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Office Christmas Party (2016) Blu-Ray Review

March 26th, 2017

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Stars – Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, and Jennifer Aniston
Directors – Josh Gordon & Will Speck

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Sometimes stupid just hits the spot. Office Christmas Party has a ridiculous premise. A brother and sister own a big tech firm they inherited from their dad. The wacky party loving brother T.J. Miller has run it into the ground. Jennifer Aniston is the bitch on wheels of a sister who has come to town to close the place down and fire everyone. Unless Jason Bateman and T.J. Miller can land the big new client worth millions. The client meeting goes bad but they learn that the prospect Courtney Vance likes to party and misses the old days when he used to. So Miller decides to risk everything and throw a party to end all parties in the hopes of showing this guy enough of a good time that he signs on the line. We are introduced to the decidedly non PC cross section of people who work and play there. The whole staff loosens up and lets their collective hair down. They destroy the entire office in the process.

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One of the best things Office Christmas Party has going for it is the casting. There are many recognizable to semi recognizable faces that pop up. Kate McKinnon who has been such a big hit on Saturday Night Live lately with her impressions of Hillary Clinton and Kellyanne Conway is spot on as the stuck up head of HR. She has fun with her character’s efforts to make sure everything is safe and fair to people from every conceivable background, race and religion. Naturally there comes a time when she lets go and gets it on. Nicely played. Another surprise is Fortune Feimster from The Mindy Project who turns up as a first time Uber driver who has to pick up Jennifer Aniston. She hits only one note but hits it perfectly. Feimster is funny in her few scenes which are wisely kept to a minimum. Jillian Bell obviously has a good time playing a pistol packing, out of control, and pissed off lady pimp. While Bateman and Munn try to hang on to the threads of a plot line everyone else plays it way over the top.

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Toward the end the prospective client who has inhaled a bag of cocaine that was mistakenly fed into an artificial snow blower climbs out on the second story railing. He grabs a handful of Christmas light strands and prepares to sail out over the party like Jackie Chan did in his killer stunt at the mall in Police Story. The film has some predictably excessive stunts that jeopardize everything. But just like in a cartoon all’s well that end’s well. Is the moral that when things look their worst a huge party couldn’t hurt? This was more enjoyable than I had expected. Give your intellect a night off and enjoy this trashy over the top mess.

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Video – 2.35:1
Everything is very clear and nicely detailed. The whole film has a nice brightness about it that looks like a TV sitcom, as it should.

Audio – DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 in English with Dolby digital 5.1 in French, Spanish, and Portuguese with subtitles offered in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
All dialogue is clear, There are some loud booms heard on the track as things begin to destruct in the office.

Extras – Unrated Version of the film, Commentary by directors Josh Gordon & Will Speck, Throwing an Office Christmas Party, Outtakes, Deleted & Extended Scenes

The unrated version that did not play in theaters, hence not being rated features five more minutes of debauchery and hijinks.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good if you are in the mood for this sort of thing

The Wanderers (1979) Blu-Ray Review

March 25th, 2017

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Stars – Ken Wahl, John Friedrich, Karen Allen, Toni Kalem
Director – Philip Kaufman

Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

There are two kinds of people in this world – those who love The Wanderers and those who have not seen it yet. That’s a play on one of the things the Galasso Brothers say in the movie. Philip Kaufman’s film of Richard Price’s novel starts off with a huge bald guy called Terror wolfing down a slice of pizza in one long bite as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons sing on the soundtrack. He’s standing in the Bronx right down the block from Alexander’s. In short order he and the rest of The Fordham Baldies are chasing a kid named Turkey and a wise ass called Joey down the block. They are going to kick some serious ass if they catch them. The Safari’s Wipeout booms in the background as Joey and Turkey disappear down a back alley stairwell. A few other Wanderers come to help but they are outnumbered. Terror’s huge frame fills the narrow alleyway. It’s curtains for The Wanderers. Suddenly another real big kid steps into the frame. He spits a matchstick out of his mouth and says, “Leave the kid alone.” This guy, Perry saves them. Bang. Boom. Forgetaboutit!

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The film is a series of episodic adventures about Richie and his pals in The Wanderers. It is set in the early sixties when Dion and The Belmonts, The Shirelles and surf music ruled the airwaves. There is a thrilling scene when we watch the guys all assemble as they walk and carouse down the streets to the title tune. We see them engage in some elbow-titting, sing doo-wop in a car ride, get lost and attacked by the fearsome and silent Ducky Boys. The core of these guys also rule the roost at the local bowling alley. There are other gangs, too. Joey leads the new big kid Perry down the hallway of the high school as he points them all out including The Del Bombers and The Wongs. A spate of racial name calling escalates in the classroom that pits the Italian Wanderers against the black Del Bombers. What was going to be a rumble turns into an epic football game towards the end of the film. It’s interesting to see how the racial tensions are settled by a group of overweight guys in Hawaiian shirts who encourage everyone to get along, They do they so they and their friends, who include several black dudes can all bet on the game like the friendly sportsmen they are. These are the Galasso Brothers. Richie was gotten Despie one of their daughters pregnant. His life will soon change.

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There is a friendly rambunctious quality to much of the film. They get most of the details right. The overall chemistry between the guys is so spot on.  The cuts and insults they hurl at each other are really forms of affection. It is an easy film to have a good time with. The soundtrack is full of killer tunes. The guys are a hoot to hang out with. Their problems are universal. Amidst the humor there are problems with parents, alcoholism, peer pressure, the looming Vietnam war and the nagging suspicion that they may all have to grow up at some point. But for now they are the coolest guys in the Bronx. Richie meets the adorably cute Karen Allen on the street and falls for her like a ton of bricks. She remains just out of reach though. There is a very poignant scene at the end when he ducks out of his engagement party to follow her down the block. She goes into Folk City. He watches through a window as Bob Dylan sings, “The Times They are a Changing”. That becomes a coda for the film, signaling the end of an era.

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When the film came out in 1979 it was confused with Walter Hill’s film, The Warriors. Fights had broken out in the audience at a few showings of The Warriors which cast a bad shadow over Kaufman’s picture. Some theaters curtailed or canceled showings. Both are great films and quite different. Like a lot of films from that late seventies and early eighties era it found an audience on the burgeoning cable TV stations. Kino Lorber has included an earlier cut which has about five additional minutes. There is one scene in the high school hallway where the kids talk about the rumble now being a football game. The big fight at the football game, the scene with Joey and Perry crashing at Joey’s house and Turkey’s demise at the hands of the Ducky Boys are extended. The theatrical version we are all familiar with plays better though it is neat to see the scenes that were wisely cut and trimmed.

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I’d strongly recommend you take in the “Back to the Bronx” feature. We get to follow author Richard Price as he bombs around the Bronx recalling the film and any number of other interesting topics. Price wrote the recent HBO hit series The Night Of as well as several great books including Clockers which have become movies. He’s a natural storyteller and quite fun to listen to. Of the two Q & A sessions that took place at recent film screenings the winner is the one on the extended cut disc with Philip Kaufman and Alan Rosenberg who played Turkey. Once Kaufman frees himself from the host’s questions he and Rosenberg riff through lots of great stories with enthusiasm and humor. It’s clear they, and many other involved feel the film was something special. They seem genuinely jazzed that the film has achieved the cult status it has today. I heartily recommend this film without any reservation at all. Invite over a bunch of friends, turn the sucker up and enjoy it. I remember screening a print of this for a house full of people that still thought they were going to see that gang picture with the kids in the baseball uniforms. I said no, this is The Wanderers. As soon as the film started they were won over. Wanderers Forever!

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Video – 1.85:1
This new 2K restoration looks great. There is still plenty of grain to be seen. Detail is stronger and sharper in some cases but the film still looks like a film. You can really appreciate the real life locations in The Bronx that were used throughout the film. In one of the very last scenes when Richie follows Karen Allen to Folk City you can plainly see him pass by The Bat Cave which was a movie memorabilia store in the Village well know to film lovers in New York City.

Audio – DTS Track with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is nice and clear. The soundtrack rocks. Give it some gas and turn it up.

Extras – 124 Minute “Preview Cut” of The Wanderers on a separate disc, Commentary by co-writer and director Philip Kaufman, Commentary by Columbia University Film Professor, Annette Insdorf, Back to the Bronx with Richard Price Featurette,  Wanderers Forever – Live Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum with Karen Allen, Toni Kalem, Tony Ganios and Richard Price,  The Wanderers Q&A at LA’s Cinefamily with Philip Kaufman, Alan Rosenberg and Peter Kaufman, Audio Q&A at NYC’s Film Forum and SF’s Drafthouse with Philip Kaufman and Richard Price ,Introduction by Karen Allen, Toni Kalem and Tony Ganios
Original theatrical trailers and TV Spots

There extras are split between the two discs so make sure you check both to find all the goodies.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Silence (2016) Blu-Ray Review

March 25th, 2017

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Stars – Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano
Director – Martin Scorsese

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Silence is a personal film. It gets inside you. Set in the eighteen hundreds we follow two extremely dedicated priests who journey from Portugal in search of another priest who has gone missing in Japan. The spread of the Christian faith and the benefits of trading with the Europeans has been exported in a bundle. At this point in Japan Christianity has been outlawed. Practitioners are persecuted, often killed. Those who believe must hide their faith and worship in secret. There is a fearsome man called The Inquisitor who offers pieces of silver for information on any Christians in hiding. He also tortures those he captures until they refute their beliefs. The two priests Rodriguez (Adam Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver) convince the powers that be to let them undertake this mission to find their former mentor.

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There is much water imagery. In fact one of the most dominant effects on the soundtrack is that of water. Ships sail through it. We hear rain drops and storms. Men are drowned in it amidst the terrifying crashing of waves. When the two priests arrive they are quickly hidden and secreted away by a rag tag group of Christian villagers. They feel so blessed to be able to have these actual trained priests it seems they want to keep them to themselves. They are able to confess their sins and be forgiven. When they first meet these two priests they offer them food. In a very telling scene we see Rodriguez wolf down the food. But the others wait. They want a blessing. Did Rodriquez show us just then that survival was more important than faith? Is that primal need the driving force. We as an audience are asked to consider that. Much of what happens to these men is done in such a way as to invite us to reflect on it. Despite the beautiful photography Silence is very much an internal film. We are continually asked to look within and see how we would handle something and what ramifications that decision would have. There are sections in this film that feature people talking philosophy. These ideals are continually put to the test. Not a test to be graded or learned from but in life and death situations.

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There are frequent scenes where people are asked to step on a stone image of Christ or be tortured. Later when Rodriguez is captured he is questioned by the Inquisitor. Again it starts with discussions of philosophy and religion. But soon the Inquisitor puts the priest’s beliefs to the test. He is asked to recant his faith. They call it apostatizing. If he does not apostatize then people will be tortured and killed. The Inquisitor reminds him that these people are dying for your belief. This central conceit is revisited throughout the film. Is one’s faith worth the life of others? Certainly saying mere words to save a life is the right choice. They say that Christ himself would do this. And yet there are those that have given their word who now practice their faith in silence. How can one bear this silence. All these heady themes run through this film like the water we frequently see. It is a very powerful piece. The movie runs two hours and forty minutes. When you watch this film you are asked to look inward, to consider, and to weigh your thoughts. Yes there is a strong story and yes there is an ending but the journey is deeply personal if you allow it in.

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The acting is uniformly excellent. If you only know Andrew Garfield from Spiderman and The Social Network you’ll be deeply impressed. Garfield has show himself quite capable of handling difficult dramas before with films like Boy A (2007), Red Riding (2009) and Never Let Me Go (2010). Adam Driver also impresses with how deeply he appears to invest in his character. Liam Neeson who plays the lost priest worked with Scorsese before on The Gangs of New York (2002) interestingly playing a character who was nick named, Priest. Asano Tadanobu who plays a man who is tasked with interpreting the languages for Rodriguez and The Inquisitor. Scorsese mentions in the included featurette that he liked him from when he first saw him in Ichi The Killer (2001).

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Watching this film is not an easy task. Scorsese keeps him camera in check here. There are no obvious directorial flourishes. The soundtrack is concerned more with how water sounds than any pop tune that might fit in nicely. He utilizes a technique that is common to a lot of Asian. Films. He allows his actors time to work a scene. We stay still and watch. We sit and listen. We’re not outwardly told all that much. Instead we are asked to consider. If that works for you this is a very powerful experience. I saw it by myself. It feels like a solo journey. A long time ago Harvey Keitel held his hand over a flame in Mean Streets (1983). Why did he do that? Was he showing how strong he was, how determined a man he had become or was he testing his faith. Maybe he was asking something. Martin Scorsese has been asking this question for many years now and Silence just may finally be his answer.

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Video – 2.35:1
There are times when a small boat coasts through the water. Mist and fog rise up from the surface. The color looks ethereal. The coastlines cut into the water look bold and beautiful. There is detail in the clothing but the lines in people’s faces stand out much more. This is a very artfully done film. Much of it is breathtaking. But what lurks beneath all that stunning photography is much more captivating.

Audio – English DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish Dolby 5.1, French Dolby 5.1
with subtitles offered in English, French, Spanish and English SDH Closed-captioned
The directionality in the mix is very evident in the way that the many sounds of water are presented. We can hear the gentle drops of rain on the soft petals of broad leaves. We can feel the crushing tide blasting in to take the lives of men tied to wooden stakes stuck in the sand. There are the drops of blood slowly dripping from a tiny wound cut into men’s heads as they are tied upside down in a pit. The languages spoken all get plenty of room so we can hear the cadence and feel the meaning even before they are translated for us.

Extras – “Martin Scorsese’s Journey Into Silence” Featurette

This 25 minute piece lets us hear from most everyone connected to the film. Scorsese and writer Jay Cocks share how long it took to get this to the screen. The actors talk about the arduous experience working on the picture.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent

Compulsion (1959) Blu-Ray Review

March 18th, 2017

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Stars – Dean Stockwell, Bradford Dillman, Orson Welles, Diane Varsi, E.G. Marshall
Director – Richard Fleischer

Released by Kino Studio Classics

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

In 1924 two university students, Leopold and Loeb kidnapped and murdered a 14 year old boy. The were both from wealthy families. They did not do this for money. They were not driven by revenge or any other passion. The reason given was that they wanted to commit the perfect crime to demonstrate their intellectual superiority. This crime of the century rocked the nation. The murder was awful. The motive shocking. In 1948 Alfred Hitchcock brought the story to the screen as Rope. Ten years later Richard Fleischer made this version which is exceedingly well done and quite chilling. The two leads are fantastic. Bradford Dillman plays Artie Strauss as a coiled bundle of energy and ego. He carries himself as being the smartest guy in any room. He is always up for kicks as long as he is the center of attention. Dean Stockwell as Judd Steiner is brilliant and deeply troubled. We can feel his torment and pain from the first moment we meet him. He is obsessed with Artie and will seemingly do anything to win his approval. Artie manipulates him without mercy. The two have a very strange relationship that the film portrays in good detail. The movie starts with the two of them driving at night in a very fancy sports car.  They barely miss hitting a drunk in the deserted street. Artie taunts Judd to go back and run him over. Artie is full of bravado, confidence and liquor. Judd is scared but more frightened of disappointing his friend.

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We do not actually see the murder of the boy. We hear about it while Martin Milner (13 Ghosts) as a young reporter classmate of theirs gets the lowdown on the cause of death from the coroner. There is a sequence in the film with Judd taking Milner’s girl friend played by Diane Varsi (Wild in the Streets) out to go bird watching. Judd is a nationally recognized ornithologist. When they are alone in the woods he steals a kiss and attacks her but he can’t go through with it. Judd’s balance is very off emotionally. It’s a difficult scene to watch. Judd is ashamed for his actions. But we can’t tell if that is because it was such a terrible thing to do or because he realizes he is not attracted to the girl. There is a very uneasy feeling whenever any hint of homosexuality comes up with Judd. Clearly he is driven by an attraction to Artie but he seems so painfully uncomfortable with it. Rather than offer any explanation or understanding for this the film lets us feel the tremendous struggle that Judd experiences. He is tortured by it.

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From the moment that Orson Welles appears in the film things change. His presence dominates every scene he is in. He has such control over his performance. His presents Clarence Darrow, called Jonathan Wilk here, as immensely charming even affable. But none of that charm belies the talent churning inside his mind as he works his way into the case. It is a grand standing move when he changes his plea for the two boys to guilty with mitigating circumstance. That tactics allows him to plead the case directly to the judge. Two things are accomplished by that. First and foremost the boys have a chance at getting a lengthy sentence as opposed to being hung which the jury would very likely have selected. Secondly we get to see the great Orson Welles deliver a lengthy almost Shakespearian monologue against capital punishment. During this discourse the film takes us away from the sordid details of this murder and becomes a philosophical discussion. This is how it played out in the real life trail too. Most courtroom dramas hinge on the revelation of details or the legal talents of the attorneys as they battle the merits of the case. But here as in Inherit the Wind much larger issues are at stake. It is significant that both films are based on real events. The actual crimes begat a consideration of moral issues that loom larger than the plight of the two students or the school teacher in the Scopes Monkey Trail.

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It’s fascinating to watch Welles work. Tim Lucas in his commentary goes into some of the stories about his antics on the set. Apparently he did not want anyone to have eye contact with him while he delivered his very lengthy monologue several times for the cameras. I am continually fascinated by the way he shapes his words. He pauses in his sentences often placing a different emphasis than you’d expect. The performances of Dillman and Stockman are excellent, too. Each one is so different than the other and yet they were really the only friends they had. Diane Varsi gives a very good performance as Ruth the girl that Judd tried to force himself on. Her character testifies about him in court and seems to genuinely like him. Compulsion remains a powerful drama filled with several strong actors. The widescreen Cinemascope image as lensed by William Mellor is outstanding. It is clever the way he positions Dillman’s character almost letting him sneak into the action as his character worms his way into helping with the investigation.  He gives us a large view of the courtroom scenes so it often feels like we are in an auditorium listening to a great orator, and we are.

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Video – 2.35:1
Nice strong detail is abundant in this new release from Kino Studio Classics. Black levels are good. Everything is nice and sharp. You can really appreciate everything that is going on with the William Mellor’s Cinemascope photography.

Audio – DTS-HD mast 2.0 with subtitles offered in English
All dialogue is easy to follow.  Music cues support the film nicely without being over played in the mix.

Extras – Commentary with by Film Historian Tim Lucas, Trailers for Compulsion and a few related other titles.

The Tim Lucas commentary covers the background of the true case the film was based on and a good deal about the actors involved. He reads some excerpts from director Fleischer’s book that concern his experiences with the making of the film. Despite all the grandstanding that has been attributed to Welles Fleischer was able to control the shoot.  Lucas has a nice relaxed delivery. He’ll take short breaks once in awhile.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Excellent