Director- Roger Donaldson
Cast- Mel Gibson, Anthony Hopkins
Country of Origin- U.S./U.K.
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
"There are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth."
The story of the mutiny that took place on the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty is one of the most famous in modern history, made even more prominent through countless adaptations including a radio version mounted by Orson Welles and five feature films. Critics generally regard the 1935 film directed by Frank Lloyd with Charles Laughton and Clark Gable in the leads as the best screen telling of the mutiny to date, while the 1962 version is probably best-known for inspiring star Marlon Brando to buy his own tropical island.
My personal favorite version of the harrowing classic true life tale of brutality, betrayal, and madness at sea is 1984's The Bounty, a lavish adventure that originally would have been one of the final silver screen epics made by the late legend of cinema David Lean. For years, he had worked hard on a two-part adaptation with Robert Bolt, the screenwriting titan who had written Lean's masterpieces Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, for Warner Bros. Unforeseen circumstances, such as Bolt's problematic health and the studio's withdrawal from financing the ambitious undertaking, resulted in Lean departing production after Dino De Laurentiis stepped in to provide the necessary budget. Both of Bolt's scripts were condensed into one and New Zealand filmmaker Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace) was brought in to replace Lean in the director's chair.
Under Donaldson's direction and with Bolt's restructured script as a map, The Bounty tells the most balanced and honest version of the story to date. Often portrayed as a villainous martinet in previous adaptations, Lieutenant Bligh, as played marvelously by Anthony Hopkins, is finally allowed to be seen as the honorable but strict leader he always was. Rising star Mel Gibson was cast in the crucial supporting role of Fletcher Christian, Bligh's friend and traitorous first mate, and he fuels his performance with the full reserve of brooding intensity at his disposal. When he and Hopkins are sharing the screen, united in their respect for the code of the Royal Navy but adamantly opposed to each other in how that code is applied in shipboard life, their chemistry and commitment to nuanced performances can strike some impressive sparks.
For the first half, Hopkins takes center stage as the new commanding officer of the Bounty who is eager to make an impression on his superiors and earn the respect and loyalty of his crew. Bligh believes in the rigid, disciplinarian structure of naval life, but he is not an evil man. He just takes his duties seriously and trusts the men under his command to do the same, whereas previous portrayals of Bligh have painted him as a loathsome tyrant who abuses his authority - and anyone who stands opposed to him - with sadistic relish. You may not always agree with the measures Hopkins' Blight takes in order to keep the Bounty operating with efficiency and representing the Royal Navy with pride and honor, but at least we are now permitted to look at the situation from his perspective.
We all know the story of the Bounty by now, so anyone familiar with it will not be surprised by the sequence of events in Donaldson's film. What matters here is that now the filmmakers are able to embrace the more disturbing details and ethical dilemmas of the narrative and give us as accurate an account of what really happened from late 1788-April 1789 as possible. The ship, after getting pummeled and nearly destroyed by a spectacular storm during its voyage, makes port in Tahiti, where the natives greet them with open arms. Bligh allows his crew to enjoy the fruits of the tribe's hospitality as long as they put their duties as sailors above all else. But the sex, sand, and relaxation makes the men realize that they would be much happier staying on the island permanently, especially Christian. He has fallen in love with the king's fetching daughter Mauatua (lovely Tevaite Vernette), and the agony of having to leave her behind coupled with Bligh's increasing rage at the crew's suntanned sloth and their dissatisfaction with his command finally causes Christian to lead the mutiny against his friend and superior officer.
Bligh and several loyal officers and crewmen are set adrift in a long boat to sail off into certain death, but after Christian and the other mutineers don't exactly find themselves welcome guests back in Tahiti (the king Tynah, played with stoic grace and humility by Maori actor Wi Kuki Kaa, is as dedicated to upholding a chain of command in his tribe as Bligh was to his crew) they are forced to find lasting accommodations elsewhere. Since the framework of the story is Bligh's testimony on the mutiny at a court-martial presided over by Edward Fox (The Day of the Jackal) and a very frail-looking Laurence Olivier, there can be no suspense over the matter of his survival once he is forced to give up his command to Christian. During the compelling third act, Donaldson and editor Tony Lawson (Straw Dogs, Dragonslayer) alternate between scenes showing the deteriorating conditions on board the Bounty and the long boat carrying Bligh and his loyalists on their desperate journey. The displaced lieutenant learns to be a better captain in the process, while Christian becomes hated by the other mutineers.
Donaldson and Bolt aren't afraid to take The Bounty straight on into the heart of darkness, and despite having a PG rating in 1984 it's surprisingly brutal (a scene where a crewman played by Liam Neeson is subjected to a horrific whipping sheds much blood) and is able to show topless native women frolicing across the wide cinema screen under what the late Roger Ebert coined "the National Geographic loophole". But the filmmakers are wise to keep the focus primarily on the dueling ideologies of Bligh and Christian and the consequences they create for themselves and the others who side with each man. They both have their positive and negative points and prove that one person's hero can be another's villain, and vice versa. This is the most realistic take on the story of the Bounty to date, and I can't imagine another adaptation topping it in terms of sheer narrative ambition, performances, and technical execution. The Bounty is absolutely superb and an underrated masterpiece that has aged very well for a film more than three decades old.
Day-Lewis, Neeson, Bernard Hill (The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), Philip Martin Brown (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), John Sessions (Gangs of New York), and Dexter Fletcher (Kick-Ass) are the most impressive players in the film's expansive supporting cast. Donaldson brings ferocity and emotion to every scene with the help of ace cinematographer Arthur Ibbetson (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and production designer John Graysmark (Lifeforce). The only element of The Bounty's exquisite production that feels out of place is the rumbling, baroque electronic score by Vangelis. It's fine for what it is, but this film demanded a full scale orchestral soundtrack to match its lush visuals and impending danger in every frame, but Vangelis' compositions would have been better suited for a film with a more contemporary setting. The end credits theme in particular sounds ready-made for a VH-1 music video.
Twilight Time's AVC-encoded, 1080p high-definition transfer of The Bounty presents the film in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and looks great. While the restoration isn't perfect, it probably never was going to be any better than what we receive. Fortunately the picture quality has benefitted from the upgrade, with the gorgeous location footage, the recreated HMS Bounty, and the many scenes set on the open water appearing better than ever before. Colors are warm and glowing during the Tahiti portion of the film and dank and grimly oppressive when the action shifts back to the ship. Details are terrific and the grain content has been kept to an appropriate minimum to maintain the integrity of the fine filmic texture. Two English DTS-HD Master Audio options have been provided; the 5.1 track is a solid, immersive effort that gives great volume and space to the crucial components of the film's sound mix without creating overlap or distortion, while the 2.0 track is an isolated channel given over to showcasing the Vangelis score. English subtitles have also been provided.
Extra features include two highly enjoyable and informative audio commentaries: the first brings together director Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams, and production designer Graysmark for an involved discussion of the creative and physical hardships the production faced in presenting a historically accurate account of the mutiny on film; the second has historical consultant Stephen Walters flying solo on a track rich in detail about the true events of the Bounty and its fascinating assemblage of characters. The disc-based supplements close out with the original theatrical trailer and a trailer for MGM's 90th anniversary. Twilight Time's resident film historian Julie Kirgo contributes another great booklet of liner notes that provide additional information and critical perspective about The Bounty.
The Film (5/5)
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Director- Roger Corman
Cast- Jason Robards, George Segal
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Bobby Morgan
Whether you choose to admit it or not, Roger Corman is one of the most important filmmakers of the past century. His films as a director may never show up on one of those biased AFI lists, but the creative talent on both sides of the camera Corman nurtured and unleashed upon the world helped to cement a far greater legacy than the man's overly critical detractors are willing to accept.
In 1967, Corman took a break from ruling the drive-ins and grindhouses of the world and went over to 20th Century Fox, the organization that gave him his first job in show business (in their mailroom), to make his first major studio feature. For a cool $1 million, by far the largest budget the notoriously frugal director ever had at that point in his career, Corman delivered to Fox the crime saga The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, an ambitious docudrama about one of the most horrific events in the history of early 20th century organized crime. Eschewing most of the trappings of the Hollywood gangster movie, Corman and screenwriter Howard Browne traded up melodrama and bloodless deaths in favor of a ruthlessly efficient, fact-based narrative that has nary an ounce of fat on its bones. It's all business, pure Roger Corman, but shot on the hallowed Fox backlot on sets originally built for lavish musical extravaganzas like Hello, Dolly! and The Sound of Music in order to keep production costs to a minimum. The King of the B Movies wouldn't have it any other way.
The film is a dramatization of the heated, Prohibition-era rivalry between gangsters Al Capone (Jason Robards) and George "Bugs" Moran (Ralph Meeker). Moran has been encroaching on Scarface's territory for far too long and the big boss of Chicago's illegal booze smuggling industry is prepared to deal with this pesky interloper as only Al Capone would. It involves a series of betrayals, an auto garage, some fake cops, and a whole lotta bullets. If you're looking for character arcs and a solid emotional core, you've come to the wrong place. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre does an excellent job of sticking mostly to the facts and is a surprisingly accurate account of the events that lead up to the gruesome mass execution on February 14, 1929 that rocked a Windy City that had long become accustomed to gangland violence spilling out into the streets.
Corman made a film that at once paid perfect homage to the pulpy gangster pictures of the 1930's and embraced the rising audience demand for more graphic screen violence. Massacre is robust entertainment with no pretension but to thrill its viewers and give the on-camera talent some meaty roles to chew on like famished pit bulls. Front and center is the legendary Jason Robards, cast as the fearsome Capone after Fox rejected Corman's original choice Orson Welles (Robards was initially supposed to play Moran), and he delivers a flamboyantly engaging performance that tends to blow even the most seasoned character actor off the screen. He's having a ball as the boss of bosses in the Chi-Town of the Roaring Twenties, and to hell with everyone else. Matching him in the riotous hambone race is George Segal as Moran's chief gunman Peter Gusenberg, oozing genuine menace throughout his every scene. The fury he unleashes towards a gold-digging spouse (Jean Hale) because of an overpriced fur coat is frightening to behold.
Ralph Meeker, best known as the definitive silver screen Mike Hammer in Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, is a fine Bugs Moran, but he's sadly no match for Robards. Corman could have easily shot at least two or three more movies with the supporting cast he assembled here, and he saves a few small parts for his own greatest acting discoveries: Bruce Dern puts in an appearance as a mechanic roped into working for Moran at the worst possible time, and an uncredited Jack Nicholson is on screen for a fraction of the time it takes to boil an egg as a nameless Capone thug. There are plenty more recognizable names here and you fans of character actors will have fun spotting the familiar faces.
The cinematography by Milton R. Krasner (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) looks better than ever in Twilight Time's rock solid high-definition transfer, framed in the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Colors are boisterous where it counts and details have been sharpened to near-perfection, with only a moderate amount of grain kept in the picture to avoid the appearance of excessive noise reduction. The hearty yet restrained mono sound mix gets an excellent showcase courtesy of the English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track, and Lionel Newman's appropriately theatrical music score gets its own isolated audio track. English subtitles have also been included. Extras are limited to a brief but informative interview with Corman (4 minutes), a Fox Movietone News reel about the real Capone's trial and conviction (5 minutes), and the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes). Julie Kirgo contributes another fact-packed booklet of liner notes.
The Film (4/5)
Director- John Boorman
Cast- Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling
Country of Origin- U.K.
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
Watching Zardoz on the recent Twilight Time Blu-ray, I have to admit I have been very wrong for so many years. About 10 years during a film school screenwriting class Zardoz was projected in class, I was not feeling well that night, and remember being appalled by how bad the film was. For almost 10 years I chalked it up as one of the worst films I had ever seen. I figured I could attribute this to Zardoz director John Boorman having a rough patch during this period, having followed up Zardoz with what is generally considered the worst horror sequel of all-time Exorcist II: The Heretic.
Watching Zardoz now, I look at the film and wonder what I had disliked about it the first time around. The film is certainly one of Boorman's many masterpieces alongside such classics as Deliverance, Point Blank, and Excalibur. The film conceptually is not the most original science fiction film, but between it's visual style, and poignant political subtext the film creates a truly original science fiction experience that is as powerful today as it was in 1974.
Zardoz takes place in a post-apocalyptic society separated by factions of people Brutals and Eternals. The Eternals live in a world that could be described as behind the curtain (to use the Wizard of Oz analogy so present in the film). The Brutals live in a more stripped down part of post-apocalyptic Earth. The Brutals are broken into 2 faction, the Brutals themselves, and The Exterminators of which Sean Connery's Zed is one. His job is to keep other Brutals from breeding, because as the stone head of Zardoz chants at the beginning "The Penis is evil!" "The Penis shoots Seeds, and makes new Life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots Death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals."
Basically the film implies that the Earth was destroyed by the machinations of mankind, including overpopulation. Rather, then allowing them to breed, and takeover the Earth again, the Eternals are providing them with weapons in order to self-destruct to bring the Earth back to a harmonious state. Zed, of course, is not a simple Exterminator, he appears to have more going on in his mind than destruction, and at the latest visit by Zardoz' stone-head-ship-thing he escapes as it takes off. When discovered, he kills Zardoz, and rides the ship into The Eternals land, known as the Vortex. The Eternals, as there name suggest are a group of immortals. These human beings live in a small piece of land that is almost like a bizarre artist colony. In this place, they do what they can to pass the time, as immortality has made that pretentious, and bored. This includes cataloging elements from Earth's history. Due to lack of exposure to Zed's race, they begin to use him as a bizarre scientific experiment amongst other things.
Zardoz has some of the most striking imagery of Boorman's career. The Blu-ray presents this in a stunning 2:35:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer that preserves the films original aspect ratio. This transfer presents excellent colors, solid grain, and excellent fine detail. The audio presented DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix is similarly solid with dialogue, score, and effects coming through nicely. Twilight Time have put together a nice extras package with 2 commentaries, radio spots, trailers, isolated score track. There is also another excellent booklet of liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
The Film (4/5)
Director- Oliver Stone
Cast- Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez
Country of Origin- U.S.
Reviewer- Scott MacDonald
Oliver Stone is typically known as a director who makes films with certain social and political subtext contained within them. This can take by more strictly political in the case of W., JFK, and Nikon, or more broad taking aim at everything from the financial sector (Wall Street and it’s sequel), or the media (Natural Born Killers). It is not very often that Stone makes a film that simply entertains, in fact outside of his early B-Movies The Hand and Seizure, I cannot think of any films of his (that I’ve seen) that are strictly entertaining, outside of this month’s Twilight Time release of U Turn, which sees Stone create a bizarre small town action-drama.
U-Turn stars Sean Penn as Bobby, a mysterious man, who finds himself trapped in the town of Superior, Arizona after his car breaks down. This town is chock full of weirdos that seem like the Hollywood flip side to something you might find in an old Harmony Korine film. We find Bobby getting into increasingly bizarre and difficult situations as he tries to survive his supposed-to-be brief stay in the town.
The film is adapted from John Ridley's book Stray Dogs, with some contributions by Stone himself. U-Turn is Oliver Stone at his most unhinged, imagine if you will an Southwest Noir version of Martin Scorsese's After Hours. The film combines elements of film noir, action, drama, and a strange black humor to create something truly unique.
The Blu-ray preserves Stone's visual style perfectly in a gorgeous 1:85:1, 1080p AVC encoded transfer. Colors are fantastic, detail is excellent, there is some natural grain present, and I was left fully wowed by this one not having seen the film since early DVD. The audio track is a DTS-HD lossless 5.1 track which sounds excellent score, dialogue, effects all come through nicely. The extras package includes 2 audio commentaries, an introduction by Stone, an isolated score track, and the film's theatrical trailer.
The Film (4/5)