Thursday, July 10, 2014

Scars of Dracula: Limited Edition

Scars of Dracula: Limited Edition (1970)
Movie rating: 5/10
DVD rating: 8/10
Release Date: 2001
Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Rating: R
Distributor: Anchor Bay
List Price: $24.98
Disc Details
Special Features:  Widescreen format.
Commentary by Christopher Lee! and director Roy Ward Baker.
Chapter selection.
US and UK trailers.
Poster and still gallery.
Talent bios.
BONUS DISK: The Many Faces of Christopher Lee. (includes chapter selection and 2 music videos)
Video Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital) 2.0
Captions: None.
Casing: 2-Disc Keep Case

The glory of the House of Hammer films came to an end in the early 70s with the release of several tired and lame films. While there were a large number of very good Horror films put out by Hammer during this period, their power as a studio began to decline. Rather than take the time to think about how to reinvigorate their market, Hammer gave decided to take advantage of the loosened restrictions on film making and rely on sex and violence. While sex and violence can be an integral part of an excellent movie, sex and violence for its own sake, without a good story line is usually the sign of a weak film.

"Scars of Dracula" falls into the latter category. While Christopher Lee is given more screen time and dialogue than in the 4 prior outings, that alone is not enough to make up for the film's flaws.

Studio budget concerns caused Hammer to rush this film into production with a small budget. As a result, the film is not as visually or stylistically exciting as previous efforts. Also disturbing is the amount of sadism present in this movie. Dracula brutally stabs one of his female vampire cohorts after catching her in bed with the hero. In another scene, he tortures his caveman like assistant.

The film was heralded for one particular shot of Lee scaling the wall of his castle in a batlike manner. The scene is poorly executed. It looks like nothing more than Mr. Lee walking across a floor in a crouched position. The same idea was executed much better in "Dracula" with Frank Langella and the TV version of "Dracula" with Jack Palance.

I'm glad I have the disk because I am a big fan of Christopher Lee and Hammer films. It is my least favorite of his Dracula films, but it is still better than a hoard of imitators.

The Disc
Another fine Hammer DVD by Anchor Bay. The commentary track is excellent. The picture and sound are good. The bonus disk about Christopher Lee sealed the deal for me.

Picture Quality: 8/10
While the movie isn't as lush as many earlier Hammer films, the cinematography was adequate considering the budget. Anchor Bay does the best they can with the source material.

Sound Quality: 7/10
The sound isn't bad, but again, it is in mono. You have to consider the source material.

Menu: 10/10
Nice use of the movie's images and sounds. Again, I raise my one complaint about Anchor Bay's menus: no pictures on the chapter selection menu. There are pictures on the chapter selection on the Bonus Disk though!

Extra Features: 10/10
Being a Christopher Lee fan, I rate this high. The commentary track with Mr. Lee, director Baker and film historian Marcus Hearn is very good. They talk in detail about Hammer films in general, and to a certain degree about this particular movie.

I also liked the bonus disk. The hour long documentary about Christopher Lee takes you through his entire career. There are also a couple of Music Videos that Mr. lee did with musician Gary Curtis. The first is a duet with Lee singing "O Sole Mio" to Curtis' "It's Now of Never." The second is an embarrassing country tune called "She'll Fall For Me." While neither video will inspire repeated viewing, they are fun for fans. I am not a fan of opera, but Mr. Lee's baritone is not bad.

The Final Word:
Hammer fans and Christopher Lee fans will want this for the permanent library despite the fact that the movie itself isn't that good. There are great extras concerning both Hammer films and Mr. Lee's career.

The Lair of the White Worm

The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
Movie rating: 7/10
DVD rating: 7/10
Release Date: August 19, 2003
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Rating: R
Distributor: Artisan
List Price: $14.98
Disc Details
Special Features: Widescreen anamorphic format
Chapter selection
Video Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.77:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
Subtitles: English for the hearing impared.
Captions: Yes
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case

Ken Russell's "The Lair of the White Worm" is one of my guilty pleasures. I have always enjoyed Russell's gonzo approach to filmmaking. "Lair" is far from his best work. Based on a minor story by Bram Stoker, "Lair" pits Lord D'Ampton and friends against Lady Sylvia Marsh (Amanda Donohoe), a serpentine vampire.

Amanda Donohoe as Sylvia Marsh is a kinky delight in this Ken Russell trashfest. She is an adherent to an ancient pagan snake religion. When archeologist Angus Flint (Peter Capaldi from Local Hero) unearths the skull of a long dead dragon, Lady Sylvia shows up to reclaim the skull and resurrect her god. Along the way she seduces and bites a number of the locals. Hugh Grant and Catherine Oxenberg provide support as the hero and the virgin sacrifice.

Director Russell is known for his crazed religious symbolism. "Lair" has several set pieces showing off Russell's bizarre vision. There are naked crucified nuns and an erotic stewardess cat fight. Sit back and enjoy. It isn't a great horror film, but once seen, it is hard to forget.

The Disc
Kinky fun film. Good picture and sound. No extras. Perfect vanilla DVD price.

Picture Quality: 7/10
There are some big delineation problems during the darker scenes. Otherwise the picture is fine. Excellent flesh tones. Lots of flesh. Have fun watching Amanda Donohoe bite a boy scout.

Sound Quality: 7/10
The sound is a bit flat on the high end. No loss of dialogue. I had to put on the closed caption to get through some of the heavy accents.

Easter Eggs:
No Easter Eggs found during review.

Extra Features: 0/10
No extras. Priced to reflect the lack of extras.

The Final Word:
Fans of Ken Russell will love this one. A kinky romp through the world of snaky vampires.

The Kids Are Alright: Deluxe Edition

The Kids Are Alright: Deluxe Edition (1979)
Movie rating: 10/10
DVD rating: 10/10
Release Date: September 30, 2003
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Rating: PG
Distributor: Pioneer
List Price: $24.98
Disc Details
Special Features: Widescreen anamorphic format
Chapter selection
Commentary track by director Jeff Stein
On screen liner notes
32 page collector's booklet
Video Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
English DTS

Subtitles: English.
Captions: No
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case

In 1967 I remember watching The Who perform "I Can See for Miles" and "My Generation" on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." At the end of their second song, Pete Townsend and Keith Moon destroyed their instruments. Keith Moon bribed a stagehand to add a little extra gunpowder to his drum kit. The explosion ignited Townsend's hair and permanently affected his hearing. It made a big impression on my 9-year-old imagination. In 1980, I saw the clip again. It was on the big screen that time at the Parkway Theater in Las Vegas. The Smothers Brothers segment is the opening scene of Jeff Stein's outstanding documentary "The Kids Are Alright." "The Kids Are Alright" chronicles the music of The Who from their humble beginning to their last album before Keith Moon's early death. Moon died two weeks before the film's release.

Stein went on a seven-year search and compiled footage from various TV performances, arena shows and music festivals including Woodstock. This archived footage is intercut with new interviews with the band and a live performance at Shepperton Studio before a crowd of 500. The result is one of the most high powered rockumentaries of all time. While it might not have the grace of Scorsese's "The Last Waltz," "The Kids Are Alright" more than makes up for it with pure audio adrenaline.

Younger audiences should be amazed to discover that The Who already did everything the Seattle grunge bands did 25 years before Kurt Cobain ever picked up a guitar. From Pete Townsend's flailing guitar licks to Keith Moon's brilliantly illogical drumming technique to pretty boy Roger Daltry's harsh banshee vocals grounded by John Entwisile's solid bass foundation, The Who was the greatest Rock and Roll band to emerge from the 60s. The Beatles may have been great writers and performers, but they were quitters. The Stones could rock, but they were prancing fops by comparison. The Who hit the road and played until Keith died. They regrouped, hit the road again and played until John died. Time will tell if Pete and Roger will regroup to rock once again. I wouldn't put it past them.

This restored DVD reintegrates 10-minutes of footage cut from the European release. All subsequent VHS and Laser Disc versions of the movie were based on the European release. This DVD is the restored, remastered director's cut originally released in US theaters. Buy this DVD. Play this DVD loud. Long Live Rock!

The Disc
I'll let you in on a secret. I'm a closet air guitar junkie. Have been since Grand Funk's Live Album came out in 1970. I try not to do it near a mirror anymore as I am an old fat white guy now. Crank up this DVD and let loose with the windmill guitar strokes. Great picture and sound. Wonderful extras.

Picture Quality: 10/10
There are a number of visual sources in this film. There is 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film plus videotape from Europe and the US. You can tell which is video and which is film. Even still, Pioneer did a great job restoring the picture. Some of the video is grainy, but that is due to the source material, not the transfer. No pixilation, artifacts or delineation problems.

Sound Quality: 10/10
All three tracks rock. I had the walls shaking. Excellent balance between the ranges. Great stereo effects. Rich bass, crystal clear treble. Rock on my brothers and sisters.

Easter Eggs:
None found. The name of the band appears on the main menu. It lights up when you move the remote control to the name. When I pushed the enter button the main menu reloaded. lists a number of extras that I couldn't find and which weren't listed on the DVD box. I don't know if there is something under the band's name and I just have a defective disk or if it is just a bizarre design flaw.

Extra Features: 10/10
Jeff Stein's commentary track is great. Lots of cool info concerning the hunt for archived footage. Excellent stories about working with The Who to get the film made. Nice memories of the late Keith Moon.

There is an outstanding 32-page booklet. One section relates the history of the making of the movie. Another section is the director's memories of getting the job done. The second half of the booklet breaks down the film by chapter. It lets you know when and where each performance took place. The DVD also includes a feature that gives you read-along liner notes during the film.

The Final Word:
I've waited for years for someone to release this movie on DVD. Thanks to Pioneer, we can have a rockin' good holiday. Stick this one in your headbanger's stocking and the kid will be alright.

Out of Time

Everything Old is New Again
by Rusty White
reviewed 10-3-2003

Director: Carl Franklin
Starring: Denzel Washington, Eve Mendes, Dean Cain, Sanaa Lathan, John Billingsley
Length: 1 Hour 45 minutes
Rated: PG-13
Rating: 2&1/2 STARS

I once did closing arguments in a trial during which one of the jurors actually said "Amen!" The elderly lady nodded her head vigorously during my argument. I felt good about the odds for acquittal. The jury stayed out for about three hours before deciding to go home for the evening. When they returned in the morning, the emotional impact of my closing argument had worn off and they were left with nothing but the facts. They convicted my guy in short order. I decided that whenever possible I would try to do closing arguments in the morning. I bring this up to illustrate my feelings about Carl Franklin's "Out of Time." Last night I left the theater planning to write a 3 1/2 star review. I thought about comparing it to Lawrence Kasden's "Body Heat" and a multitude of Film Noir classics. Then I realized that "Out of Time" is a story told countless times before. I knew what was going to happen when I saw the trailer two weeks before. That said, "Out of Time" is very entertaining and suspenseful.

Chief Whitlock (Denzel Washington) heads a five man police force in the small town of Banyon Key, Florida. His duties include checking locked doors on storefronts after midnight. Whitlock is estranged from his wife Alex (Eve Mendes: Once Upon a Time in Mexico). Alex is a detective with the state police. He ambitions were bigger than Banyon Key. Anne Harrison (Sanaa Lathan: Blade) is the sexy abused wife of former NFL player Chris Harrison (Dean Cain). Anne is having an affair with Whitlock, even though she knows he still loves his wife. Anne has cancer. Anne needs money for an experimental operation. Whitlock has $500,000.00 in drug money sitting in his evidence locker. Things get complicated real quick. Whitlock is about to find himself under suspicion for murder among other things. I still haven't told you as much as you will discover in the trailer, but I have to stop. For anyone who has never seen a wrongfully accused man thriller, I don't want to ruin the plot. I will say that when the credits began to roll, the packed preview audience let out a sigh as if they had been holding their breath for the last hour. I know I had!

Carl Franklin has proved that he can handle onscreen suspense and strong character development. "One False Move" and "Devil in a Blue Dress" were both outstanding films that drew the audience into the character's lives while riveting the same audience to their seats with tension and suspense. "Out of Time" delivers on both counts. In fact, Franklin is to be congratulated for taking an old plot and bringing it to life. I really wish I had not seen the trailer. Because I knew what the major plot twist was going to be, I had trouble getting into the early development stages of the story. Once the trap was sprung, I truly enjoyed Franklin's thrill ride. I wonder if directors get approval of the trailers. I don't think I would want my film's plot revealed to such degree in the preview. The trailer for "The Recruit" did the same thing. Why go see the movie when you know what is going to happen? In this case, you should still go see "Out of Time" as it is one of the most entertaining and suspenseful films of the year.

How can it be suspenseful if so much is given away in the trailer? David Collard's (The Family Guy) script is intelligent and funny. You care whether Whitlock will be able to clear his name. You care about whether Whitlock and Alex can get back together. You worry that these characters might be killed. It takes a well-written and well-acted script to make you feel these emotions. The cast is excellent. Ms. Mendes is given much more to do than she was in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." I enjoyed Denzel Washington's performance very much. He is playing a guy who is not to bright when it comes to affairs of the heart. His grief over his marriage causes him to make some very bad decisions. Washington succeeds in this film because you forget he is a Movie Star and get lost in his character. Mr. Washington is one of the few actors working today who has the magic of the movie stars of yesteryear. Washington sets all that aside and shows us once again what a fine actor he is.

I have to point out two last things that are noteworthy in this film. The title design over the opening credits is fantastic. The title sequence reminded me of what Saul Bass might have done if he were still alive. I hate that I didn't write down the name of the lady responsible for the credit sequence. It is funky fun using Graeme Revell's funky blues theme. Finally I want to sing the praises of John Billingsly. Billingsly plays Chae, the overweight, tipsy medical examiner. He takes the written words of David Collard and creates one of the best comic-relief buddies in recent memory. If Mr. Billingsly's comic moments didn't come along every so often during the film's tension filled hour the audience might very well suffocate from holding their breath. What is great about his part is that he plays a naturally funny guy. The humor doesn't break the mood or the tension, it accents it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

American History X

Film & Disc Review, American History X
by Rusty White
reviewed: 1999-04-06

Director(s): Tony Kaye
Movie rating: 10/10
DVD rating: 7/10
DVD Release Date: 04/06/1999
Running Time: 119 minutes
Rating: R

Disc Details

New Line Studios

List Price: $24.98

Running Time: 119 minutes

Special Features:
Widescreen anamorphic format.
Chapter selection.
Theatrical trailer.
Production notes.
3 deleted scenes.
11 cast and crew bios.

Video Format:
Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)

Language Tracks:
English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)


Closed Captions:

1-disc Keep Case

A powerful tale of bigotry, hate-mongering and redemption. Brutally honest with its subject matter. As Derick Vineyard, Edward Norton delivers a chilling portrait of a young skinhead whose eyes are opened after a stint in prison for killing two black men who tried to steal his truck. Edward Furlong is Danny, Derick's younger brother who idolizes him. Derick must try to show Danny that his path was wrong before Danny makes the same mistakes.

Tony Kaye directs David McKenna's script with unflinching realism. The film is in color and black and white. The present day scenes are in color. The past is black and white. This choice is far from gimmicky. The movie is beautifully filmed in stark realistic tones which suit the subject perfectly.

The actors do wonders with McKenna's brilliant script. Edward Norton was deservedly nominated for an Oscar. Edward Furlong is also quite good in a more subtle role. Stacy Keach is chilling as the leader of the Nazi cell. Fairuza Balk plays Norton's sexy young Hate Ho. She nails the part. You would swear she just stepped of the stage of a Jerry Springer show. Stop her before she breeds more Nazi rats. Avery Brooks (TV's Spencer for Hire) is another standout in an all-around excellent cast.

The real life counter-parts of these Nazi skinheads claim to worship God. Maybe they need to read more of his word and less of "The Turner Diaries." As a white male I can say they don't speak for me.

The Disc
Modern classic film. Excellent picture and sound. Good extras. Very close to being a perfect DVD.

Picture Quality: 10/10
Excellent use of black and white photography. The transfer to digital was impeccable. Great range of grays and shadows. The color photography was also excellent, but paled in comparison with the black and white. All around, and excellent picture. Stark and brutal, like the movie itself.

Sound Quality: 10/10
No loss of dialogue. Great soundtrack. The violence, especially the second killing committed by Derick, reverberates through the speakers and into you psyche. No noticeable distortion.

Easter Eggs:
No Easter Eggs Found on Disc.

Extra Features: 8/10
Very cool chapter selection menu. Easy to navigate. Good use of images and sounds from the film.

The trailer and production notes are good. The cast and crew bios and filmographies are quite detailed.

There are three deleted scenes. One is about 5 minutes long, and is referred to in later dialogue that remains in the film. I'm not sure why it was cut.

I really wish there had been a commentary track with this one. Some films are so important and powerful that they need to documented for future generations. This is one of them. The reason there is no director's commentary is because first time director Tony Kaye waged war against this movie. He was denied a director's cut and he opposed the casting of Edward Norton in the lead role. Mr. Kaye went so far as to petition the director's guild for an "Alan Smithee" credit, but was denied because he refused to stop bad-mouthing the film. I find this amazing considering the power of the film and the fact that Mr. Kaye was also the camera operater.

The Final Word:

A must have DVD. This movie should be shown in high schools all over this land. Hitler is dead. Let's keep it that way.