Twilight Time Zone #5
 

By Bobby Morgan & Scott MacDonald

Under Fire

Director-Roger Spottiswoode

Cast-Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, Gene Hackman

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

Reviewer-Bobby Morgan

 

After making his directorial debut with the tepid slasher Terror Train and continuing to little effect with The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, two-time Sam Peckinpah editor and 48 Hrs. co-scribe Roger Spottiswoode took a screenplay by Clayton Frohman (Defiance) and future fellow filmmaker Ron Shelton (Bull Durham) and made his most ambitious and substantial feature to date, Under Fire. A fictionalized account of the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution that ended the tyrannical reign of President Anastasio Somoza, Under Fire is told through the perspective of three characters created for this film who are based upon actual players in the early days of what would ultimately become a brutal, polarizing civil war.

 

Wherever there is a war or a dictatorial regime about to collapse, seasoned photojournalist Russel Price (Nick Nolte) is there with his trusty cameras prepared to document the lowliest depths of human depravity and suffering for the benefit of the newspaper junkies and couch potatoes back in the States. His friends Alex Grazier (Gene Hackman), a veteran reporter being courted for a network anchorman position in New York, and Claire (Joanna Cassidy), a radio reporter and single mom trying to raise her daughter over the phone from around the world, are headed to Nicaragua to tackle a "revolution of poets" that is brewing against besieged President Somoza (René Enríquez). Naturally Price decides to tag along for the opportunity to snap some photos that could snare him national attention, but soon after his arrival he witnesses a nightclub bombing and gets taken into custody by the police who are loyal to Somoza. The revolution is growing thanks in part to its mysterious leader Rafael, who has never been seen and has become a icon to the terrorized populace, and Price becomes determined to find him.

 

Along with Claire he travels to towns where the fighting is growing worse by the day. They are aided in their quest by Jazy (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a French spy posing as a businessman who may have an ulterior motive for his actions. Price and Claire become personally involved in the revolution when their services are enlisted to help turn public opinion in their favor in order to stave off additional military aid from U.S. President Jimmy Carter. The two colleagues also grow to love each other as more than friends, but the journalistic ethical dilemma they created with the best of intentions threatens to destroy their professional credibility and endanger not just their relationship with Alex but also their very lives as Somoza and his forces increase their efforts to destroy the revolution and any and all who support it.

 

Under Fire is a story based partly in truth. There really was a revolution happening in Nicaragua in 1979 in opposition to decades of rule under the thumbs of presidents who preferred to live in luxury while their constituents starved and believed they were entitled to total power and control. Shelton and Frohman's script takes the true events and incorporates them into a largely fictional and romanticized narrative that doesn't disregard the horrific things that happened at the time in favor of story elements that could help sell the film better to audiences of the early 1980's. The main characters all have real life counterparts. Nolte's character Russel Price was based on the celebrated photographer Matthew Naythons (who worked on the film as a technical adviser and also took behind-the-scenes photos, several of which are included on this Blu-ray as a bonus feature), and without spoiling the third act proceedings Hackman's world-weary newsman was inspired by ABC reporter Bill Stewart. The names may have been changed but the story mostly remains the same. The people were there, a country was crumbling, and the sight of streets lined with bloodied and broken corpses had become a common occurrence.

 

Through the lens of cinematographer John Alcott (The Shining), Spottiswoode brings the terror of everyday life in Nicaragua to life as much as his Hollywood studio funding would allow. The country's citizens valiantly carried on with their lives even though they knew that death could come at any time, be it at the hands of Somoza's troops or as collateral damage in the revolution's ongoing struggle. The story focuses on the characters of Price and Claire and how they come to fall in love with both each other and the revolutionary cause, a love that compels them to risk their careers and reputations on a gamble to undermine Somoza's efforts to crush his enemies, but the love story is not focused on as much as it would be in a safer, blander film. They share a kiss and an off-screen romantic interlude, but the real story is seeing how these two individuals who long tried to remain neutral and objective in matters of foreign affairs for the sake of their professions come to realize how influential the Fourth Estate can be in affecting real change in the world.

 

Nolte is at is best playing Price as a charming, lovable rogue who practically runs into danger whenever the opportunity presents itself but finds his armor carefully stripped away as he gets closer to the story of his lifetime. Hackman's role is not as strong or visible as his co-stars but he remains onscreen long enough to make an impression as the cynical Alex - warm, caustically funny, and unsure of his place in the world as the times change. Cassidy's performance as Claire was the breakout of Under Fire and should have made her a star or at least placed her among the finest dramatic actresses of her generation, but the film's box office failure and mixed reviews pretty much put the kibosh on that. It's a real shame because she brings grit, grace, and empathy to the character and never overplays her big emotional moments. The supporting cast is a line-up of colorful players who drop in and out of the story as needed and often steal their scenes and are brough to life by the likes of Trintignant (The Conformist) as the two-faced spy Jazy, Richard Masur (The Thing) as an American public relations stooge at Somoza's service, Hamilton Camp (Heaven Can Wait) as a television reporter, and Ed Harris in one of his earliest and boldest performances as a laconic mercenary and friend of Price who decides which side to fight for based on how much they pay.

 

Twilight Time has treated Under Fire to a wonderful 1080p high-definition transfer framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio that keeps the grain to a minimum and removes most instances of print damage. The colors are warm and natural and never detract from the rest of the picture, with balanced skin tones and more pronounced texture. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is another winner with a balanced and vibrant sound mix that prioritizes the dialogue and Jerry Goldsmith's rapturous, Morricone-esque music score but never allows one to drown out the other. Volume levels are solid and strong. English subtitles have also been included.

 

Extra features are mostly new and include two commentary tracks, a criminally brief retrospective interview with Cassidy, a gallery of behind-the-scenes photos shot by Naythons, the original theatrical trailer, and a return appearance of the MGM 90th Anniversary trailer. The first commentary unites director Spottiswoode with Naythons and assistant editor Paul Seydor and is moderated by Twilight Time's Nick Redman, while the second features Redman and fellow film historians Jeff Bond and Julie Kirgo talking with the film's music mixer-producer Bruce Botnick and music editor Kenny Hall. Between both tracks we are given a great deal of perspective into the making of Under Fire from treatment to premiere and everything that happened in-between, and despite the wealth of participants these commentaries never become crowded affairs. The interview with Cassidy barely touches upon her experience making Under Fire before its three-minute running time comes to a close. Goldsmith's soul-stirring score gets its own isolated music track and Kirgo contributes another booklet of liner notes.

 

The Film: 4/5

Audio/Video: 4/5

Extras: 3/5

Overall: 4/5

 

The Train

Director-John Frankenheimer

Cast-Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

Reviewer-Bobby Morgan

 

Few filmmakers had the kind of perfect run of critical and commercial smashes in the 1960's that the late John Frankenheimer enjoyed. Beginning with the sterling drama Birdman of Alcatraz and the icily funny political thriller The Manchurian Candidate and culminating with the high-octane racing epic Grand Prix, Frankenheimer jumped from a career as one of the finest directors of live television to the big screen with his hair barely mussed and produced some of the decade's defining classics. Unfortunately he would never have that hot streak again, producing the occasional entertaining picture for the remainder of his career, which ended as did his life in July 2002. One of the best films he made at the beginning of his silver screen reign was the stark and suspenseful 1964 World War II thriller The Train, a project he inherited from its original director Arthur Penn and managed to whip into a crafty, propulsive adventure merciless in its ambitions and never an insult to the intelligence of the viewer.

 

In the final months of the war the Nazis have been given to order to begin withdrawing from France as Allied forces draw near. Nazi Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) instructs the men under his command to empty an art museum of every one of its most priceless paintings and load them onto a train to be taken back to Germany as a valuable prize and a metaphorical middle finger to the French. The museum curator (Suzanne Flon) requests help from the French Resistance to keep the train from leaving the country until the Allies have made their long-awaited arrival. The task is assigned to Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster), a resistance leader and trainman who has seen enough good people die during the war for maddening reasons and doesn't see the point in risking more to protect a train full of artwork. Soon he realizes that what the train carries isn't just a bunch of paintings, but rather a vital part of France's history and identity. Along with a few other members of the Resistance Labiche secretly puts a complicated and dangerous plan into motion to keep the train in France for a few more days until Paris is liberated while the colonel places him in charge of seeing that it reaches Germany.

 

At the core of The Train's clockwork plotting and high-wire suspense is the moral dilemma of weighing human lives against works of art created by some of the finest painters the world has ever known. Should one or more people have to die to ensure that an original Picasso or Monet is kept out of the hands of true evildoers? But there is more at stake in this film than some mere paintings. To the Nazis the museum's contents are a trophy that they hope will always remind them of the country they couldn't have but whose future they gleefully destroyed and defiled. The paintings mean about as much to them as they do your average Kardashian sister. The Nazis are the greatest force of evil history ever produced and they would wipe the histories of their conquered countries completely away in order to impose one that better reflects their warped, diseased worldview. Every action taken in The Train has increased weight. Protecting the rail cars that contain the priceless art isn't just about sticking it to Adolf; it's about securing the future of a nation that stood up in the face of tyranny and oppression. That makes The Train far more important and vital a work of cinema than most films in the genre of action cinema.

 

Frankenheimer is one of filmdom's finest and most dedicated craftsmen. He directs the action sequences with marvelous clarity and the skill of a master, but where the filmmaker truly excels is in the quieter dialogue scenes. Frankenheimer can shoot a tense close-up of one of his actors as well as Picasso could wield a paint brush; the man loves to hold the camera on the performer through every dripping bead of sweat and every bitten lip, allowing the audience to see the internal struggles of the characters without requiting expository dialogue to do the job instead. Burt Lancaster made for an excellent subject in those scenes because he was one of a precious few celluloid performers who could communicate their emotions with simple body language most effectively. The legendary star is more than up to the task of delivering a performance of raw emotion and full-bodied physicality; in one masterful unbroken shot Lancaster attempts to flag down a train, then slides down a ladder, runs alongside the train, and actually hops on board briefly without the aid of a stunt double. He dominates the dramatic scenes as well and plays beautifully off Paul Scofield's Colonel von Waldheim, a great, all-too-human villain whose desire to pilfer the paintings might be primarily motivated by his covert appreciation for their mastery. The lovely Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim) has a small but significant role as an innkeeper sympathetic to the Resistance to a certain point and becomes a reluctant participant in Labiche's plans. The stars are backed up wonderfully through fine supporting performances from Michel Simon (The Passion of Joan of Arc), Wolfgang Preiss (A Bridge Too Far), Charles Millot (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), Albert Rémy (Shoot the Piano Player!), and Jacques Marin (Marathon Man). Fans of Eurotrash horror might be able to spot Donald O'Brien (Zombie Holocaust) and Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon (Succubus) in throwaway Nazi roles.

 

The 1080p high-definition transfer of The Train in its original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio is far from a stunner, but all the same it looks pretty good for its age and the elements made available for the upgrade. Though the print contains its share of lasting defects most of the dirt and damage has been removed and the cool black and white cinematography of Jean Tournier (Moonraker) and Walter Wottitz (Army of Shadows) is vastly improved in its home video incarnation as a result. The film was recorded and released in mono so the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track provided for this release by Twilight Time is adequate enough for the job. Distortion is low and often non-existent though the volume control sometimes requires manual adjustment in order to hear the soft-pitched dialogue scenes, but the playful yet brooding music score composed by Maurice Jarre sounds amazing. The score also gets its very own isolated audio track. English subtitles have been included.

 

The extra features include an informative commentary with Frankenheimer that initially appeared on an earlier DVD release prior to his death and a new commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo (who also wrote the liner notes included with this Blu-ray), Paul Seydor, and Nick Redman that fills in a lot of the technical and analytical detail absent from the director's chat track. Rounding things out are the original theatrical trailer for The Train and that damn MGM 90th Anniversary trailer yet again.

 

The Film: 4/5

Audio/Video: 3/5

Extras: 2/5

Overall: 3/5

 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Director- Ronald Neame

Cast- Maggie Smith, Pamela Franklin

Country of Origin- U.K.

Discs-1

Reviewer- Scott MacDonald

 

  I cannot say for certain whether or not this was a narrative cliché before the 1969 release of the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but there is a certain narrative genre where a teacher comes into a school, and becomes the cool, yet positive influence a student body needs to makes changes in their respective lives. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie certainly brings that concept to the table only to complete subvert and satirize, possibly before it was even a cinematic staple.

   The Miss Jean Brodie of the title is played by Maggie Smith (Harry Potter, Gosford Park), a school teacher at the Marcia Blaine All-Girl Preparatory Academy.  She has a very pseudo-liberally minded approach to her character that mixes progressive 60's feminist politics with fascination and approval of fascist dictators that might not be out of place in a late 1960's Godard film.  She has been hired to teach history, but in between is attempting to teach life skills, and to mold her young students in ways that she sees fit for them. She views one as a painter,  another a writer, and another an actress. This is whether or not, it is in there best interest to pursue these avenues of expression or not. She involves herself in the lives of her student in order to help enact these changes, and also offers a glimpse into her own life.  A life where she rejects the advances of others in the pursuit of a certain perfection.

   In most films of this stripe, the teacher comes into the students lives and exploits what he/she sees as an area where positive change be made with Brodie that does happen, but it feels more or less like Miss Brodie is less acting on the best interest of her students, and rather is attempting to give herself multiple second chances at youth with a presumably different outcome. The film is well directed by Ronald Neame, who keeps things simple, and allows the performances of the very capable cast (including a young Pamela Franklin) to shine.

   The Blu-ray from Twilight Time is presented in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The transfer looks quite good, with solid detail, and good natural colors reflecting the tone of the production. We also get a healthy dose of natural film grain throughout the presentation.

   The audio for the film is presented in a DTS-HD MA mono 2.0 track in English. The track is quite suitable for the film with the dialogue and score coming through quite clearly.

   Twilight Time has included with the extra features a commentary track between director Ronald Neame and actor Pamela Franklin, an isolated musical score, and the films theatrical trailer.

The Film (4/5)

Audio/Video (4/5)

Extras (3/5)

 

Fright Night (30th Anniversary Edition)

Director- Tom Holland

Cast- William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse

Country of Origin- U.S.

Discs-1

Reviewer- Scott MacDonald

 

Fright Night is a very important film to me. It's certainly not a flawless classic of horror cinema, but it came into my life as a young horror fan at the time I needed it most, and it's main character though older than I was at the time exemplified the type of person I was.  A young enthusiastic, slightly naive genre fan stuck in small town America with horror cinema as one of my few escapes. Fright Night tells the story of Charley Brewster played perfectly by a young William Ragsdale. Charley is a young teenager just trying to survive his teenager years, get passing grades in high school, and hopefully make it with his girlfriend. On the night where the latter looks like it's actually going to happen Charley notices the house next to him, long abandoned may no longer be, and the people that are moving in are carrying a coffin. Of course, in a long line of people who don't believe a word to come out of his mouth in regards to this developing situation his girlfriend Amy (Married with Children's Amanda Bearse) gets frustrated and bails leaving Charley still unable to get laid, and now concerned that his neighbor is a vampire, which he will soon discover he is.

 

The neighbor is Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), and though he lives in quiet suburbia does not attempt to take to the shadows, and immediately upon his moving into the community a rash of murders begin. Charley knows that these murders are the work of his vampiric neighbor, he's even seen one in progress, however with no way to prove it he must attempt to destroy the vampire himself.  Of course, his friends think he's crazy, but they hire local horror host Peter Vincent (a wonderful late career turn by Roddy McDowell) to pretend to assist Charley in the investigation and destruction of Dandrige. Of course, while acting out Vincent discovers the truth, and things truly begin to unravel for the friends (including Charley's best friend "Evil" Ed.) as they begin to succumb to the vampire. It is up to Charley and a reluctant Peter Vincent to stop Dandridge before he can turn Amy, kill them, and continue his suburban killing spree. 

 

Fright Night was one of quite a few suburban vampire films to come out of the 80's. We had such films as Once Bitten (starring a very young Jim Carrey), Vampire's Kiss (starring Nic Cage), My Best Friend is a Vampire, The Lost Boys, and probably more. Fright Night has always stood above and beyond all those other films as the greatest of the 80's suburban vampire films to become a legitimate classic of horror cinema. Fright Night director/screenwriter Tom Holland brings the world of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (Charley first spies Dandridge's coffin with a pair of binoculars through his window as a nod to the maestro) to suburbia and adds a twist of the vampiric supernatural, and does so with excellent atmosphere, charm, and suspense. The performances across the board are excellent. Bearse and Ragsdale do quite well with the material, and offer fairly straighforward performances. The film, however, is owned by the combined acting prowess of Stephen Geoffrey's as "Evil" Ed, Chris Sarandon as the vampiric Jerry Dandridge, and or course the late Roddy McDowell as the hammy horror actor and host Peter Vincent.  The 3 elevate the film from what could have been a typical entry in the suburban horror genre into something much greater.

 

Twilight Time has presents Fright Night in the same excellent transfer as their prior edition. The film has a solid 2:40:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The transfer has excellent detail, wonderful colors, and deep blacks. There is also a nice grain field present throughout the transfer. The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track in English with dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely. An isolated score track is, of course, included, and there are optional English subtitles.  The Blu-ray is certainly an upgrade in the extras department, the Blu-ray contains 2 commentary tracks, video from the first Fright Night reunion panel, a video interview from ShockTilYouDrop.com called Choice Cuts with Ryan Turek and and Tom Holland, and a series of galleries.

 

The Film (4/5)

Audio/Video (4/5)

Extras (4/5)

 

The Bride Wore Black

Director- Francois Truffaut

Cast- Jeanne Moreau, Jean-Claude Brialy

Country of Origin- France

Discs- 2 (1 Blu-ray, 1 CD)

Reviewer- Scott MacDonald

 

There are 2 things most modern film fans know about Francois Truffaut's late 1960's effort the Bride Wore Black.  The first is that it is Truffaut's direct homage to the work of Hitchcock. The second is the plot of the film seems to have inspired (whether he'll admit or not) Quentin Tarantino's opus Kill Bill. The film stars the immortal Jeanne Moreau (Jules et Jim) as Julie Kohler, a woman whose husband is accidentally shot and killed by a pack of drunken men on the steps of a cathedral on her wedding day.  At first suicidal, she is prevented from her premature death by her Mother, she then decides to take the negative energy from the suicide attempt, and direct it at homicide.  She makes a list of the 5 men who caused her husband's death, visits them one by one, and executes them in a way suited to both their demeanor, and also in ways that homage Hitchcock's earlier films (one for example dies in a concert hall, channeling The Man Who Knew Too Much).

 

I'm a great lover of Truffaut's cinema, Jules and Jim being one of my all-time favorite films. Further, his Hitchcock/Truffaut book is one of the greatest books on the subject of film, and probably the greatest study of one director's filmography ever written. Truffaut, of course, came out of the French New Wave and was one of the earliest examples of a director who was influenced by the cinema he viewed prior to taking on a film.  It would appear no film in his filmography channels that aesthetic more than the Bride Wore Black.  With this film he, of course, brings back murderous examples of Hitchcock's prior work, but also the man who scored some of Hitchcock's greatest films Bernard Herrmann (Psycho). Further, the film brings back Jeanne Moreau from Jules and Jim in a character that in a way channels Hitchcock's Marnie with a touch of Psycho’s Marion Crane.

 

The film is not one I would put amongst Truffaut's best, but it is an entertaining ride. The performance by Moreau seems to give the film it's true dramatic heft, and continuity. However, where Hitchcock's greatest films had a sense of suspense that compelled the viewer to the end, the Bride Wore Black never manages to recreate that, as we watch Moreau check off her list of death.

 

Twilight Time has presented the Bride Wore Black in a solid 1:66:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that looks quite excellent. The colors are solid and stable, and give way to nice fine detail.   There are decent blacks, and a healthy level of film grain present. The audio is presented in French with a DTS-HD 1.0 track with optional subtitles in English. There is also an isolated score. Extras include a commentary track by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman with film historian Steven C. Smith. The film's theatrical trailer, a booklet of liner notes, and a bonus CD conversation with Bernard Herrmann.

 

The Film (3.5/5)

Audio/Video (3.5/5)

Extras (3/5)