Twilight Time Zone #3
By Bobby Morgan, Scott MacDonald, and Andrew Bemis
Director- Richard Fleicher
Cast- Jack Palance, Omar Sharif
Country of Origin-U.S.
Upon its release in 1969, Che! was greeted with protests from right wing groups and, with a few instances of Molotov cocktails being thrown at theaters. As is usually the case with such stories, the protestors hadn’t actually seen the movie; if they had, it’s hard to imagine them finding much to get worked up about. Produced two years after Che Guevara’s death, Che! is a strictly by-the-numbers biopic, touching on the highlights of Guevara’s role in the Cuban Revolution and his downfall and execution in Bolivia. In a featurette included on the Twilight Time Blu-ray, star Omar Sharif describes Che as “the ultimate anti-establishment symbol”; unfortunately, nobody involved in the production seems to have given thought to Guevara as anything but a symbol. The movie never expresses a clear point of view on Guevara as either a freedom fighter or the enforcer of a totalitarian regime, and while it’s not necessary for the movie to have a political agenda, the way screenwriters Michael Wilson and Sy Bartlett try to avoid offending anyone results in a vague sketch of a lead character that doesn’t come close to the complexities of the real man.
Sharif tries his best, but he’s barely given a character to play - neither the young idealist of The Motorcycle Diaries nor the calculating military strategist of Steven Soderbergh’s Che is present here. Jack Palance is at least entertaining as Fidel Castro, playing El Comandante as Jack Palance with a beard and glasses. It’s not a convincing performance in any way, but it’s certainly memorable. Other notable Latino actors like Robert Loggia and Sid Haig appear in supporting roles. To be fair, if you can forget that Che! is hogwash, it’s pretty entertaining. Director Richard Fleischer was one of the great journeymen of the studio era, with credits including 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Soylent Green and Conan the Destroyer. Here, he alternates between handheld verite-style docudrama - used previously in films like The Battle of Algiers, but rarely in Hollywood productions at the time - and classical staging for the interiors and battle scenes. Charles F. Wheeler’s cinematography is a highlight, particularly the lush, widescreen exteriors, with Puerto Rico and California substituting, mostly successfully, for Cuba and Bolivia. And Lalo Schifrin’s score, the main reason for this Blu-ray release, is worthy of a much more tense and compelling film than the one it accompanies.
Che! is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Fine detail, colors and contrast are all strong, and the authentic skin tones only underline the hilarity of Jack Palance as Castro. There’s grain present throughout, but it’s pleasantly film-like, and it and the occasional softness are likely part of the source elements rather than the transfer. The 2.0 DTS-HD soundtrack is a bit thin in places, but again, I’d guess it’s an accurate reproduction of the original soundtrack, and it’s clear and free of distortion throughout. The main extra here, as always with Twilight Time, is an isolated score-only soundtrack; a vintage making-of (presented in HD), the theatrical trailer and a TV spot are also included. Liner notes by Julie Kirgo are included with the disc.
The Film: 2.5/5
The Dogs of War
Cast-Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, Colin Blakely
Country of Origin-U.S.
Globe-trotting mercenary Jamie Shannon (Christopher Walken) only feels at home when he's heavily armed and tearing it up on the fields of battle. The latest client to retain his costly services is a British tycoon named Endean (Hugh Millais) with a vested interest in the natural resources of the war-torn African nation of Zangaro, which is ruled with an iron fist by the military dictator Kimba (Ilario Bisi-Pedro). At first Endean merely wants to Shannon to go into Zangaro on a reconnaissance mission to assess the country's social and political landscapes and the strength of its military. When the battle-hardened merc gets a violent taste of how suspicious outsiders are treated under Kimba's regime he accepts Endean's offer to return to the country with a small army at his side. The objective is to take down the dictator and his forces so that Endean can install his own puppet ruler who will allow the businessman to strip-mine Zangaro for fun and profit, but Shannon seems intent on changing the plan and making what could be his final mission really count for something.
Based on the 1974 novel by Frederick Forsyth, The Dogs of War is rip-roaring action entertainment for the politically savvy thinking person. It never sacrifices character and story for the sake of a good chase or explosion (at least not until the big battle sequence that eats up the majority of the third act). British filmmaker John Irvin had shot documentaries in Vietnam during the war and later adapted his considerable skills to narrative television when he adapted John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy into a television miniseries for the BBC in 1979, making him the perfect candidate to bring Forsyth's politically-charged thriller to the big screen. In the hands of Irvin and screenwriters Gary DeVore (Running Scared) and George Malko - Michael Cimino also did an uncredited rewrite of the script when executive producer Norman Jewison was originally attached to direct the project - The Dogs of War becomes an intelligent and crafty adventure where every bullet tells a story and each life ended has purpose.
It also makes for riveting pulp with a compelling lead in the ever-brilliant Christopher Walken, cast classically against type as the veteran mercenary Shannon, and there is barely a scene in this film where the great actor doesn't appear. Shannon is our main character, our unlikely hero, but not an unstoppable superman. When he's not sporting fatigues and heavy artillery Walken resembles the Thin White Duke himself, but his chameleonic ability to look unassuming in his civilian life is a clever bit of misdirection that pays off splendidly when Shannon goes into action. Walken's best scenes in Dogs are not the ones where he's pumping bullets and breaking necks, but the quieter and more affecting moments where Shannon reveals his softer side and we briefly get a glimpse at the flesh-and-blood human beneath the steely exterior of a tireless warrior-for-hire. Most of those scenes were deleted from the original U.S. theatrical release cut on the order of executives at United Artists but remained in the version that played around the world. They were restored two decades later in Dogs of War's inaugural Region 1 DVD release from MGM. Having never seen the shortened version that American audiences first saw when I was all but a year old I now can't imagine this film without those scenes where Shannon attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife Jessie (JoBeth Williams), not to mention shorter scenes fleshing out the plot and the secondary characters further. The international cut of Dogs of War is now and forever the way to go, a fully-humanized thriller.
The action sequences come fast and furious and don't mess around. Irvin and legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff (The African Queen) shoot these brawny set-pieces with swift, brutal force and refreshing realism. The capper is an extended finale where Shannon and his fellow mercs return to Zangaro for a nighttime raid to remove the vicious general and it contains moments both heart-stoppingly suspenseful and cynically hilarious. Walken is backed up by a first-rate supporting cast that includes Tom Berenger in one of his earliest roles as Shannon's closest comrade-in-arms Drew, Colin Blakely (The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes) as an inquisitive British television documentarian Shannon first meets in Zangaro, Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Jean-François Stévenin (Brotherhood of the Wolf) as the other two members of Shannon's team, Ed O'Neil (Modern Family) as another merc, Winston Ntshona (The Wild Geese) as a doctor and political prisoner who tends to a post-torture Shannon's wounds, Hugh Millais (McCabe & Mrs. Miller) as the British tycoon Endean, and George Harris (Black Hawk Down) as his puppet of choice - and former ally of Kimba - Colonel Bobi. That's a cast any director worth their salt would be happy to have in front of their cameras.
The print used for Twilight Time's 1080p high-definition transfer of the 119-minute international cut is plagued by gobs of grain and scratches in the early scenes and still shows a bit in the scenes that were restored for the extended video release , but the quality improves over time. Noticeable damage fades away as Cardiff's crisp, textured cinematography starts to look better than ever on home video. Details are sharp, colors are muted without looking murky, and the overall quality is solid. The sole audio option is an English DTS-HD Master 2.0 soundtrack that thankfully lacks distortion and delivers on all fronts. Dialogue can be heard without much manual volume adjustment and the music and atmospheric ambient effects work in tandem without cancelling each other out. English subtitles have also been provided.
Extra features include the 104-minute U.S. theatrical cut (with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track and no subtitles), an isolated audio track presenting the fine music score by Geoffrey Burgon (Monty Python's Life of Brian) in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes), a trailer to promote MGM's 90th anniversary (2 minutes), a catalog of other titles available from Twilight Time, and an insert booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo.
The Film: 4/5
Director- Oliver Stone
Cast- James Woods, James Belushi
Country of Origin -U.S.
Salvador is my favorite Oliver Stone film. In fact it might simply be the only Oliver Stone film I have any passion for at all. In my younger days I made it through his repertoire, and enjoyed a good many of his films from Wall Street to Natural Born Killers, U-Turn, JFK, and beyond, but my apprecation of those has waned, while my appreciation of what could be the first film of Oliver's turn as a true auteur has only grown.
I should stop and say that some of my favorite films of all time are ones that show the power of the media so films like The Killing Fields, All the President's Men, and Salvador all sort of run together thematically showing the true power of journalism (in Salvador's case photojournalism) in casting light on world events, and exposing them to the world, and in some cases helping to enact change.
The film stars James Woods as Richard Boyle a washed up photojournalist who alongside his friend Doctor Rock (James Belushi) go down to El Salvador while the country is in the midst of a civil war in order to cover it. Boyle has no outlet, and is covering the war as a freelancer, and Doctor Rock just came along for the sex, drugs, and booze. The pair of them, however, quickly find out that they are not in the middle of a little skirmish, but a very serious conflict, and Boyle decides that he must get out with the woman he loves before it's too late.
James Woods was on fire in the 80's, with roles ranging from Once Upon a Time in America for Sergio Leone and Videodrome to David Cronenberg, he was certainly at his peak as a cinematic acting force, and one of his all time finest performances is as Richard Boyle in Salvador. In the film he plays a sleazy photojournalist, only interested in making a buck after being evicted from his home, and after his wife abandons him and takes his child with her. However, over the course of the film his performance becomes more dynamic, he falls in love not just with the woman of his dreams, but with the photography that made his name. It's a dynamic performance from Woods that occasionally does go over the top, but certainly fits the mood of the film.
Salvador is not Stone's first film having directed a pair of horror films in the early 80's and having written such mainstream fare as Conan the Barbarian and Scarface earlier in the decade. However, this film is the beginning of the Oliver Stone we know today. Salvador has a lot of the not-so-subtle political commentary Stone is known for, and mixes nicely, and also with the fast pace and stylish direction that would be become his trademarks.
Salvador comes to Blu-ray in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer in the films native 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The film looks and sound excellent with fine color and details present. There are 3 audio options DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 1.0 in English, and the latter also appears with an isolated score track which is a Twilight Time trademark. All the extras from the prior MGM DVD release are ported over including commentary 62 minute featurette, trailers, and more. We also get the aforementioned score, and booklet of liner notes.
The Film (4.5/5)
Director- Chuck Russell
Cast- Kevin Dillon, Shawnee Smith
Country of Origin -U.S.
I hate modern horror remakes, this isn't uncommon I'm a thirty-something horror fan, and have lived through and watched a lot of great horror films. I also understand some of the finest and most memorable cinema ever crafted falls into remake territory, from the Maltese Falcon to the Ten Commandments, that is why I prefaced the review with modern horror remakes. It seems in the current studio climate it is rare for an original horror film to be released and properly promoted to excellent box office, so only franchise horror, and remakes seem to be released to a general audience.
In the past remakes were done for a variety of reasons, and I am not naive enough to believe it was all for artistic reasons. An existing property makes the marketing of a film easier, as people have memories of that property, and there is an audience built in, however, it seems remakes from the late 70's to the early 90's (let's say Kaufman's Body Snatchers to Scorsese's Cape Fear) seemed to make an honest attempt to take their horror remakes into a new territory ,and do something interesting with their update outside of a simple retread. One of the films from the period that pulls off what a successful remake should be is the Chuck Russell scripted, Frank Darabont directed the Blob.
Russell and Darabont first came together on a franchise horror project, Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. They enjoyed the experience of working together so much, they decided to continue their relationship with the Blob remake. The Blob updates the 1950's Steve McQueen starring original and updates it successfully for the 1980's. The film takes the red scare message of the original film, and updates it to cover the politics of the new decade in a interesting way. It also creates a nice even pacing and atmosphere for the film, and even updates the backstory in order to create something fresh. The performances across the board are fitting to the material, nothing Oscar worthy, but perfect for a Sci-Fi/Horror film of it's ilk. The special FX from the Blob itself to the death sequences are excellent, and considering that this was made in the golden age of practical FX that is a must.
The film follows the basic conceit of the original, an object thought to be a meteorite crashes down on Earth, a homeless fellow stumbles upon it, and ends up with the gelatinous entity trapped inside of it on his arm. He is found by a trio of local high schoolers Brian (Kevin Dillon), Meg (Shawnee Smith), and Paul (Donovan Leitch) they get him to the local hospital, but before a Doctor can look at the man he "disappears". Paul tries to get the Doctors attention on the situation, but ends up a victim of the Blob as well. This leaves Meg and Brian to try and convince authorities of the nature of the situation without seeming crazy, the government gets involved, but not in a way that is helpful to anyone, and the townspeople are now stuck between evil government agents and a man eating Blob.
Twilight Time does a fantastic job bringing the Blob to Blu-ray in a splendid 1080 1:85:1 transfer. It has a nice quality image with excellent colors, and an overall natural look with organic film grain throughout, black levels are solid, and detail is nice. Twilight Time has presented The Blob with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English that works quite well for the film with dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely. There is also an isolated score present for those who are fans of such things. Extras included a newly recorded commentary with Chuck Russell and Ryan Turek of Shock 'Til You Drop, We also get a Q & A on the film recorded at the Cinefamily, and the films red and green band trailers.
The Film (4/5)