Classics Hit DVD!
Reviews THE REIVERS, LIFEGUARD and PRIME CUT
Raquel Rocks in KANSAS CITY BOMBER, Chucky Returns and More!
It’s not often that you get a week where several cult classics
bow on DVD, but happily that’s the situation this Tuesday when
Paramount unveils a handful of catalog titles making their long-awaited
first appearance on disc.
Top of the list is the lyrical, winning screen adaptation of William
Faulkner’s THE REIVERS (****,
106 mins., 1969, PG-13; Aisle Seat DVD Pick of the Week), a
nostalgic slice-of-life set in rural 1905 Mississippi.
Steve McQueen stars as a plantation hand whose “Boss” (Will
Geer) leaves to attend a family funeral. McQueen’s Boon
Hogganbeck is then placed in charge of young Lucius (Mitch Vogel), an
innocent 12-year-old who joins his older friend in hyjacking
Boss’ brand-new yellow Winton Flyer and traveling on a series of
adventures around the deep south. Joined by fellow hand Rupert Crosse,
the trio run into all kinds of predicaments, including McQueen’s
girlfriend Sharon Farrell (employed at a brothel), a corrupt local
police chief, a horse race that requires Lucius to become a jockey, and
the consequences he faces when the journey is over.
“The Reivers” is a marvelous movie on so many levels that
it’s hard to pick a place to begin analyzing -- suffice to say
it’s easy to see why the film is a viewer favorite.
Veteran screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. beautifully
adapted Faulkner’s prose for the screen, employing Burgess
Meredith to narrate the movie with a knowing blend of truth and
nostalgia. The direction of Mark Rydell perfectly captured the
uniformly superb performances of McQueen (seldom as likeable as he was
here), Crosse (in a deservedly Oscar-nominated performance), Geer (a
memorable turn as the grandfather who’s ultimately even wiser
than he first appears), and Vogel, in a sensitive turn as the young boy
who comes of age.
Richard Moore’s cinematography and Joel Schiller’s
production design both vividly recreate the time and place of
Faulkner’s tale, but for many it’s the music of John
Williams that truly puts “The Reivers” in a select company
of personal favorites.
After scoring fluffy ‘60s comedies that have long been forgotten,
in addition to episodes of Irwin Allen TV series and sitcoms like
“Gilligan’s Island,” “Johnny” truly
became “John” with “The Reivers.” This
outstanding score has always felt to me like the first
“genuine” Williams masterpiece: its exuberance, energy,
soaring lyricism and tender, introspective passages don’t sound
like most of Williams’ output from the ‘60s. Rather, they
embody the immaculate dramatic scoring sense Williams would bring to so
many of his works from the ‘70s thereafter. All comparisons
aside, though,“The Reivers” is, at the least, a classic
soundtrack and a cornerstone in the Williams canon.
Paramount’s DVD of the Cinema Center Films production only adds
to the film’s riches. For the first time since its 1969
theatrical release, “The Reivers” is available in its full
2.35 widescreen aspect ratio, and neither the transfer nor the print
the studio utilized for the disc disappoint. This is a pristine print
beautifully captured on DVD, and the restoration of the film’s
anamorphic cinematography should give movie buffs ample reason to
rejoice. The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound and 2.0 Dolby Stereo mixes are
superlative for their era as well, giving some depth to Williams’
score and the film’s splendid dialogue.
“The Reivers” is an old-fashioned Americana tale perfectly
suitable for adults and older children (despite its PG-13 rating, which
back in 1969 was given an “Mature [M]” classification), and
Paramount’s spectacular DVD is one of the year’s most
essential catalog releases. Highly, highly recommended!
Also newly mined from the Cinema Center Films vault this week is the
tough, exciting PRIME CUT (***1/2,
86 mins., 1972, R), a gritty rural gangster thriller
that’s equally worthy of rediscovery on DVD.
This taut, efficient tale serves as an illustration of
how much filmmaking has sadly changed over the 33 years since its
release. Robert Dillon’s script and Michael Ritchie’s
direction never overstate the film’s pulpy plot and resist the
temptation to stretch the story beyond its 86-minute running time. Most
of the picture’s emotion and excitement come not through dialogue
but rather the terrific performances of Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman and a
young Sissy Spacek (who never looked more attractive than she does
here), exchanging glances and conveying emotions in a restrained manner
far removed from the “hip,” pretentious tone we see all too
prevalent in today’s cinema.
Dillon’s plot involves a Chicago enforcer (Marvin) sent to Kansas
City to collect from a mobster named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman), whose
cattle empire is spiraling out of control. Hackman owes Marvin’s
employer big-time, and the last Chicago thug sent to deal with Mary Ann
was promptly turned into a ground-up hot dog by his big lug brother
What Marvin and his crew discover when they arrive in K.C. is shocking:
not only are Hackman and his cronies thoroughly repellent white trash,
but they’re also mining a group of orphaned young girls and
turning them into doped-up love slaves for their own pleasure. Spacek
is one of the latter, and her chemistry with Marvin -- who rescues her
out of her sedated state -- is palpable in a film that’s both
atmospherically shot on location (by Gene Polito) and superbly scored
by Lalo Schifrin, who was able to incorporate a wide spectrum of
thematic material in “Prime Cut” (including one great,
propulsive action cue during the climax).
“Prime Cut” is a film that’s flown under the radar
for years, and makes its debut on DVD for the first time ever in its
original Panavision aspect ratio. Like “The Reivers,” this
is a movie that’s an absolute must in widescreen because Ritchie
and Polito employ all sides of the frame to convey the setting (just
check out the great sequence where Marvin and Spacek escape from
Hackman’s thugs in a wheatfield).
The 2.35 transfer is great, the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound likewise
effective, and the movie itself a gem strongly recommended for anyone
interested in a B-movie plot capped by A-grade filmmaking.
Unfortunately, they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
They also don’t make low-key character studies like LIFEGUARD (***,
1976, 96 mins., PG) much these days, which is also a shame.
Sam Elliott stars as a veteran lifeguard who doesn’t seem (or
want) to get his life in gear beyond doing what he does best: soaking
up the sun, saving the lives of inexperienced swimmers, and enjoying
his time with as many lovely young ladies as he can. Elliott’s
prototypical California lifeguard does, however, at least question his
career goals after he meets up with his newly divorced, ex-girlfriend
Anne Archer at their high school reunion. Her availability -- and the prospects of a new job as a car salesman courtesy of pal
Stephen Young -- threaten to turn Elliott’s laid-back lifestyle
upside down. Fortunately, a quick romance with young Kathleen Quinlan
(who looks great in a bathing suit) and a few Paul Williams music
montages later, Elliott gets his senses back and realizes what’s
Ron Koslow’s script and Daniel Petrie’s direction
aren’t anything extraordinary: “Lifeguard” at times
might seem like a PG-rated Movie of the Week, yet its casual atmosphere
and lack of dramatic tension are part of its charm. Elliott is
wonderful in one of his most well-remembered performances, and seeing
young starlets Archer and Quinlan give the film plenty of eye candy for
Dale Menten’s score is likewise a treasure, sporting tuneful
melodies and a pleasant Paul Williams song (“Time and
Tide”) that opened and closed the movie during its initial
theatrical release. On video and TV, however, Williams’ song was
replaced with a terrific Menten instrumental track, which makes the
restoration of the original soundtrack here somewhat bittersweet.
Granted, it’s always nice to hear the theatrical soundtrack
restored, yet I couldn’t help but think that Menten’s own
theme wasn’t more effective in conveying the picture’s mood
than Williams’ song (which, in its poky arrangement, almost
sounds like a “Happy Days” transitional cue by comparison).
That said, Paramount’s DVD looks great in 1.85 widescreen and
sounds equally strong in its 2.0 mono track.
“Lifeguard” isn’t for everyone: the movie
doesn’t offer easy answers, preferring, much like its
protagonist, to go with the flow. To some, Elliott’s solution may
seem depressing, while others might find it optimistic. Either way, the
movie’s performances and soundtrack make it a perfect summer
view...all you need to do is take a ride on its groovy, mellow,
Also new among Paramount’s catalog DVDs this week is DANGER: DIABOLIK
(**½, 1968, 100 mins., PG-13), a swingin’ 60s relic
starring the cardboard John Phillip Law as the comic strip thief who --
along with sexy galpal Marisa Mell -- loves to steal from the uber-rich
while avoiding the authorities at all costs.
Mario Bava directed this Dino DeLaurentiis production, which fits
comfortably alongside “Barbarella” and other fantasy
“freak outs” of the era. The production design, editorial
style and use of colors are striking and completely over-the-top, while
Ennio Morricone’s memorable music score likewise comes across as
an artifact of its time. The plot and dialogue are secondary to the
picture’s central atmosphere, which should please its aficionados
and entertain casual viewers, though I think most viewers will likely
find that a little of “Danger: Diabolik” goes a long way.
Paramount has teamed up with American Zoetrope to produce a superb
Special Edition DVD of the 1968 film. Bava and Law join Video
Watchdog’s Tim Lucas for a scholarly commentary on the
production, while “Danger: Diabolik - From Fumetti to Film”
goes behind the picture’s cult following and influence on
filmmakers like Roman Coppola, musicians including Beastie Boy Adam
Yauch, and comic book artist Steven Bissette. The Beastie’s
“Body Movin’” video (which includes copious footage
from the film) is also on-hand with commentary from Yauch, while a pair
of trailers round out the disc.
Visually the movie’s 1.85 widescreen transfer looks stellar,
though there are times when the matting seems a bit too tight on the
bottom. The 2.0 Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is just fine.
Last and (given the company this week) least among Paramount’s
library titles is THE FAR HORIZONS
(**½, 1955, 108 mins.), the memorable -- though far from
spectacular -- teaming of Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston as
intrepid explorers Lewis and Clark.
Meandering and not at all convincing, this Rudolph Mate epic boasts
Donna Reed as Sacajawea and future “Perry Mason” star
Barbara Hale as the woman who comes between Lewis and Clark. You also
get William Demarest and Alan Reed in a cardboard Hollywood production
that’s light on historical accuracy but relatively high on silly,
old-fashioned B-movie cliches, the kind that ought to entertain Golden
Age aficionados in spite of the film’s flaws.
Paramount’s DVD looks fairly crisp with its 16:9 transfer, framed
in the 1.85 aspect ratio. The VistaVision frame appears in healthy
condition while the 2.0 Dolby Digital mono sound offers a standard
score by Hans J. Salter.
Kansas City Craziness
Warner Home Video’s recent slate of catalog releases includes
offerings from HBO (the terrific teen comedy “Heaven Help
Us” and the forgettable Judge Reinhold vehicle “Head
Office”), plus one of Raquel Welch’s more memorable turns
CITY BOMBER (**½, 99 mins., 1972, PG).
This MGM production stars Raquel as the Queen of the Roller Derby,
K.C., who has to take on one of her rivals (Patti Calvin) in order to
stay in town and rule the rink. Raquel isn’t nearly as manly as
the villainous “Big Bertha” and subsequently loses the
match, sending Welch and daughter Jodie Foster to the “Portland
Loggers” franchise where owner Kevin McCarthy has more on his
mind than just getting K.C.’s game back on-track.
“Kansas City Bomber” is obviously a dated product of its
era, but Welch’s performance is excellent and there’s
plenty of action in Jerrold Freedman’s film. Don Ellis’
relatively subdued score adds further enjoyment to the preceding, but
it’s Raquel’s show and just for her presence alone
“Kansas City Bomber” holds up better than any movie about a
roller derby has any right to.
Warner’s DVD sports a solid 16:9 transfer in the 1.85 aspect
ratio. Having seen the movie on TCM over the years, it seems as if the
film has always looked drab, since many MGM films of the late
‘60s and early ‘70s appear as washed-out and, at times,
downright “dirty” as “Kansas City Bomber” does
on DVD. The Dolby Digital mono sound is perfectly acceptable and a
standard trailer rounds out the disc.
It hasn't been a great stretch for the horror genre. Recent theatrical
efforts have been greeted with indifference from both critics and
audiences alike, and several of these disappointments have quickly fled
to the small screen.
Top of the list is SEED OF CHUCKY (Rogue/Universal, *,
88 mins., R, Unrated, 2005), which goes to show what
happens when a filmmaker is apparently given free reign to do whatever
he pleases. Thus, this puerile and unsettling (for all the wrong
reasons) sequel shows that a whole movie filled with the intermittent
gross- out humor of "Bride of Chucky" is indeed too much of a good
"Chucky" creator Don Mancini's picture starts off on the wrong foot
(with a series of ersatz "scares") and then quickly descends into an
unfunny succession of gory murders and Hollywood in-jokes, with
Chucky's son "Glen" arriving in Hollywood to find his parents as props
in a "Chucky" film. No sooner do the murderous Chucky and Tiffany dolls
come back to life than another rash of murder and mayhem begins, all
the while Jennifer Tilly plays "herself" in a "real" Chucky film
shooting at the same time.
The satiric targets (if you can call them that) are obvious and the
whole picture sits in no man's land, neither a horror film (Chucky and
Co. are now bout as scary as your typical Smurfs episode) nor an
amusing spoof (Mancini's jokes worked a lot better in a semi-
traditional genre framework like its predecessor).
Rogue/Universal's DVD is filled with special features, the most
entertaining of which is a commentary with Mancini and Tilly. The two
discuss filming in Romania and the sequel's long gestation, though
hearing Tilly recite the phone book also might have been more
entertaining than the film they ultimately produced. Another, more
technically-oriented commentary offers Mancini and puppeteer Tony
Gardner, while Tilly's alter-ego Tiffany meets up with actress Debbie
Carrington in a deleted scene. On-screen trivia anecdotes, an
"interview" with Chucky, a segment with Tilly on the Tonight Show, and
a featurette round out the Unrated disc, which sports a 1.85 transfer
and an appopriately cliché-ridden score by Pino Donaggio.
The success of "Resident Evil" and its sequel had to have provided the
impetus for the German-produced ALONE IN THE DARK
(*, 2005, 96 mins., Lions Gate), a hideous video game-to-movie
adaptation that makes the critically maligned -- though gleefully
entertaining -- "RE" films look like the works of James Cameron by
Uwe Boll's lifeless direction coaxes appropriately bland performances
from Christian Slater (as a P.I.), Tara Reid (as his ex-flame and,
would you believe, intrepid scientist?), and Stephen Dorff (a
relatively brief supporting role as a federal agent) in a movie that
begins with the longest spoken prologue crawl I've ever seen. The plot
is a haphazard mess of an ancient culture coming back to life,
mysterious monsters, disappearing bodies, ersatz religion, and a
government experiment to fuse man and monster…all of which
sounds appetizing enough, but believe me when I tell you that "Alone in
the Dark" is utterly devoid of entertainment. Even on a trash level
this awkwardly filmed and uninspired turkey offers boredom instead of
laughs (though an amusing love scene with Slater and Reid making out
may provoke a few, brief yucks).
Lions Gate's DVD includes commentary from Boll, a strong 16:9 transfer
with 6.1 DTS and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, though the blaring, non-stop
sound mix does no favors to one's ear drums (and the score by Bernd
Wendlandt, Peter Zweier and Oliver Lieb is likewise thankless). Several
featurettes and a trivia track round out the release.
At least "Alone in the Dark" resembles a movie (even if it's a bad
one), which is more than you can say for ZOMBIEZ (No Stars,
83 mins., 2005, R), the unwatchable "Zombies In Da Hood" epic
from the filmmaker known only as "ZWS" (I'm not making this up).
The cover art for Lions Gate's DVD must have cost more than the movie
itself, which looks and feels like a public access movie, complete with
sausages disguised as one poor victim's innards. It's amateur hour all
the way, though somehow Lions Gate managed to give this piece of video
garbage a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack and an OK full-screen transfer
that's far more than this "film" deserves.
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