Twilight Time Zone #9
 

By Andrew Bemis, David Steigman, and Bobby Morgan

A Man for All Seasons

Director: Fred Zinnemann

Cast: Paul Scofield, Robert Shaw, Susannah York

Country of Origin: U.K.

Discs: 1

Reviewer: Andrew Bemis

 

On its surface, A Man for All Seasons seems like quintessential Oscar bait – a costume drama adapted from a prestigious source, with a cast of distinguished character actors playing important historical figures. But while Fred Zinnemann’s adaptation of Robert Bolt’s play won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Paul Scofield’s portrayal of Sir Thomas More, there’s nothing stuffy or pompous about it. Focusing on the conflict between More and Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) when the former denies the king’s request to help him obtain a papal divorce, it’s a story about a man who defies his government in favor of his conscience that remains engrossing and relevant nearly fifty years after its release.

 

   Much of the movie’s success is due to Scofield’s performance, as the actor is tasked with playing a very stubborn man who tries our patience. There are points when, just as his family pleads with him to give the king what he wants for his own sake, the audience is thinking exactly the same thing, and Bolt’s screenplay and Scofield’s performance anticipate our frustration with him. More isn’t a fundamentalist ideologue but, rather, an intelligent and diplomatic lawyer and philosopher who sincerely believes that the consequences of his refusal to aid the king are outweighed by the cost of betraying his principles. It helps that, in the scenes between More and Henry, we can see that the king sincerely respects More and cares as much about his friend’s opinion of him as obtaining his help (ironically, he ends up punishing More for the exact reasons that he looks up to him).

 

Their scene together is the best in the movie, with Scofield allowing us to see how carefully More chooses each word as the he tries to maintain his integrity while protecting himself from arrest, while Shaw flies wildly between geniality and petulant rage (punctuated by Shaw’s wonderful, jocular laughter). The whole movie is structured this way, with long dialogue-heavy scenes between Scofield and a murderer’s row of great actors, including Orson Welles, Susannah York and John Hurt (in his first screen appearance). Bolt’s screenplay is a masterpiece of precise language; as More finds himself increasingly trapped, every word he chooses becomes more and more important, and the film’s many dialogue-heavy scenes are as riveting as a great action sequence. The gorgeous cinematography, costume and production design also help a great deal, but they’re notable for their unusual intimacy – while these would be the main attraction in the usual costume drama, here it’s the movie’s ideas that take center stage.

    

     Twilight Time’s Blu-ray of A Man for All Seasons boasts a gorgeous transfer – the film reportedly underwent a full restoration, and it shows. It’s a clean, detailed transfer with strong colors and black levels that never sacrifices the movie’s grainy, filmic look. The movie’s gorgeous exterior scenes, with their many shots of the Thames’ shimmering surface, look particularly terrific here. The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack isn’t the most necessary of remix for what is, after all, a very dialogue-heavy movie, but it sounds great throughout, particularly Georges Delerue’s score, which is also given its own music-only track. In addition, the Blu-ray includes an entertaining commentary by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, along with screenwriter Lem Dobbs (The Limey, Dark City); a featurette, “The Life of Saint Thomas More,” featuring historical experts discussing More’s life and the ways he was and wasn’t like Scofield’s character; and an original trailer that boasts about the movie’s then-recent Oscar wins. Liner notes by Kirgo that discuss the movie and Zinnemann’s career are also included.

 

The Film: 4.5/5

Audio/Video: 4.5/5

Extras: 3.5/5

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The Best of Everything

Director – Jean Neulesco

Cast – Hope Lange, Joan Crawford, Brett Halsey, Stephen Boyd

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs – 1 

Reviewer - David Steigman

 

 

     Love and romance. These two words are part of what makes our society as it is today. Everybody either has love or desires to love and be loved. Romance is a very necessary requirement in our life. We all want love and romance, in some way, shape or form. Often, drama films touch upon subject matter that occurs in everyday life.  The classic melodrama, The Best of Everything is one such film that really hits home with its’ very real, non-far-fetched storylines.

 

     Bad relationships, adultery and unfaithfulness are exactly what The Best of Everything boils down to in this powerful melodrama.  Almost every female character focused on in this film seems to be “the other woman” in this gripping drama. The male leads, who at first seem like decent fellows, turn out to be shady, unfaithful pigs.  And it’s not just about men having affairs; this film focuses on other forms of romantic entanglements as well, such as obsession and unwanted pregnancy. The events that happen to the ladies in this film do happen in everyday life in our modern society, the situations, events are all very real which is what makes this movie so good.

 

     The story is about the private lives of three females who all get entangled with men who turn out to be less than what they appear to be. The main character in this film is Caroline Bender, played by Hope Lange (Death Wish). The story begins with her starting a working career in Manhattan, New York, as a secretary for Fabian publishing offering *the best of everything*(hence the title) to their employees. Her editor is none other than the late, great Joan Crawford (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Strait-Jacket, Mildred Pierce) playing a very bitter, hard-nosed difficult to deal with type of person. We learn that she has become this way due to an affair with a married men that did not go the way she had planned. The affairs don’t stop there. Hope Lange is engaged to be married to Brett Halsey (Return of the Fly, The Girl in Lovers Lane) who is studying very far away in England. He comes from England to visit his fiancé to break the engagement because he married a wealthy lady. Isn’t that always the way?  But Halsey wants his former fiancé to be his mistress because he is so excited by her.

 

     But the fun doesn’t stop there, as Lange has two roommates that also get into all kinds of relationship problems. One roommate an inspiring actress, Gregg Adams, played by the lovely Suzy Parker( Kiss them For Me) , falls in love with a director of a film (Louis Jordan of Swamp Thing fame) she is trying to get a part in. Jordan unfortunately does not feel the same way toward her as she does him which ultimately leads to her demise.  She not only fails to get the part, but she also completely snaps, becoming obsessed with Jordan to the point where she thinks he’s having an affair and eventually loses it all, including her footing.

 

     Lange’s other roommate April Morrison, played by Diane Baker (also in Strait-Jacket with Joan Crawford) , is impregnated by a man who doesn’t really love her, but told her that he does so he can make love to her. When she tells this man, Robert Evans, playing Dexter Keye that she is pregnant, he urges her to have an abortion and also refuses to marry her. Nice guy. They struggle in the car where their argument is taking place; Baker jumps from the car, get severely injured and loses the baby. This is what makes The Best of Everything a very real, very powerful story. On top of the unfaithful, unloving, selfish men in this movie, we also get a womanizer, Frank Shalimar, played by Brian Ahrene(The Locket), who pinches, fondles, and makes passes at all the women who cross his path while working at Fabian Inc. If they didn’t have sexual harassment in 1959, they sure could have used it as he gets away with his antics that he would not in our current society. The women would be filing sexual harassment lawsuits, and Mr. Shalimar would not have a job

 

 

Twilight Time presents The Best of Everything on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1 and is light years better than the DVD. The colors seem darker, more of a bold type of look. There is a bit of blue dominance to it, but it did not bother me one bit. It was just a very noticeably different than the DVD. Outside of that the colors were rich, grain is present and 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 has provided a few good extras, probably the best that could be done for a film from this era.

  • · Isolated Score Track is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
  • · Audio Commentary features author Rona Jaffe and film historian Sylvia Stoddard.
  • · Theatrical Trailer
  • · Fox Movietone Newsreel.
  • The Film (4.5/5)

    Audio/Video (4.5/5)

    Extras (3.5/5)

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State of Grace

Director-Phil Joanou

Cast-Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, Ed Harris

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

  Until recently I had never seen what is doubtlessly the third best film of 1990 (behind Goodfellas and Total Recall, of course), but Phil Joanou’s stark, violent underworld melodrama State of Grace is a motion picture that has never received the attention it has richly deserved. Powered by a screenplay penned by the late playwright Dennis Mcintyre (who passed away seven months before its theatrical premiered) that must have read like a brilliant novel, and punctuated by moments of harrowing brutality, State of Grace is definitely Joanou’s finest feature and is long overdue for a critical reappraisal. Twilight Time’s new Blu-ray release should do just the trick.

  After an absence of a decade, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) has returned to his old neighborhood in Hell’s Kitchen to get reacquainted with some old friends and pick up where he left off. His childhood pal Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman) gets Terry a spot on the crew of his brother Frankie (Ed Harris), a crime boss in the Irish mob trying to maintain a shaky truce with his rivals in the Mafia. What no one else suspects is that Terry has spent the past decade as a cop for the Boston Police Department, and now he has come home to help New York cop Nick (John Turturro) bring down Frankie’s gang as an undercover operative. The murder of a longtime friend of Terry and Jackie’s, Stevie McGuire (John C. Reilly), over unpaid debts to the Italians enrages Jackie to the point where he is prepared to go to war with La Cosa Nostra to avenge his friend’s death, in spite of Frankie’s wish to avoid such conflict. Terry soon finds his attempts to stay a step ahead of his quarry spiraling out of control into bloodshed and tragedy and all he can do to protect the love of his life – Jackie and Frankie’s younger sister Kathleen (Robin Wright) – and himself from a violent end is to stop preventing the inevitable and take the battle to the very criminals that have come to trust him and accept him as one of their own

     Phil Joanou has made a career of directing the kind of movies you’re accustomed to catching on a sleepy weekday afternoon on Cinemax or being subjected to during a prolonged flight. They’re enjoyable enough to watch if nothing better is available at the time. His criminally overlooked crime thriller State of Grace is by far his finest achievement as a director. The Mcintyre screenplay (rewritten by an uncredited David Rabe) crackles with wire-taut tension, sharply-drawn characters, and pulverizing action that you never quite see coming. Sean Penn anchors the proceedings with a stellar star turn as the conflicted cop Noonan and it’s still one of his best performances, but he has the show practically stolen from him by Gary Oldman as the unpredictable loose cannon thug Jackie Flannery. Audiences who might only know Oldman from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies or from other big-budget studio features would be surprised to learn that once upon a time, few actors took such great risks with their career ambitions and invested so much of their mind, body, and soul into a performance as he did. At the height of his career, Oldman was one of a handful of screen talents capable of reducing every other actor in his orbit to a shell-shocked bystander without coming off as an egomaniacal showboat. Jackie is a great character for Oldman to play because he might seem like just another violent street criminal destined to meet a bloody end before his time, but the actor brings so much heart and pathos to the table that Jackie manages to leap off the screen and become an authentic human being. The violence that haunts most of State of Grace’s running time is motivated by Jackie’s desire to see justice done in the name of his murdered friend Stevie, not by greed or even insanity (even though the guy clearly isn’t all there), and Oldman’s performance really makes you feel that agony and confusion.

     Joanou’s ensemble also features standout turns from Ed Harris as the crime boss trying to hold his desperate empire together while maintaining a respectable façade, Robin Wright as the only woman in Terry’s life who matters anymore but would rather steer clear of the life he and her brothers have chosen, John Turturro as Terry’s hard-ass handler in the NYPD, and R.D. Call as Frankie’s emotionless enforcer. Two talented refugees from the Friday the 13th franchise – Marco St. John and Vincent Guastaferro – turn up as Mafia hoods, as does the soft-spoken Joe Viterelli. Thomas G. Waites of The Warriors and John Carpenter’s The Thing shows up briefly as part of Frankie’s crew. Future dramatic and comedic acting giant John C. Reilly impresses early in his career as the unfortunate Stevie, and the late Burgess Meredith makes a late appearance in the film as an old man living in a cluttered apartment who gets hassled for protection from the Flannery gang.

   Joanou shot State of Grace on location in the Manhattan and Little Italy sections of New York City, and the cinematography of the sadly deceased legend behind the camera Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner) casts a powerful shadow over the tense dramatic showdowns, bringing much tension and uncertainty to even the film’s quieter moments. This is a city trying to bury the sins of its nativist past by gentrifying Hell’s Kitchen and turning it into a colorless yuppie haven, a past that the existence of warring gangs with roots deeply tied to every street of every borough will never allow to stay buried. Through Cronenweth’s painterly darkness, everything stunningly comes to light. The final key component in making State of Grace a legitimately amazing film is the original score composed by none other than Ennio Morricone. Sergio Leone’s longtime composer of choice uses his music to bring emotional depth to each scene without calling attention to itself. It’s subtle Morricone, a concept that fans of his more operatic soundtrack work might not be able to grasp, but his music is as powerful and haunting as the movie itself. For most of State of Grace’s 134-minute running time, Joanou restricts any action to quick gangland executions, but he manages to pull out all the stops for Noonan’s final showdown with Frankie and his goons in a Hell’s Kitchen bar as a St. Patrick’s Day parade carries on beyond its walls. The blazing gun battle is filmed in slow-motion so we can hear and feel every bullet punch its way through a chunk of human flesh and leave a nasty blood splatter on the closest empty beer glass. Rather than feel like a cop-out on the director’s part in lieu of a more character-driven conclusion, the violent finale feels earned by this point in the film. Best of all, Joanou finds the perfect way to bring it, and State of Grace, to a close; he reminds us that sometimes there are no happy endings for those of us who choose to walk a dark and uncertain path in life, even the good people.

     State of Grace makes its debut on Region A Blu-ray armed to the teeth with a terrific 1080p high-definition transfer sourced from MGM’s restored print and framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The print has minor defects but they rarely distract from what is a vast improvement over previous VHS and DVD transfers. The cinematography’s muted color scheme is reproduced without unwarranted tinkering and the fine level of grain helps to bring out the rich texture of the New York street scenes and the Hell’s Kitchen interiors in ways never before enjoyed on the small screen. The top-notch transfer is boosted by a lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that replicates the original theatrical Dolby Spectral Recording sound mix with fantastic clarity and depth. Even the lowest-pitched dialogue can be heard without the need to adjust the volume, and the action sequences pack a punch with explosive gunshot sound effects that impress but never threaten to damage your hearing. Morricone’s score is presented on an isolated audio track. English subtitles have also been included.

     Twilight Time hasn’t provided their State Blu-ray with much on the extras side. We get the standard theatrical trailer, a trailer for MGM’s 90th anniversary, a catalogue of other releases from the company, and another excellent booklet of liner notes written by Julie Kirgo. The highlight of the supplements is a new audio commentary with director Joanou moderated by Twilight Time’s Nick Redman. It’s a wonderfully informative and candid track, with Joanou having much to share from his memories of the production, working with his high-caliber ensemble, and the final film’s critical and commercial reception. As always, Redman is a fountain of thought-provoking questions that keep the commentary from slipping into any stretches of dead air. Stick with the track through the end credits and you’ll hear Joanou discuss an alternate ending that would have ruined the perfect closing shot/

The Film: 4/5

Audio/Video: 4/5

Extras: 2/5

Overall: 3/5

 

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American Buffalo

Director-Michael Corrente

Cast-Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Franz, Sean Nelson

Country of Origin-U.S.

Discs-1

   An adaptation of David Mamet’s celebrated 1975 play, American Buffalo was brought to the big screen under the direction of Michael Corrente (Federal Hill) more than two decades after its stage debut, with Gregory Mosher (the director of the original stage production) serving as a producer on the independent production. The story takes place mostly in a junk shop owned by Don (Dennis Franz) that does precious little business during its hours of operation. Don spends most of his time hanging out with his friend Teach (Dustin Hoffman), a stringy-haired lowlife who seems to have nothing else to do, and neighborhood youth Bobby (Sean Nelson), an impressionable teenager who looks to Don and Teach for adult guidance and is usually rewarded by being sent on minor errands.

   During one of their many daily conversations, Don informs Teach about a customer he recently encountered who came to the shop to pawn a rare buffalo head nickel. It turns out that the nickel was just part of a rare coin collection that could be worth a fortune to anyone bold enough to steal it, so that’s exactly what Don and Teach plan on doing. They need a third man for the job and try to get their friend Fletcher, whom we never see or meet, in on the action, but they can’t seem to ever get ahold of the guy. Against Don’s better instincts, Teach insists on involving Bobby in their criminal endeavor. Though the kid is eager to help his reluctant mentors, Teach is hesitant to trust him and eventually has Don feeling the same way. When Teach’s distrust gradually morphs into violent paranoia, Don must choose between keeping his friends safe and possibly securing his financial future.

 

     David Mamet’s plays have always been like all-you-can-eat steak and lobster buffets for the acting elite of the world. His dialogue is pure profane poetry that at its best is able to strike a comfortable balance between the authentic and the theatrical. American Buffalo was one of his earliest produced plays and its film adaptation has never been regarded as quite up to the level of James Foley’s classic Glengarry Glen Ross, but under Corrente’s assured direction, Buffalo is infinitely better than it has any right to be. The play is basically Mamet’s Waiting for Godot, with a few characters spending most of their time talking at great length about other characters who will never exist in the flesh for the audience and trying to make some sense of their own station in life and how they try to improve it in their own peculiar way. The bulk of the action is centered in and around Don’s humble little junk shop in a non-descript neighborhood clinging desperately to life as the world moves on without giving its residents a second glance. Less happens in American Buffalo than in a first season episode of Seinfeld, but this is a story not so much about action as it is about taking action, and coming to grips with the consequences that could result.

 

     Dustin Hoffman is the star of the show and gets the most verbal character in the Mamet-penned screenplay as Teach, and though his performance is pretty solid it is also pure theater. Rarely does he get to convince us otherwise. On the other hand, Dennis Franz gives an absolutely understated turn as the beleaguered Don, a decent man sick and tired of always having to do the decent thing but still mature enough to maintain his composure in the face of certain chaos. Sean Nelson, most recently seen in Jim Mickle’s apocalyptic action-horror-drama Stake Land, has the lesser character of the cast but still manages to make Bobby into a sweet kid who only wants to earn the approval of the two men who have become surrogate fathers to him in a way, even if by doing so puts his own life in danger. Corrente and cinematographer Richard Crudo (American Pie) take great advantage of their main location in Don’s junk shop and give it genuine presence through intelligent lighting decisions and often allowing the camera to follow the characters and explore their surroundings, thus removing any feeling of staginess while allowing for the story to retain its slowly-building claustrophobic tension.

 

     American Buffalo was never the most visually arresting film, but Twilight Time has done wonderfully by it thanks to their 1080p high-definition transfer which was sourced from MGM’s own restored print. The picture is framed in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and contains a few noticeable traces of permanent damage, but is otherwise a first-rate transfer. Details are superb; you can spot every bead of sweat on Hoffman’s face and count the hairs in Franz’s mustache, and the primary pawn shop setting is so well-represented by the improved video quality that you can practically smell its musty essence. The undemanding audio mix benefits greatly from the inclusion of an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack that gives the extensive dialogue scenes volume and space and never suffers from instances of distortion. English subtitles have also been included.

 

     Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman contribute a fact-packed commentary that delves into the production’s background, from the origins of the Mamet play through the film’s release, and offers up much potent critical analysis. The brooding music score composed by Thomas Newman (Skyfall) gets its own isolated audio track. The rest of the disc-based extras consist of the original theatrical trailer for American Buffalo, a trailer for MGM’s 90th anniversary, and the Twilight Time Catalogue. Enclosed with the Blu-ray is another worthwhile booklet of liner notes written by Kirgo.

 

The Film: 4/5

Audio/Video: 4/5

Extras: 2/5

Overall: 3/5