A Month in the Country
Cast-Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, Natasha Richardson
Country of Origin-U.K.
Based on the late Joseph Lloyd Carr’s 1980, A Month in the Country is a delicate tale of three disparate souls adrift in a quaint English village looking for spiritual healing. It provided moviegoers with an early showcase for the acting talents of Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, and the tragically gone-too-soon Natasha Richardson, and it remains of one of director Pat O’Connor’s finest films. In the case of the latter, when you consider that his future efforts would include the less-than-notable likes of The January Man and Sweet November, it would appear that O’Connor peaked a little early in his career.
Haunted by his experiences fighting in the First World War, battle-scarred veteran Tom Birkin (Firth) has arrived in the isolated Yorkshire community of Oxgodby to restore a medieval mural in the town’s church. He is welcomed with open arms by most of the townspeople - with the exception of the Reverend Keach (Patrick Malahide), who is vehemently opposed to the restoration project – and soon strikes up a friendship with James Moon (Branagh), an archaeologist and fellow Great War veteran who has been charged by the same people who hired Birkin with unearthing a grave long lost to the ages. As the two men go about their respective tasks they uncover far more about Oxgodby than they had originally anticipated. Through his friendship with Moon and gentle infatuation with the reverend’s lonely wife Alice (Richardson), Birkin hopes to find the inner peace that has eluded him since he stepped off the battlefield.
This may not be a lost classic or an underrated treasure of cinema, but A Month in the Country has no aspirations but to tell a simple but effective story with the closest attention paid to character development. The plot is merely a foundation on which director O’Connor and screenwriter Simon Gray (Butley) construct an elegiac tale that plays like a short novella you might read on a long flight. This is a film that lives and dies on the strength of its acting and writing, and Gray’s screenplay provides enough meat for each of the three stars to get a decent and satisfying character arc. Though heavy on dialogue, A Month in the Country often prefers to tell its story with powerful imagery because early on we realize that there are certain things better left unsaid. We don’t need to have everything spelled out in agonizingly precise detail.
Firth is perfectly cast as the emotionally withdrawn Birkin, slowly being brought to his knees by overpowering post-traumatic stress syndrome and unwilling to accept the existence of a god for the horrors he has witnessed and lived to remember, but still retaining the air of a romantic wanting desperately to reconnect with the human race. Branagh is handed a wonderful character to play who is both Birkin’s equal and carries the same psychological burden but has found interesting ways to deal with them, such as sleeping in a trench he dug for himself while he conducts his archaeological dig. Though the character is an obvious eccentric, Branagh makes James Moon achingly human. Natasha Richardson is apparently here to provide Firth with a potential romantic interest, but although the two share a chemistry that could lead to something more than friendship, the story never goes off in that direction, preferring instead to use the relationship between Birkin and Alice to display a different, more optimistic side to the man’s personality.
The superb supporting cast features winning performances from Malahide (The Killing Fields), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), and Richard Vernon (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Cinematographer Kenneth MacMillan, whose future credits would include Branagh’s feature directorial debut Henry V as well as the 1992 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, captures the calming country visuals of Oxgodby and provides an ideally picaresque backdrop for the story and characters. Richard Lester’s longtime editor John Victor-Smith pares the film down to a 96-minute running time that never suffers from draggy pacing or an overburdened middle section that tends to plague simple stories of this kind that struggle to reach a feature length.
A Month in the Country looks good in its high-definition debut, but the 1080p upgrade provided for this release by Twilight Time is not without its noticeable flaws. Reportedly due to an inability on the part of the Blu-ray producers to locate the original film elements, the transfer had to be sourced from a pair of 35mm film prints instead. Damage to the print is nowhere to be found, but there are times when the image quality appears to have undergone extensive digital noise reduction to compensate for the condition of the source materials used for the transfer. As a result, the already soft photography is given the appearance of a thin layer of Vaseline on the camera lens. Regardless the lush pastoral colors of the English countryside scenery pop off the screen, yet the skin tones often appear pinkish and unnatural. The AVC encoded transfer has been framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and until another company manages to locate the camera negative and grant the film a proper 2K restoration, this is likely the best A Month in the Country will ever look on home video.
Faring better is the lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, which replicates the mono soundtrack from the original theatrical exhibition with terrific clarity and a welcome lack of distortion, though the accented dialogue can often be difficult to follow due to low volume and the puzzling lack of a subtitle option. The only new extra feature of note is another informative audio commentary that pairs up Twilight Time’s in-house film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. The Blu-ray also includes an isolated music and effects track that provides an excellent showcase for Howard Blake’s classical score and the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes). A booklet of liner notes written by Kirgo can be found on the inside of the case.
The Film: 4/5
The Night of the Generals
Director: Anatole Litvak
Cast: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Donald Pleasance
Country of Origin: U.K.
Reviewer: Andrew Bemis
The Night of the Generals is an interesting case of a film that is trying to be two things at once in ways that don’t always work. Loosely adapted from a novel by Hans Helmut Kirst, it’s a pulpy, salacious murder mystery set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany in the final years of the war. At the same time, the movie reteams Lawrence of Arabia stars Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif and producer Sam Spiegel, and, in deviating from the plot of Kirst’s book, it shows clear aspirations to be a prestigious, serious-minded historical drama in the vein of Lawrence and The Bridge on the River Kwai (also produced by Spiegel). In this case, the pulp is more effective than the prestige, and while screenwriters Paul Dehn and Joseph Kessel make a noble effort to use the murder plotline as a way of personalizing the madness of the Third Reich, the movie is most entertaining when it borders on unintentional camp.
The film opens with Major Grau (Sharif), a German intelligence officer, investigating the brutal murder of a Polish prostitute who, we soon learn, was working as a double agent for Germany. A witness saw the murderer fleeing the scene in the uniform of a high ranking general; Grau soon narrows down the suspects to the three generals who have no alibi, General Tanz (Peter O’Toole), General Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasance) and General von Seidletz-Gabler (Charles Gray). Before he can determine the culprit, Grau is transferred to Paris on one of the generals’ recommendation. Two years later, a similar murder occurs in Paris as, coincidentally, all three generals are in the city, and Grau is given the opportunity to complete his unfinished investigation.
That setup, and the story’s setting, are enough for an effective mystery, particularly as the suggestion of the grislier sexual aspects of the murders are surprisingly frank for a movie made in 1967 (as are the movie’s love scenes, even if they’re tame by today’s standards). But The Night of the Generals also tries to function as a historical epic, with the plot expanding to include the real-life plot among high ranking SS officers to assassinate Hitler (the same one that would later serve as the subject of the movie Valkyrie). There’s the hint of a more provocative film here, one that explores the complicated relationship between shifting ideologies and individual self-interest in the Third Reich, as in the arrangement between Grau and an Interpol inspector (Philippe Noiret) working for the French Resistance. However, these themes are never fully explored, and the decision to expand the story to an epic scale that spans years and, ultimately, decades only serves to dull any suspense that the movie might have had.
Director Anatole Litvak does a fine job of bringing a sense of verisimilitude to the film, and the scene where Tanz oversees a raid of a Polish ghetto is particularly powerful, especially since it and much of the movie was filmed in Krakow. The screenplay attempts to draw a parallel between Ganz’s individual madness and the insanity of the Third Reich, but it’s at once heavy-handed and frustratingly vague, as it’s never clear whether Ganz was transformed by his experiences in the war or if he’s a born psychopath who was a natural for the job. Either way, it’s fascinating to watch O’Toole play a thoroughly monstrous character, especially in the quiet menace brings to the scenes between Ganz and an officer (Tom Courtenay) working as his driver. O’Toole occasionally chews the scenery a bit, but rather than have him scale it back, I wish the entire movie was operating at his pitch. As a prestige picture, The Night of the Generals is okay, but I wish Litvak and Spiegel had committed to making the kind of lurid potboiler that the premise begs for.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of The Night of the Generals is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. It’s a fine, detailed transfer of a handsomely shot Panavision production that preserves a distinctly filmic graininess with very little dirt or other visible flaws. The Blu-ray’s rich colors are a particular highlight - the film has an interesting color palette, dominated by grays and muted blues punctuated by the deep reds of the Nazi flag and SS uniforms. It may not be a great film, but it’s a great-looking one. The DTS-HD MA mono audio is clear throughout, and Maurice Jarre’s score is included as an isolated track. The film’s teaser and full theatrical trailers are also included. The Blu-ray includes a booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
The Film: 3/5
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Directed by: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, Katharine Houghton
Number of discs – 1
Reviewed by David Steigman
Racial prejudice; this is something that has been going on our society and has been part of our lives since the beginning of American history. In 2015, we have become such a diverse society that racism while still prevalent is nearly not as large an issue as it used to be. All across the world, today, you see many people getting married to people from different ethnicities and races, including myself. While it’s no big deal today, back in 1967, mixed couples getting married was very much taboo, as many states deemed it against the law for inter-racial marriages, particularly between African Americans and Caucasians. That’s what makes Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner such a great, fantastic film. It’s based on reality and a major social issue at that time. Racism and prejudice still exists but not on a grand scale as it did 50 years before with Civil Rights issues
Sidney Poitier as Dr. John Prentice and Katharine Houghton(Katharine Hepburn’s real life niece) as Joey Drayton plan to marry and right away. They seek the quick approval of both of their parents which at the time was not easy because of how people would react to them or what society thought. Spencer Tracy (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Libeled Lady) and Katharine Hepburn (The African Queen) are Houghton’s parents while Beah Richards and Roy Glenn are Poitiers parents in this film. His parents, excited for his son are so anxious to meet his bride to be and are coming to the Drayons for dinner. While both mothers can sense the would be married couple’s deep love for each other, both dads have their qualms about it, especially Poitier’s father. In 2015, there’s a good chance that both fathers probably wouldn’t have a serious problem with a black man marrying a white woman, but in 1967 it was extremely uncommon, and up until that same year it against the law in many states. In 1967, the Supreme Court made decision that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional thus allowed marriages between two people of different ethnicities and colors.
The acting, reactions of the parents when they discover that their children, of different ethnicities (he being African American and she being Caucasian) plan to marry are just priceless. Much of the film has one parent talking to another or a parent talking to Poitier, while Kathy Houghton spends much of the film packing and preparing for the wedding; the best part comes when Sidney Poitier and Roy Glenn have a heated father and son debate with each other over this issue. The passion the actors bring to their roles are unparalleled, you can see the eyes watering on Poitiers face when he snaps back at his father. There’s a marvelous eight minute speech at the end given by Spencer Tracy that may bring a tear to one’s eyes. This was actually his last film and his brilliant speech at the films conclusion couldn’t have been more fitting way to end his career. Spencer Tracy was in poor health and sadly passed away shortly after being in this film. He was a terrific actor which spanned over 35 years.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner gets its first ever USA Blu-ray release courtesy of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1:85:1. Newly remastered with a 4K scan from Sony, this is just an outstanding presentation. The colors are vibrant, with excellent textures and present film grain. This is the best that this film has ever looked. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 which is more than adequate. No audio or sync problems
Twilight Time gives us a load of extras for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. We get a commentary track with Eddy Friedfeld, Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo. We get 4 introductions from Karen Kramer, Steven Spielberg Tom Brokaw and Quincy Jones
On top of that, we get several more features:
A Love Story for Today a 30 minute feature about the characters and the production
A Special Kind of Love – which contains archival recordings of Katharine Hepburn, along with an interview with Katharine Houghton
Stanley Kramer: A Man's Search for Truth
Stanley Kramer Accepts the Irving Thalberg Award
2007 Producers Guild Stanley Kramer Award Presentation to An Inconvenient Truth
Original Theatrical Trailer (1080p; 2:37)
I love this film. It’s great story based on real events that are still going on in our modern society. Racism in America still exists but we have come a long way when it comes to African Americans. Not only do we see mixed marriages in our society but we have our very first African American president. But a film like this is a great remembrance of how things were and to be thankful we don’t live in that era anymore. This is a wonderful film which has been given a wonderful release which I cant recommend enough.
The Film - 5/5
Audio/Video - 5/5
Extras - 5/5
House of Bamboo (1955)
Directed by: Samuel Fuller
Starring: Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Cameron Mitchell, Shirley Yamaguchi
Number of discs – 1
Reviewed by David Steigman
House of Bamboo is another crime / Film Noir from the 1950s but with a different flair to it. This movie was shot in wide-screen in Cinemascope and was filmed entirely in Japan using (male) American actors. It gives the film a unique atmosphere, instead of the usual gritty black and white photography that Noirs are generally associated with; House of Bamboo gives more of a taste of Japanese culture with breathtaking shots of 1955 Tokyo. In all honesty, it feels more like a crime gangster film rather than a Noir because it is out of the ordinary, traditional Noir setting. The movie was also directed by the great Samuel Fuller who brought us Pickup on South Street, Shock Corridor, the Naked Kiss and many other classics.
Robert Stack stars as Sgt. Eddie Kemmer as US Army investigator who goes undercover to find out who killed his fellow Army official named Webber. We learn that Webber was secretly married to a Japanese woman, Mariko (played by Shirley Yamaguchi) and she also wants to know who killed her husband and why. We do learn that the person behind the murders is Sandy Dawson, played by Robert Ryan (The Set Up, Bad Day at Black Rock) and his henchman including an over the top performance by Cameron Mitchell playing Griff,a very aggressive heavy referred to as Ryan’s Ichiban (his number one boy) It’s a Japanese based American gang running an illegal operation. As the film progresses Dawson has Eddie Kemmer join his syndicate, not realizing that the man is a sergeant and not a dishonorable discharge/criminal from the army. Kemmer , needing assistance in getting revenge on Dawson’s gang, also has Mariko as his Kimono girl, the only other person he can trust. Kemmer does an incredible job keeping his true identity a secret from both the police and the gang. The climax is a great chase through Tokyo and ends up at an amusement park. A terrific film all the way through !
House of Bamboo debuts on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1 and is light years better than the DVD. The colors seem somewhat darker, more of a bold, richer type of look. This is the best that this film has ever looked. Instead of looking like a 1955 film, it appears to look more like a 2015 movie. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 which is more than adequate. No audio or sync problems
Twilight Time, despite the constant accusations of not having any extras on their releases, has done a great job here on providing supplements, which they have been doing for quite some time actually. While not overloaded with extras ala Arrow Films or Shout Factory, what there are in supplements are very suitable. There are two audio commentaries. One by film historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo and the other by Alain Silver and James Ursini, two more film historians. Rounding out the extras are the usual isolated score track, Fox Movietone Newsreels and the original Theatrical Trailer.
House of Bamboo is the kind of film that will grow on you the more you watch it. I enjoy it not only because it’s a good thriller but to see Japanese culture incorporated into the film making this more unique than the average Noir. Great direction, great performances and a great release from Twilight Time make this an easy pick up. Recommeded !
The Film - 4.5/5
Audio/Video - 4.75/5
Extras - 4/5
10 to Midnight
Director- J.Lee Thompson
Cast-Charles Bronson, Andrew Stevens
Country of Origin-U.S.
Twilight Time could release Bergman's Brink of Life (one of my all time most desired titles on a digital format) this year and I'd still have to consider whether or not it was my favorite release they put out this year. The reason being is they just so happen to have released the Cannon Films/Charles Bronson sleazy classic 10 to Midnight to Blu-ray this month, and my love for Euro-arthouse is only rivaled for bizarre cinema such as this Cannon Films oddity.
I came to the films of Charles Bronson at an all too young age, watching the reflection of Death Wish in my Grandmother's mirror while my Dad and her watched the carnage unfold. I was fascinated. I had yet to see earlier turns in films like Once Upon a Time in the West, and House of Wax, so in my world he was already the "Death Wish" guy. A few years later I began to find a number of his films on VHS in my local store, the Death Wish sequels, The Mechanic (also released by Twilight Time), The Evil that Men Do, and one that would scar my mind in the best way possible, 10 to Midnight.
10 to Midnight was made in Bronson's early Cannon Films period, and was the direct follow up to Death Wish II. Rather, then go right into sequel territory with Death Wish III (that amazing slice of action would come 3 years later), they made this film which would blend the popular at the time slasher genre, with true crime (it takes elements from the murders of Richard Speck and Ted Bundy), the detective film, and action to create something quite interesting.
The film stars Bronson as detective Leo Kessler, who with a new partner Paul (Andrew Stevens) is assigned to solve a series of grisly murders committed by a streaker. They discover the murderer is a TV repairmen, but a slip up happens, and the murderer is set free. Because this is post-Death Wish Bronson, he then takes it outside the law to take care of the killer.
The cast of the film take the sleazy and bizarre premise, and work well with it, turning in some very solid performances. Director J. Lee Thompson (Guns of Navarone) offers a stylish moody piece, with decent amounts of action and violence.The soundtrack is solid, though at times ill-fitting, and yet that sometimes works for the strangeness of the material.
Twilight Time presents 10 to Midnight with a solid, but not perfect transfer, but that's sort of to be expected. There is a solid upgrade in detail from the DVD edition, a healthy grain structure, solid blacks, and accurate flesh tones. Some parts of the film were soft, and I did not see much in the way of issues with compression or damage from the source. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA mono mix in English with optional subtitles. The track was solid with dialogue and score coming through clearly. I did not detect any issues with the track. Extras include David Del Valle hosting the producer of the film and casting director that offers up some solid information. We also get the isolated score, 2 trailers, and a TV spot.
The Film (4/5)
The Buddy Holly Story
Cast-Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith
Country of Origin-U.S.
In doing a little research in advance of writing this review, I discovered that 1978’s Oscar-nominated The Buddy Holly Story took serious creative liberties with….the story of Buddy Holly. Apparently the makers of the film were unable to secure the necessary rights to do a proper biopic of the rock ‘n roll legend justice, so director Steve Rash (a once promising talent who has been reduced to helming lame comedies since the early 90’s, including direct-to-video sequels to American Pie and Bring It On) and one-and-done screenwriter Robert Gittler (working from a biography of Holly by John Goldrosen) were forced to adapt a “print the legend” approach to the material that involved composite characters, fudged facts, and flat-out making shit up as they went along in the development process.
Despite going into the film with some troubling creative strikes against them, Rash and Gittler had a secret weapon in their limited arsenal: Gary Busey. The future motorcycle accident survivor and walking media punchline scored one of his earliest lead roles as the late Holly, a lanky wannabe musician from Lubbock, Texas who was one of the first white rock stars to incorporate the influence of black music into his own work and was crucial in forever altering the evolution of modern popular music. Busey’s star-making performance is a true tour-de-force of acting that is as close to an authentic portrayal of the real Buddy Holly as we will likely ever see on the big screen, even if most of the film Busey headlines is pure bunk.
Rash’s film doesn’t make the mistake of attempting to tell the entire story of Buddy Holly, but rather chooses to chart his ascendancy to rock stardom along with his band the Crickets, played by Don Stroud (Django Unchained) and Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti). We witness the battles Holly has to wage with racist record company honchos who easily get up in arms over a white man playing “negro music”. When Holly and the Crickets get a prestigious gig at the world famous Apollo Theater, the promoter (Dick O’Neil) is stunned to discover that he booked a bunch of goofy-looking Caucasians by mistake (and just wait until you see the initial reaction of the all-black Apollo audience trying to process what they’re seeing). Holly’s songs start to climb the charts as his bandmates become increasingly furious at the rigors of nationwide touring and their fearless leader getting all of the attention while they’re being resigned to the background.
Buddy falls in love with beautiful Puerto Rican Maria Elena Santiago (Maria Richwine), fights to protect the integrity of his music, and the movie (SPOILER WARNING) closes out with his final concert performance before a title card clumsily informs us that he died later that evening in a plane crash that also took the life of the Big Bopper (Gailard Sartain) and Richie Valens.
The strength of Busey’s amazing lead performance, backed up by a stellar supporting cast that also includes comedy god Paul Mooney as Sam Cooke (the scene where he convinces a hotel clerk that Buddy and the Crickets are HIS entourage is priceless is one of the movie’s comic highlights) and the late Fred Travalena as hyperactive disc jockey “Madman” Mancuso, and Rash’s confident direction help carry The Buddy Holly Story over the narrative pitfalls created by the production’s inability to use most of the real story. Busey’s scenes with Richwine give us a welcome glimpse of Holly’s tender side, but when he’s butting heads with suits and producers or letting the creative juices flow Busey shows the audience how powerful he could be as an actor. The man’s still breathing so there’s a slim chance that one day he’ll give the opportunity to demonstrate that underrated prowess in front of the camera.
Cinematographer Stevan Lerner, who also shot Badlands for Terrence Malick as well as the original Caddyshack, employs one of the earliest uses of Steadicam to capture the film’s recreation of the changing times in gorgeous earth tones and does right by the detailed set design in spite of the production’s relatively inexpensive nature. The excellent score was composed by Joe Renzetti in his first major feature assignment. He would later work with John Carpenter on another biopic of a rock legend, the 1979 TV-movie Elvis, as well reteam with Steve Rash on Under the Rainbow and score the classic grindhouse revenge epic The Exterminator, both sequels to Basket Case, and collaborate on several occasions with director Gary Sherman.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release of The Buddy Holly Story boasts a vastly improved 1080p high-definition transfer sourced from a print restored recently by Sony Pictures that is framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The effort that went into the restoration results in a vibrant and crisp picture that far exceeds any version of the film available on home video. A fine layer of grain has been kept and only suffers from the occasional inconsistency. Texture is sharp and true, the colors are bright and alive when they need to be, and flesh tones are appropriate. The film was released with 4-track stereo sound and the lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does an excellent job of reproducing the original mix with stunning clarity and balanced volume. Dialogue is clear, the music sounds fantastic, and there is no damage or distortion to be found on the track. English subtitles have also been provided.
The best extra on this disc is the audio commentary with Busey and director Rash that was ported over from the 1999 Region 1 DVD. It’s a fun track with the two participants sharing lots of memories from the low-budget production, and while Busey is certainly animated during the recording he is pretty restrained compared to the gonzo media persona he has created for himself in recent years. The original theatrical trailer is also included alongside Twilight Time’s customary isolated score track, catalogue of over titles available from the company, and liner notes written by Julie Kirgo.
The Film: 3/5