about the story, the real story especially what happened to the “Queen Bee”, Kazuko Hige, was just as tragic.  But many wonder how many people were killed just to be with her?  News reports have it at six.

While there are survivors who know what happened but to respect the dead, will not ever speak about how certain people were murdered.

Kazuko Hige had said that only two died because of her.  One was shot and the other was stabbed to death.  The man who was shot was the man she lived with for three years after her husband died at sea.  She lived with one man, which lasted for 20 days.  And he happened to die while fishing.  She lived with another man for two years but didn’t love him.  So, she was with a fourth man, who was responsible for stabbing man #3.  And she and man #4 lived together until they surrendered to the Americans and had said in an interview, she would go on stage to clear her name and what happened.

But the real life of Kazuko Higa after returning back to Okinawa is that she fell into prostitution and poverty, worked as a garbage collector and died at the age of 51.

Needless to say, this story is quite captivating and it’s no surprise considering the tragedies that transpired and how a lone woman was pinpointed as the person responsible.  May it be unfair, especially for media of portraying the woman they call “Queen Bee” as a tramp.  There is more to this story that we may never know what truly transpired.

But for Josef von Sternberg’s film, he was able to create a film to capture the loss of war, loyalty to one’s country, lust, passion, abuse, anger, happiness, you name it.  With two version of the film presented, I found the 1958 film to be the definitive version and it’s what Sternberg had preferred.  The main difference is that the 1958 had nudity, the 1953 film didn’t.

The 1958 version of the film featured Keiko as a woman who knew that the men are entertained by her.  She enjoyed the attention and these men wanted to see more of her.  May it be her smiling, dancing, happy and sometimes catch her nude.  She was not happy with the men she had been with in the island, he was an abuser, he had control over her and having these other men who made her happy and gave her attention, changed her life on the island.  But her naivety was somewhat of her undoing, not knowing that men would go so low to fight and kill each other for her.  In essence, a few of these men became just as bad as the man she lived with.  They wanted power and with that power, they wanted to control her.

As for the Blu-ray release, this 2K remaster looks magnificent.  The film looks sharp, clarity is much better and amazing contrast within the grays and whites of the film.  While you can hear the Japanese dialogue, the majority of the film is narrated by Josef von Sternberg who narrates over the Japanese dialogue.  But the English narration is crystal clear.  And last, you get a good number of special features included such as the interview with Nicholas von Sternberg (Josef’s son), a visual essay by Tag Gallagher, U.S. Navy footage of the actual survivors from Anatahan and a comparison between both 1953 and 1958 films.

While Josef von Sternberg may be known for his earlier films in his oeuvre such as “The Salvation Hunters” (considered to be the first American independent film), his German film “The Blue Angel” which would lead to six U.S. collaborations with actress Marlene Dietrich.  “Anatahan” should be looked at his final, personal film which he wrote, narrated, photographed and directed.  Sure, it had a limited release and was a financial failure due to anti-Japanese sentiment not long after World War II, but I do feel that many who are discovering the film today thanks to Kino Lorber’s remastered Blu-ray release will be captivated by the story.  Considering it was inspired on a real-life story.

Overall, Josef von Sternberg’s “Anatahan” is his personal and also his final film that looks amazing with the new 2K remaster.  If you are a fan of Josef von Sternberg’s cinematic works, you will no doubt enjoy “Anatahan”.  Recommended!

 

The Wanderers (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of “The Wanderers” is not only entertaining and cool, it’s the definitive version of the film to own!  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1979 Orion Pictures Company. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Wanderers

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1979

DURATION: 117 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1:85:1, DTS Stereo

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: R

RELEASE DATE: March 28, 2017


Based on the Novel by Richard Price

Directed by Philip Kaufman

Screenplay by Rose Kaufman, Philip Kaufman

Produced by Martin Ransohoff

Executive Producer: Fred C. Caruso, Richard R. St. Johns 

Associate Producer: Fred C. Caruso

Cinematography by Michael Chapman

Edited by Stuart H. Pappe, Ronald Roose

Casting by Scott Rudin

Production Design by John Jay Moore

Set Decoration by Thomas C. Tonery

Costume Design by Robert De Mora


Starring:

Ken Wahl as Richie

John Friedrich as Joey

Karen Allen as Nina

Toni Kalem as Despie Galasso

Alan Rosenberg as Turkey

Jim Youngs as Buddy

Tony Ganios as Perry

Linda Manz as Peewee

William Andrews as Emilio

Erland van Lidth as Terror

Val Avery as Mr. Sharp

Dolph Sweet as Chubby Galasso

Michael Wright as Clinton

Dion Alabanese as Teddy Wong

Olympia Dukakis as Joey’s Mom


Brand New 2K Restoration! Meet the Wanderers, the Coolest Guys in Town! Tully High School seniors Richie, Joey and Perry run with a gang called The Wanderers in the Bronx. The year is 1963 but their experiences are universal: falling in love, surviving in school and defending their turf against rivals like the Fordham Baldies, the Del Bombers and the Ducky Boys. From the acclaimed first novel by Richard Price (Clockers), The Wanderers is a rich fabric of comedy and tragedy, fantasy and farce. Director Philip Kaufman (The Right Stuff) mixes dynamic talents that include Ken Wahl (The Soldier), Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Toni Kalem (The Sopranos) and Linda Manz (Days of Heaven) with a jukebox full of golden oldies to generate a heady atmosphere. Like American Graffiti and Saturday Night Fever, this cult-classic is a nostalgic window to a vanished world. Beautifully shot by the great Michael Chapman (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). This special edition includes both the original theatrical version and the very rarely seen Preview Cut.


Back in 1979, director Philip Kaufman released his American drama film “The Wanderers” which was loosely based on the novel by Philip Price.

Featuring a screenplay by Philip Kaufman and his wife Rose, “The Wanderers” would star Ken Wahl (“Wiseguy”, “Fort Apache, The Bronx”, “Purple Hearts”), John Friedrichs (“The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”, “Thank God It’s Friday”, “The Final Terror”), Karen Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, “The Perfect Storm”), Toni Kalem (“Sister Act”, “Silent Rage”), Jim Youngs (“Footloose”, “Youngblood”, “Hotshot”), Tony Ganios (“Die Hard 2”, “Porky’s”, “Porky’s Revenge”), Linda Manz (“Days of Heaven”, “The Game”, “Out of the Blue”), William Andrews (“Saturday Night Fever”, “Plainsong”), Michael Wright (“The Interpreter”, “The Five Heartbeats”, “The Principal”) and Olympia Dukakis (“Look Who’s Talking”, “Moonstruck”).

Since its debut in 1979, “The Wanderers” has a significant cult following and with the new brand new 2K restoration, the Kino Lorber Blu-ray and DVD release of “The Wanderers” features the original 118 minute theatrical version and the very rarely seen 124 minute “Preview Cut”.

The film is set in the Bronx back in 1963 and begins with a gang of Italian-American teenagers known as the Wanderers and members Joey (portrayed by John Friedrich) and Turkey (portrayed by Alan Rosenberg) walking around.  Turkey has shaved his head in hopes he could join the rival gang, the Fordham Baldies.

Joey tries to persuade Turkey from joining and when Joey says something bad about the Baldies, the rival gang’s leader’s girlfriend Peewee (portrayed by Linda Manz) overhears them. She tells her boyfriend, Baldies leader Terror (portrayed by Erland van Lidth) and Joey and Turkey take off running and the Baldies gang chases after them.

Meanwhile, Wanderers leader, Richie (portrayed by Ken wahl) is having sex with his girlfriend Despie (portrayed by Toni Kalem), but when he hears the two in trouble, Richie and Buddy (portrayed by Jim Youngs) try to give them help but find out the entire Baldies gang is after them.

As the four Wanderers are cornered by members of the Baldies, a tall Italian guy named Perry (portrayed by Tony Ganios) comes to their rescue and beats up some of the Baldies and saves them.

As the Wanderers gang are happy that Perry came to rescue them, Joey finds out that Perry has recently moved to the Bronx from New Jersey and they live across the hall from each other.  And Perry becomes the latest member of the Wanderers.

As Joey introduces Perry to the various gangs in the school and how the Blacks and the Asians are separated from each other, during class, their teacher wanted to show them how they shouldn’t hate each other, by having the Italians and the African-American students think of derogatory terms towards each other.

Unfortunately, what the teacher was trying to get them to do and show them how they are alike, instead pits the two together and Richie and Clinton (portrayed by Michael Wright) decide to fight each other with no knives or weapons, just a fight between the two ethnic groups.

But Richie and the Wanderers know they don’t have the numbers, so they start reaching out to other ethnicities, but none of them are interested.  And those who are, want to use weapons, which Richie said he and Clinton made a promise not to.

The group try to get the Wongs involved but their leader Teddy said they will make a decision at a later time to decide who they want to side with.

So, that leaves Richie, Joey and Turkey going to the Baldies for help.  But instead, they get back at the Wanderers for their earlier skirmish and have Richie and Joe take off their pants and have Turkey do the dirty work.  And allowing Turkey to join the Baldies after betraying his friends.

Meanwhile, Richie, Joey, Perry and Buddy later have fun with the women by playing a game of “elbow titting” and Richie meets Nina (portrayed by Karen Allen).  While Richie is interested in Nina and both are flirtatious towards each other, because Richie is dating Despie, he tries to set Joey up with Nina.  And the all decide to meet up at Despie’s party.

But what happens on the night of the party?


VIDEO:

“The Wanderers” is presented in 1080p (1:85:1 aspect ratio). Watching this cult classic once again, the 2K restoration actually looks fantastic and the best I have seen of the film yet.  Details are much more evident, closeups show better detail and I like how the colors look more vibrant instead of muted colors as seen with the older VHS version of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Wanderers” is presented in English Dolby Digital Monaural.  While dialogue and music are crystal clear through the center channel, I didn’t notice any pops or clicks considering the age of the film.  The monaural lossless soundtrack is very good.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Wanderers” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Philip Kaufman.
  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an insightful audio commentary by Columbia University Film Professor 7 author of “Philip Kaufman”, Annette Insdorf.
  • Back in the Bronx with Richard Price – (35:17) Author Richard Price talks about his book “The Wanderers” and it be adapted to a film.
  • Wanderers Forever – Live Q&A At NYC’s Film Forum – (16:37) Featuring a Q&A with Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganios and Richard Price.
  • The Wanderers Q&A at LA’s Cinefamily – (31:57) A Q&A with director Philip Kaufman, Alan Roseburg and Peter Kaufman
  • Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum (19:46) An audio Q&A with director Philip Kaufman.
  • Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum – (16:41) An audio Q&A with writer Richard Price
  • Re-Release Trailer
  • TV Spot

“The Wanderers” is no doubt a cult classic that entertains audiences for its take on the Bronx life of teenagers during the early ’60s, the gangs that existed back in the day but also the segregation among ethnic groups.

It was no doubt a tough and dangerous time back in the day, and despite the film being made in 1979, director Philip Kaufman who would be known for his work on the “Indiana Jones” films, will also be celebrated for creating this film adaptation of Richard Price’s original novel.

The film featured a cast of young talent who would later go on to make a name for themselves after “The Wanderers”.

Ken Wahl was a fixture on television thanks to the “Wiseguy” but unfortunately after an accident, his acting career was over.  But he and wife Shane Barbi (of the Barbi Twins) focus their energy on animal rights issues.

Karen Allen would become a big film star in the ’80s with “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, “Starman”, “Scrooged”). Toni Kalem would star in “The Sopranos” and “Sister Act and became a filmmaker (as did Karen Allen), Linda Manz was well-known for starring in Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” in 1978 but would continue acting for two more decades and star in the David Fincher film “The Game”.

Alan Rosenberg would be seen in TV shows “The Guardian” and “Cybill” and Michael Wright would star in numerous films including “The Interpreter”, “The Five Heartbeats”, “The Principal” to name a few.

And while most of the film, these young talent would be character with their own differences, its the storyline and adaptation by Philip Kaufman that would bring these characters to life.  While not as risque as Richard Price’s original novel, “The Wanderers” manages to incorporate what people loved of films depicting ’60s life but also the film’s undertones and messages.  May it be to a reaction of JFK’s death, the music of Bob Dylan, teen fun and sexual innuendo, it’s an honest depiction of the times, including racial turbulence that was prevalent in the Bronx.

And there are numerous reasons to love the film.  For me, it was the characters, the adventures, the cultural complications, the gang lifestyle of the ’60s and as an adult, I appreciated the film so much more, in terms of character dynamics but also knowing the context of the characters and the meaning of certain scenes that I was not aware of when I saw this film in my early teens.

With the release of “The Wanderers” on Blu-ray, not only do fans get the definitive version to own but also a small reunion of characters for the film’s Q&A decades after the film was released in theaters.  But you learn about the filming and experiences behind-the-scenes as well.

I absolutely enjoyed the various Q&A featurettes but also the two insightful audio commentaries and for the most part, this is one of the most entertaining, pleasant Blu-ray releases one can own if you love “The Wanderers”.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of “The Wanderers” is not only entertaining and cool, it’s the definitive version of the film to own!  Highly recommended!

 

Deluge (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Deluge” on Blu-ray can be seen as a watching an entertaining 1933 natural disaster film, which was once considered as lost. Others may find the Blu-ray as a wonderful collection of two films starring actress Peggy Shannon.  I will say that this Blu-ray release is a fantastic collaboration between Kino Lorber and Lobster Films giving audiences the opportunity to watch and enjoy two entertaining films from the 1930’s.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2017 Kino Lorber. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Deluge

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1933

DURATION: 70 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1:33:1, English DTS-HD 2.0

COMPANY: Lobster/Kino Lorber Inc.

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: February 21, 2017


Based on the Novel by S. Fowler Wright

Directed by Felix E. Feist

Written by Warren Duff, John F. Goodrich

Produced by Samuel Bischoff, Burt Kelly, William Saal

Music by Val Burton

Cinematography by Norbert Brodine

Edited by Martin G. Coh, Rose Loewinger

Art Direction by Ralph M. DeLacy


Starring:

Peggy Shannon as Claire Arlington

Lois Wilson as Helen Webster

Sidney Blackmer as Martin Webster

Lane Chandler as Jack

Ronnie Cosby as Ronny Webster

John Elliott as Preacher

Ralf Harolde as Norwood

Samuel S. Hinds as Chief Forecaster

Fred Kohler as Jepson

Matt Moore as Tom


Newly Restored! Earthquakes in the Pacific send a massive tsunami around the globe, reducing New York City to rubble. Martin Webster (Sidney Blackmer, Rosemary’s Baby) survives the catastrophe but is separated from his wife (Lois Wilson) and children. Pairing up with a headstrong young woman (Peggy Shannon), Webster struggles to rebuild civiilzation and cultivate a new post-apocalyptic moral code amidst the pillagers and vigilantes who remain. For years considered a lost film, and later emerging in a poor-quality Italian-dubbed version, Deluge is the holy grail of disaster movies. In 2016, Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, with the help of the Library of Congress, located the original 35mm film elements, including the English-language soundtrack, and it is from these materials that the restoration has been meticulously performed. Directed by Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride, Donovan s Brain), DELUGE lives up to its near-mythic reputation. Not only are the destruction scenes truly extraordinary, the drama of survival among the rubble is presented with a dark candor that is far more complex than one expects of a film of this vintage. Also featured on this disc is the Pre-Code drama BACK PAGE, starring Peggy Shannon (DELUGE) as a small-town newspaper woman who tries to bring down a notorious white-collar criminal.


In 1933, RKO Radio Pictures released a loose adaptation of S. Fowler Wright’s 1928 novel “Deluge”.

A film about life after a worldwide disaster, the film was directed by Felix E. Feist (“The Big Trees”, “Donovan’s Brain”, “The Man Who Cheated Himself”) and a screenplay co-written by Warren Duff (“Angels with Dirty Faces”, “Varsity Show”, “Frisco Kid”) and John F. Goodrich (“My Lady’s Lips”, “The Last command”, “Lilies of the Field”).

The film stars Peggy Shannon (“Back Page”, “Hotel Continental”, “The Devil’s Mate”), Lois Wilson (“Guiding Light”, “Miss Lulu Bett”, “Bright Eyes”), Sidney Blackmer (“Rosemary’s Baby”, “High Society”, “Little Caesar”), Lane Chandler (“Winds of the Wasteland”, “Samson and Delilah”, “The Well”), Fred Kohler (“Underworld”, “Fighting Caravans”, “The Iron Horse”), Ralf Harolde (“Murder, My Sweet”, “I’m No Angel”, “Smart Money”) and Samuel S. Hinds (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, “Scarlet Street”).

The film was a modest hit for RKO Radio Pictures but the film (which was later bought by Republic Pictures) is more remembered for its destruction footage which was used for films in the ’40s.

But for many decades, the film was lot until  an Italian print dub was found (note: there are two versions of how this Italian version of the film was found, one via a film archive in 1981 discovered by Forrest J. Ackerman.  The other is Wad Williams discovering a nitrate version of the film in an old mansion in Rome in 1981).  The film was eventually subtitled in English and released on VHS.

But in 2016, the nitrate dupe negative with the English soundtrack was discovered and Lobster Films did a 2K scan restoration and the film would receive a theatrical released and now a Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The film begins with scientists discovering that a violent storm is heading towards New York City and they issue warnings throughout the city.  Suddenly an eclipse of the sun leads to global destruction as unending earthquakes slam cities causing major tsunamis and leveling cities.

We are introduced to Claire Shannon (portrayed by Peggy Shannon), a world-class long distance swimmer who was supposed to go on another challenge but since the change of weather, she ends up going with a friend and staying with her family in the country.

We are then introduced to lawyer Martin Webster (portrayed by Sidney Blackmer) and his wife Helen (portrayed by Lois Wilson) putting their two kids to sleep.  As the couple know bad weather is coming their way and their home may be destroyed, Martin takes his children and wife to stay behind a huge boulder in hopes it would protect them from the bad weather.

As Martin knows they need more provisions and clothes, he leaves his wife and children to go back to the house.  But the next major earthquake hits, which destroys New York City and destroys the home.

Martin is knocked unconscious and when he awakes, his home and land is gone and water has covered  the ground all around him.  And he fears that he lost his family to the tsunami.

Meanwhile, at a small house nearby, two men, the burly Jepson (portayed by Fred Kohler) and the anxiety-filled Norwood (portrayed by Ralf Harolde) are afraid they may be the last two people on the planet.  As Jepson goes outside the cabin, he discovers an unconscious Claire.

Fastforward and over a month and a half has passed.  Martin has built a shelter behind a rock and uses a nearby tunnel in a cave to store many provisions.

As for Jepson and Norwood, the two get into a major disagreement of who owns Claire.  Jepson tells Norwood that since he found the house and Claire, she belongs to him.  As Jepson goes to work on the boat, Norwood tries to sexually assault Claire and Jepson walks in and angered, he chokes and kills Norwood.  As for Claire, it gives her the moment to slip away and swim away from Jepson.  Who then gets his rifle and boat to go after her.

As Martin walks out of his home, he sees a body from the distance.  He goes to it and discovers Claire who is nearly unconscious and nurses her back to health.  Meanwhile, he sees from a distance, Jepson arriving near his home with his boat.  As he trails Jepson from a distance, both men discover a woman who was raped and killed.

Jepson comes across a gang of ruffians and he tells him that he is looking for a woman that belongs to him.  Meanwhile, Martin goes back hom to make sure he can protect Claire.  And the two start to have feelings towards each other.

Meanwhile, not far from the area, survivors in a nearby town have gathered to start a new civilization.  Among the survivors are Helen and her two children.  One of the townsmen, Tom (portrayed by Matt Moore) has taken care of Helen (and has fallen in love with her).  He tells her to forget about her husband, but she says that she believes Martin is alive.  She can feel it.

Tom tells her that soon, the women in the town will be assigned a man.  If she wants to prevent being hooked up with someone else, she should marry him now.

What will happen to Martin, Claire and Lois?


VIDEO:

“Deluge” is presented in 1080p (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Before I begin, it’s important for everyone to know that when it comes to film cleanup, Kino Lorber and Lobster Films do not invest in significant cleanup compared to major film releases from the large studios or film foundations.  What you are going to get are HD scanning of the original negatives to feature the film in the best resolution, but you will see white specks, scratches, slight frame damage, mild flickering, etc.

For those who watch silent films to early talkies, I’m just grateful these films are released and for this release, Lobster Films had done a 2K scan of this film once considered lost.

Picture quality is good considering the age of the film and the fact that a nitrate version of the film with an English soundtrack, “Deluge” is no doubt a film that looks very good.  The film maintains its grain structure and I’ve seen classic Hollywood films with major damage and this film does not suffer from major damage.  Yes, there are white specks, scratches, and some frames with an occasional larger white speck but really, this is common with older films, let alone nitrate films.  So, I felt the picture quality was very good in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Deluge” is presented in English DTS-HD 2.0 Surround. The lossless soundtrack is crystal clear through the front channels and the dialogue and soundtrack is crystal clear with no major crackle or pops.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Deluge” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an insightful audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith.
  • Interview with Director Gabriel Mascaro – (21:09) Interview with filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro about “Neon Bull”
  • Back Page (1934 film) – (1 hr., 04 min.) In this film starring Peggy Shannon, the film features Peggy as Jerry Hampton, a young female reporter who was fired from a major big city newspaper.  Jerry decides to take over a troubled small town newspaper and learns about small town politics and the difficulties of finding advertisers to keep the newspaper afloat.  Also, the troubles she receives as people don’t feel confident a woman can run the newspaper.
  • The Hurricane Trailer
  • Avalanche Trailer
  • Meteor Trailer

“Deluge” is a fascinating 1934 natural disaster film that despite its visual effects for its time and at times for its corny dialogue, I actually enjoyed “Deluge” more than many other natural disaster films, including big budget natural disaster films that came out decades after.

A loose adaptation of S. Fowler Wright’s novel, “Deluge” focuses on a global natural disaster during a time when technology and natural disaster warnings was limited, where earthquakes become rampant and along with a tsunami, cities were destroyed and humanity is reduced.

While no one knows how many people survived, the storyline of “Deluge” shows a side of humanity that is often depicted in post-apocalyptic films and that is the worst of society where gangs are rampant and some reverting to troglodyte behavior.  Women are raped and murdered and women are seen as possessions and not equal partners.

Sure, its a film that rings loud and clear of society back in the 1930’s, but the film provides a glance of the 1930’s through its characters.

Ziegfeld Follies Peggy Shannon who was to be the new “It” girl, is glamorous and beautiful sporting a bikini (when most women wore one piece swimsuits) and a woman who behaved independently until being convinced by her protector that she must make a decision to fall in love.

I bring up Peggy’s character of Claire as being independent because Shannon starred in a film titled “Back Page” about a fired big city reporter who wants to prove that she can run a smalltown paper, despite people thinking she can’t do that because she’s a woman.  The 1934 film is also included on this “Deluge” Blu-ray release, which makes the release quite enticing because it’s a film that follows a woman determined to succeed despite the challenges she may face.

Unfortunately, like a few other Hollywood talent of that time who were hooked on drugs and alcohol, Peggy Shannon’s star career was dimmed due to her alcoholism.

“Deluge” also stars Sidney Blackmer and Lois Wilson.  Blackmer plays the main protagonist Martin Webster, a man who thinks his wife and children died from the earthquake/tsunami and has built a home near a rocky mountain and in better shape as he has managed to stockpile on provisions.  His life changes when he meets Claire and slowly falls in love with her, not knowing that his wife Lois and her children are very much alive.

The primary antagonist is Jepson (portrayed by Fred Kohler), a burly man who thinks he is one of the last people left alive and since he found a house and also an unconscious Claire, he assumes that she belongs to him and no other.

Claire escapes from him and thanks to her world class swimming skills, she swims to the area that Martin is staying.  But not far behind is Jepson, who wants nothing but to bring Claire back.  Jepson meets the Bellamy Gang, who raped and killed a woman.

The film manages to establish that there is a good number of riff raff and in the new world, but there are good people who are willing to fight back which we have seen in movies such as “Mad Max” and other storylines.

This classic film manages to incorporate a lot of action and drama and definitely one of the earlier lower budget natural disaster films that is upstaged by the bigger budget MGM natural disaster film “San Francisco” starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Jeanette MacDonald that was released three years later (1936).

Part of the problem with “Deluge”, while some may point to visual effects, while cheesy for today’s standards, I felt the visual effects were customary for its time and the fact it uses stock footage of a natural disaster (hurricane) in the film shows that RKO Film, really wanted to drive the images of chaos and panic, while many cities are being destroyed by a global natural disaster, leading to the death of millions.  And one must remember, this is a low budget RKO film, not a big budget MGM film.

Where “San Francisco” focused on few characters, it also tries to show humanity really being affected by a major disaster.  In “Deluge”, too many times where the female characters are just seen as objects meant to be possessed.  They must make a choice to be with a man or else it’s too late.

Because it’s a pre-code film, I do like the fact we see violence in the film.  People die in this film, not just through the natural disaster but because of greed or envy.  The film goes to show how people are affected by chaos but even for those in the side of good, I feel later in the film, they aren’t more affected by the natural disaster, but the fact that their relationships are affected.

With the 1936 film “San Francisco”, the film was ambitious in special effects but the 1906 earthquake gave writers the opportunity to craft a story about the human spirit of willing to rebuild a city and start over.  In the 1993 film, “Deluge”, it’s not about human spirit during a time of chaos but the man and woman and the importance of a relationship during a time of chaos.

But once again, there are differences between the two films from star power and money budgeted.  And “Deluge” is in essence a low budget film, with no major big name talent, but still you see talent who had true potential and a natural disaster film that rivals big budget natural disaster films made in the last 40 years.  I enjoyed “Deluge” and what they were able to accomplish.

And as mentioned, this Blu-ray release comes with the Peggy Shannon 1934 film “Back Page”, and it’s one of the few pre-code films which shows an independent business woman trying to prove everyone that she can be a leader and a woman who can run a small town newspaper.  Also, for “Winnie the Pooh” fans, the longtime voice of the popular character courtesy of Sterling Holloway, has a role in the film.

But I found “Back Page” quite interesting because you rarely find career-driven women in classic Hollywood films.  Far too often, women were portrayed as vamps seducing men, women who need saving by a man or women having to be good wives or mothers.  But “Back Page” was interesting to see a protagonist running a newspaper and one that is so driven and standing her own ground.  A rarity to see in older Hollywood films.

As for the Blu-ray, as mention earlier, picture quality is very good, not pristine but considering what Lobster Films was able to accomplish, I’m quite grateful to have the best presentation of “Deluge” and “Back Page” to date with this Blu-ray release.  The lossless soundtrack features no significant crackle or pops and the special features include a wonderful and insightful audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith.

Overall, “Deluge” on Blu-ray can be seen as a watching an entertaining 1933 natural disaster film, which was once considered as lost. Others may find the Blu-ray as a wonderful collection of two films starring actress Peggy Shannon.  I will say that this Blu-ray release is a fantastic collaboration between Kino Lorber and Lobster Films giving audiences the opportunity to watch and enjoy two entertaining films from the 1930’s.  Recommended!

 

Neon Bull (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Gabriel Mascaro’s “Neon Bull” is a unique, sensual film that entertains viewers with its honest portrayal of its characters that work within the vaquejada in northeastern Brazil.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2015 Desvia, Malbicho cine, Viking Film, Canal Brasil. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Neon Bull

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 103 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 2:35:1, Portuguese 5.1 Surround, Optional English Subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber Inc.

RATED: NOT RATED

RELEASE DATE: September 6, 2016


Directed by Gabriel Mascaro

Written by Gabriel Mascaro

Produced by Rachel Ellis

Co-Produced by Rodrigo Pia, Sandino Saravia Vinay, Marleen Slot

Music by Carlos Montenegro, Otavio Santos

Cinematography by Diego Garcia

Edited by Fernando Epstein, Eduardo Serrano

Art Direction by Maira Mesquita


Starring:

Juliano Cazarre as Iremar

Maebe Jinkings as Galega

Josinaldo Alves as Mario

Roberto Berindelli as Fazendeiro

Samya De Lavor as Geise

Vinicius de Oliveira as Junior

Abigail Pereira as Valquiria

Carlos Pessoa as Ze

Alyne Santa as Caca


Neon Bull is a wild, sensual and transporting experience. Brazilian writer-director Gabriel Mascaro s second fiction feature (after August Winds), it takes place within the world of the vaquejada, a demanding traditional style of rodeo in which cowboys attempt to wrest bulls to the ground by their tails. Neon Bull explores this dangerous job through the eyes of Iremar (Juliano Cazarre ), a mysterious and handsome cowboy who cares for the bulls. While riding the roads with the animals and his close-knit circle of outcast friends, he begins to think of a world outside the ring, dreaming of sequins and fabrics and of his desire to become a fashion designer.


Filmmaker Gabriel Macaro known for his documentary “HOUSEMAIDS” and his first feature film “Ventos de Agosto” (August Winds) has received a lot of attention and critically praised reviews.  And his 2015 film “Boi Neon” (Neon Bull) would receive nominations and win awards at various festivals around the world.

And now Macaro’s “Neon Bull” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Shot in northeastern Brazil, the film captures life for those who work at the Vaquejadas (a rodeo in which two cowboys ride on horseback to bring down a bull by grabbing its tail).

One of the cowboys, Iremar (portrayed by Juliano Cazarre) shares his quarters with others from the rodeo and lives in a truck that transports livestock to various events.  While most of the day, he is grooming the animals and doing his fill of shoveling manure, his passion is creating costumes, especially for his sexy female friend, Galega.

One of the truck drivers, Galega (portrayed by Maeve Jinkings) is an exotic dancer who is a truck driver by day, but participates in sexy dances for patrons wearing a horse head and tail, while neon lights shine upon her.

Galega’s husband is hardly in the picture but she has to raise her daughter Caca (portrayed by Aline Santana) who is a bit curious for her own good and being one of the youngsters touring with the Vaquejadas crew, she tends to find things that others are not wanting her to know.  Such as Ze’s (portrayed by Carlos Pessoa) stash of pornography.

But Galega is more interested in trying to live her life and is not so thrilled that Caca lives with her and not going to school and feels she should live with her grandmother, so she can live a better life at school.

Meanwhile, Galega becomes attracted to the new guy named Junior (portrayed by Vinicius de Oliveira).  While, Iremar starts to take interest in a pregnant woman who tends to show up selling cologne and perfume which she works during the day and working as a security guard at night.

Gabriel Mascaro’s “Neon Bull” is a honest portrayal of life within a group of people within a Vaquejadas crew.


VIDEO:

“Neon Bull” is presented in 1080p (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  Picture quality for the most part is very good.  Closeups show great detail, lighting is very well done when focused on the characters (lighting plays a big part in the film).  Skintones look natural, black levels are nice and deep and there is a good amount of grain throughout the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Neon Bull” is presented in Portuguese 5.1 Surround.  The lossless soundtrack is crystal clear, rodeo announcer and crowd ambiance or animal ambiance can be heard through the surround channels.  Dialogue is crystal-clear as the club music and subtitles are easy to read.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Neon Bull” comes with the following special features:

  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurette – (14:30) Behind-the-scenes of the rehearsing and filming of “Neon Bull”.
  • Interview with Director Gabriel Mascaro – (21:09) Interview with filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro about “Neon Bull”
  • Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Neon Bull”

When it comes to showcasing characters in a natural light, filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro is able to accomplish that very well in his previous films including his latest, “Neon Bull”.

A film that focuses on people that work within the vaquejada in northeast Brazil, “Neon Bull” is a film that is not a film one follows for its story, because there really isn’t one.  If anything, it’s an honest portrayal of workers that live their life, making sure they take care of the animals and try to co-exist with each other.

Iremar works in the upkeep of the animals, creating sultry costumes for the female driver, Galega (who behave like brother and sister) and often helping out her daughter Caca, who is at that age of sexual curiosity but still wanting her mother’s attention but never receiving much of it.

While the film can be described as sensual or sultry, considering how much dedication is put into the sex scenes in the film, one can find enjoyment in the film for its actions and dialogue.  To even the animals as Iremar and Ze use the scent of a mar to arouse a stallion, to steal his sperm to a group of guys showering together nude, filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro wants to show viewers how sex, to maintaining animals is just as everyday part of life for the characters.

But humor can be found in the film as Iremar’s pot-bellied co-worker Ze is often looking at porno and while his sticky nude pages are often drawn over by Iremar trying to envision fashion and drawing it on the nude women, he and Ze are often involved in verbal spars as Ze can’t understand why Iremar focuses to much on fashion and not the women.

But when Ze is transferred and a long-haired young man named Junior arrives and immediately, he starts to get the attention of all the women including young Caca, which leaves Iremar quite jealous.

Meanwhile for female character, Galega, she is stuck trying to work as a truck driver for the animals, wanting to have fun with the men but her life is made difficult as she feels her young daughter Caca is in her way.  So, as Galega tries to focus on her work and her life, most often, Caca is with Iremar.

So, if anything, it’s those small interactions which makes up for the film.  Emotions of characters, character interaction and how everything culminates into an honest, entertaining film.

As for the Blu-ray, picture quality is very good as cinematography showcases the characters, character interactions with animal or their daily worklife, to the lighting that shines on them when indoors, to their events with the neon bull.  The cinematography brings the characters to life.  And as for audio, the loss audio features crystal clear dialogue, music and also surround sound usage geared for crowd, animals or announcer ambiance.  And the film has a good number of special features included such as a behind-the-scenes featurette and an interview with director Gabriel Mascaro.

Overall, Gabriel Mascaro’s “Neon Bull” is a unique, sensual film that entertains viewers with its honest portrayal of its characters that work within the vaquejada in northeastern Brazil.  Recommended!

 

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