7/13/2016

Olive Films Blu-ray Review: Roller Boogie (1979)


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Though overshadowed by the release of the far more opulent Down to Earth remake Xanadu a year later in 1980, this largely overlooked roller disco time capsule starring a fresh-faced (and refreshingly exorcism free) Linda Blair has been building up momentum as a cult favorite over the past thirty years.

An upbeat time-waster that perhaps plays best in the background of '80s night at the roller rink, in 2006 Roller Boogie was given an unconventional re-release playing in New York based American Apparel stores.

As colorful and instantly forgettable as a piece of bubblegum, Roller Boogie makes very little sense from one illogical scene to the next.


Ostensibly a wrong side of the tracks summer romance in which its two skating obsessed teens fall in love while preparing for the titular contest, the film merges multiple plot strands together in the hopes that something will stick with us for longer than the length of a skate down the boardwalk.

While a sequel tentatively planned to be set in Acapulco disintegrated at the end of the disco era, the late 1979 release of Roller Boogie proved popular with teen audiences, netting Compass International Pictures a modest success following their breakthrough smash Halloween from director John Carpenter a year earlier.

Bolstered by the four-wheeled acrobatics by legendary skater Jim Bray who turned pro after accumulating more than two hundred and fifty trophies at the age of eighteen to star in this – his only – film, while Bray's chemistry with Blair is never quite convincing as anything more than just pals, the two give it everything they've got in several jaw-dropping numbers.


Though doubled for some of the picture's toughest tricks, in a far cry from the drama that followed Jennifer Beals a few years later in her stand-in heavy Flashdance performance, Boogie's Blair did most of her own skating here.

Gamely braving hip bursitis in addition to bumps and bruises, Linda Blair makes a genuinely likeable leading lady – Boogieing her way into our hearts from start to finish, in spite of the film's terribly inconsistent screenplay.

Showing a flair for lighter material and physical humor, while Blair would eventually return to the horror genre that launched her in the following decade, looking back at Roller Boogie today, you can't help but wonder how great she would've been in a female buddy picture opposite other talented young stars of the era, had the right material been available to her at the right time.


Listed as one of the one hundred most enjoyable bad movies in The Official Razzie Movie Guide by Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson, although Roller Boogie's largely bravura roller choreography manages to distract us from the threadbare script and one-dimensional characters, ultimately it's not enough to keep our attentions from wandering throughout.

And while I normally frown at remakes, seeing this a mere week after I was sent a retro Disney Channel Original Movie set in the world of '60s surf musicals made me think that a complete rehaul and rewrite could be exactly what Roller Boogie needs to fully capitalize on the promising hybrid of a skate/dance film.

Operating on a lower budget than the over-the-top Xanadu, Roller Boogie was filmed over the course of a breakneck eight week shooting schedule, which is all the more impressive considering the complexity of a penultimate chase scene on skates.


Lensed in a dizzying dance style filled with the quick cuts that would soon become the norm with the birth of MTV, Roller Boogie is filled with largely original pop music written by Bob Esty and Michelle Aller from start to finish including Cher's catchy "Hell on Wheels" track that kicks off the movie while simultaneously setting its breezy tone.

Needlessly raising the stakes by way of an ill-advised Scooby-Dooish crime plot which tasks the kids with stopping evil mobsters from seizing control of their beloved roller rink before the big roller boogie contest, Roller Boogie takes a few too many detours on its way to the final skate.

Better served as a stylish, straightforward summer romance, the film winds up giving off the impression that we're watching four totally different movies play out at the exact same time (with each one missing a few crucial scenes). Changing tempo quickly and picking up momentum with speed, Boogie works best the faster it goes, balancing plots strands, new characters, and disco balls on the skates of its capable cast.


Better served both as a collection of scenes and when it lets the music and visuals take center stage in place of the often cringe-worthy dialogue, Boogie's editors keep things moving before it all falls apart completely.

Even if today it's the one in greater need of a remake, ultimately Roller Boogie gives us a more authentic view of the roller disco era than the grandiose '40s musical inspired Xanadu which skyrocketed it even faster to cult success.

And while it does show its age both in close up and in wide shots, thanks to the largely grain and debris free transfer to Blu-ray high-definition from Olive Films, we're reintroduced to 1979 all over again with a new Roller Boogie release that makes it shine brighter than the California sunlight.


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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Ride the Pink Horse (1947)


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Talk about tempting fate. Only in Film Noir would a man named Lucky travel to a New Mexico town that's so well-known for its bad luck that each year, the locals host a festival to shed the curse through the ritual of fire.

As a popular tourist destination, the event makes a terrific diversion in theory. But once you burn something, the scent lingers in the air, attaching itself from one person to another like the carousel at the center of town, which – despite the colorful distraction of a pink horse – can't hide the fact that it leads you nowhere.

Hauntingly captured by cinematographer Russell Metty eleven years before he lensed another southwestern Noir soaked stunner via Touch of Evil, this flawed yet mildly effective black-and-white B-movie is filled with shady symbolism.


Based on the Dorothy B. Hughes novel and produced by five time Alfred Hitchcock co-writer Joan Harrison (who's rumored to have also taken a pass at the screenplay), Ride the Pink Horse reflects the ideas of far too many off-screen storytellers.

A long forgotten postwar crime picture that’s been resuscitated by The Criterion Collection, although Ride’s meandering plotline often stops and starts just like a carousel, the sharp one-liners served up by Ben Hecht (Notorious) and Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday) give the film a badly needed illusion of speed. Sadly, the feeling is short lived.


Taking what should’ve been a naturally thrilling confrontation between hero and villain in the form of a foot chase and dragging it out to a near crawl, Horse is strained even more by its characters' wildly inconsistent personalities that seem to change at – if not the drop of a hat – than with a sudden shift of that unlucky wind.

Still less daring yet more palatable than actor turned director Robert Montgomery’s first film that was released earlier that same year, Ride the Pink Horse’s emphasis on ensemble, ambience, and mood illustrates the filmmaker's love for the medium and its ability to introduce us to people whom we wouldn't normally encounter in our day-to-day life.


And unlike the objective point-of-view approach he employed throughout his boldly experimental adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake that forced us to look at the world through the eyes of Phillip Marlowe, Montgomery favors a more straightforward style for his follow-up Noir which better serves the material.

As a man fascinated by character driven conflict, it's no wonder that Robert Montgomery gravitated to Noir early on in his filmmaking career since the genre frequently asks us to take a closer look at someone we might have misjudged earlier.

Unfortunately, this film takes it a bit too far as most of the people who fill the screen (including Montgomery's ironically named unlucky WWII vet) seldom reveal the same side of their personality twice.


Offering viewers the opportunity to play Marlowe to greater effect in this film than in the gimmicky Lake, one way Criterion could've bolstered the lukewarm title is by including the much maligned Lady in the Lake on a bonus disc in order to better appreciate Montgomery's genre transition and enjoy the Ride.

Nonetheless although it’s sure to be of interest from a historical and cultural perspective as the first film to result in an Academy Award nomination for a Latino actor (via scene stealer Thomas Gomez), in the end and in spite of Criterion’s technically stellar Blu-ray high definition transfer, the oft-forgotten film remains just as forgettable today.   

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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

7/03/2016

Film Movement DVD Review: Glassland (2014)


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When thinking of a title for what would eventually become his second feature film, Irish writer/director Gerard Barrett recalled an old saying warning that if you ever crossed the line and committed a crime, you’d spend the rest of your life walking on glass.

But when juxtaposed with “land” as in the Glassland that sums up the film as well as the fictional environment in which Barrett’s work is set, suddenly the title takes on an even greater meaning which not only strengthens his already stellar character driven drama but also makes Glassland that much harder to forget.

Set in the south Dublin town of Tallaght, Ireland and centered on the fractured relationship between a dutiful hardworking adult son struggling to care of an alcoholic mother who spends most of her days and nights drinking herself to death, Glassland paints an initially bleak picture of a country known around the world for its famed pub scene.

Anchored by Jack Reynor’s breakout performance as John in his Sundance Film Festival award winning role, Glassland gradually evolves into a humanistic chamber piece that transcends borders and boundaries while celebrating the complex bond between a mother and her child.


Contrasting John’s desperate plight to sober up his stubborn mom in order to save her life with the way his more apathetic mate’s mother lavishes him with love and affection, Barrett’s cinematic portrait is most poignant when he lets us see all of shades of gray in between extremes of black and white.

And while Glassland drives its message home in a powerful scene where John’s mother (played by the always compelling Toni Collette) breaks apart every glass plate in the house (and breaks her son’s heart in the process), it’s in the quieter, less-showy moments that Barrett pieces together its most effective visual, yet no less visceral poetry.

Knowing this story is more about people than plot, in three scenes that most filmmakers would’ve left on the cutting room floor like shards of glass in Collette’s kitchen, Barrett takes the opportunity to give us an even closer look at his characters’ lives.

From the way that John uses music to bridge the gap between language and emotion when communication fails to the unparalleled joy on the face of his special needs brother as John drives him around and around in circles in a parking lot, we sense how important the illusion of escape is to those whose lives feel out of control.

Refusing to play his character as mere victim or savior, in a staggeringly powerful performance, Reynor not only holds his own with Collette but says more with a look than words, which comes in particularly handy since Glassland is as fast paced as it is frequently quiet.


Working in a variety of subplots that all feel organic, Glassland steers clear of the TV-movie-of-the-week style melodramatic trappings that often go hand-in-hand with titles dealing with alcoholism by making the issue just one fact of John’s complicated life.

At times reminiscent of Cassavetes and Loach, through our lead’s strikingly powerful Neorealist inspired journey, Barrett touches on other contemporary socioeconomic concerns that feel as universal as the central storyline.

Nonetheless, in spite of a rushed final act which leaves us with a few lingering questions and makes us wonder whether the script had followed a more traditional thriller paradigm earlier on, by holding up a mirror to all those that populate Glassland, Barrett’s love for his characters (like John’s love for his mother) shines through – flaws and all.


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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)


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Written over the course of eight years, although the eerily ominous first act of writer-director Yi'nan Diao's Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear winning feature bursts with potential, Black Coal, Thin Ice soon cracks under the pressure of audience expectations.

A narratively ambitious exercise in modern day detective Noir that lacks the well-defined structure and characterization needed to support what purports to be a strongly character-driven mystery, Diao's talented leads are left floundering in a film which grows increasingly illogical with each successive scene.


Combining the basic building blocks of a prototypical illusive serial killer mystery with its tale of a drunk, down-on-his-luck, and disabled ex-detective in the midst of an existential crisis (played by Fan Liao), Diao struggles mightily, unable to fill the fittingly icy picture with even the faintest trace of warmth or empathy towards our lead.


A cautionary tale about the dangers of tunnel vision to some extent both onscreen and off, Black Coal, Thin Ice proves you can spend so much time on a project that you lose all sense of objectivity.

Though it's a muddled mess of a movie, given some of the brilliant twists planted within a work that likewise raises some intriguing questions about gender equality, double standards, and (mis)treatment, as flawed as Diao's award-winning Black Coal, Thin Ice may be, it nonetheless shows great promise for a much-improved remake.


Needless to say, as a foreign film purist overall, this revelation genuinely surprised me but still speaks volumes for the film I believe that Diao's Black Coal, Thin Ice has the capability to be.

In fact, having watched Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill again just a few days later, I couldn't help but wonder how someone like De Palma could translate Black Coal, Thin Ice (maybe even alongside Diao) to the American screen, perhaps this time under its original and much more memorable title of Daylight Fireworks which should've been kept for the picture's stateside release.

A visually intoxicating import, Black Coal, Thin Ice thrives less on logic than mood and intrigue. And while thrilling in theory, in the end, Diao's insistence on style over substance keeps the film's occasional moments of true innovation buried beneath the chilly surface of this new Well Go USA Entertainment Blu-ray, digital, and DVD release.


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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Warner Archive Collection DVD Review: The Girl Most Likely (1958)


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Longing for the kind of love she sees in the movies (and often disappointed in the real thing), when we first meet Jane Powell's Dodie in the newly released Warner Archive DVD of the 1958 classic The Girl Most Likely, our hopelessly romantic heroine seems much more certain that she'd like a hot dog than a husband.

Of course (and par for the Hollywood course), three proposals and roughly ninety minutes of screen time later, Dodie finds herself singing a different tune – literally – as The Girl Most Likely (To Change Her Mind) in director Mitchell Leisen's Technicolor musical remake of the 1941 black-and-white Ginger Rogers romantic comedy vehicle Tom, Dick and Harry.

Retaining some of the faster-paced original's memorably terrific one-liners, while Girl doesn't play quite as well as the first film from a screwball comedy perspective, it surpasses its predecessor in terms of sheer spectacle alone.

Bolstered by the freedom that goes hand-in-hand with the "let's put on a show" mentality of the anything goes friendly musical genre, you have to commend Girl's creators for not simply settling to make a colorized carbon copy of the original.

And admittedly, although both films rely much too heavily on the use of dream sequences to bring you inside of the confused mind of the romantically challenged Dodie, Girl works its moments of fantasy into the overall storyline far more successfully than 1941's Tom.


Stopping short of turning the original's greatest weakness into the remake's greatest strength, as the last RKO picture produced at the Hollywood studio, Girl's gifted cast and crew went above and beyond in their quest to entertain.

With choreographer Gower Champion as the film's tireless MVP, those on both sides of the camera fill the screen with so much movement, life, excitement, and color that it frequently spills outside of the frame.

Midway through the movie, Girl temporarily abandons the plot for an international variety show approach, using what feels like RKO's entire costume collection in a series of crowd-pleasing (if not exactly cohesive) numbers that pay "It's a Small World" style tribute to one country and/or culture after the next.

Fortunately realizing they have a plot to resolve – much like Powell's indecisive lead – Girl's filmmakers change their mind just in time to get things back on track for a predictably delightful conclusion.

While it still retains a bit of the original's sharp satirical edge, Girl is most effective as a frothy, fun musical film that stands as well on its own as it does as part of an impromptu Warner Archive double feature with the collection's earlier DVD release of Tom, Dick and Harry.

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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Olive Films Blu-ray Review: The Mean Season (1985)


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Given a crisp transfer to high-definition Blu-ray from Olive Films that fills your speakers with the machine gunfire sounds of newspaper presses operating at full power, 1985's all-but-forgotten thriller The Mean Season opens with the first of multiple jolts designed to keep your nerves on edge until it builds its plotline just enough to stop relying on cheap theatrics to hold your attention.

An ambitious albeit weak star-studded thriller, unfortunately The Mean Season never quite maintains the credibility it only temporarily managed to achieve.

Leaving us scratching our heads as we watch Kurt Russell's intrepid yet burned out reporter shout top secret information with the police in the middle of a very crowded hallway or his schoolteacher girlfriend (Mariel Hemingway) decide to use a "shame on you" approach with an serial killer over the phone, The Mean Season often comes across like a newspaper movie spoof.

Best appreciated as an atmospheric thriller, the otherwise sloppy Season derives more than a little of its suspense from the film's sweat-inducing setting of Miami in the eponymous "mean season" of hurricanes and power outages alluded to in In the Heat of the Summer novelist John Katzenbach's original source material.


And while filmmaker Phillip Borsos's effort wasn't nearly as effective as the director's Disney release One Magic Christmas which opened later that same year, sadly it also wasn't as memorable as another ambient Katzenbach adaptation via Just Cause which premiered a decade later.

Featuring a downright eerie, largely old-fashioned Saturday night drive-in style villainous turn by Richard Jordan as the film's mostly unseen murderer (dubbed "the numbers killer") who makes a habit out of phoning Kurt Russell with inside information to help control the narrative – Jordan shocks us even more than the bass-thumping beginning, given that he's as violently soft-spoken as the printing presses were startlingly loud.

Although Hemingway is given little to do other than nag, she still comes off livelier than Russell, who, predictably turns into an action hero in the final act. And while the agreeable Russell still tries his best, he isn't supported by Leon Piedmont's screenplay, which fails to capitalize on the crime reporter's intellect, especially when you realize that that was purported to be the reason that Jordan had zeroed in on him all along.

Sadly, watching Russell turn into a running, diving, fighting hero is arguably less exciting than it might've been watching the two engage in a mental chess game.

And this is a particular waste given the ample support provided by Andy Garcia as a police officer with whom Russell regularly works as well as a handful of other supporting players that could've been better served as potential inside men or women to effectively deliver on the many twists and turns promised by the genre.


A lackluster tale of '80s suspense, Borsos's film is elevated by Richard Jordan in the type of role that filmmakers eventually discovered was best pushed to the forefront of suspense via John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire or Kieffer Sutherland in Phone Booth.

Less of a full scale hurricane than a turbulent showdown of half baked ideas and hot air, The Mean Season may play moderately well as a late night B-movie sure to make you jump at the sound of the phone. But while Olive manages to deliver a technically superb Blu-ray, ultimately there's not much about the feature presentation worthy enough to recommend you to bring it on home.


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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Movie Review: About Elly (2009)


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Given its potential to ignite the creative spark of an infinite number of narrative possibilities, a professor once told me that the only prompt a writer would ever need was to place two characters in a room together, wherein one wants to stay and the other desires to leave.

Using this deceptively simple premise as a slow-burning jumping-off point roughly one hour into this character-driven mystery, in About Elly what begins in the same vein as Kasdan's The Big Chill morphs into something much closer to L'avventura by Antonioni.

At its core a like-minded tale of two female friends bound together in a push/pull relationship, in this understated masterpiece, Oscar winning Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) multiplies the aforementioned two individuals by two cars of people vacationing together on an ill-fated weekend by the sea.

A haunting film of ambiguities bursting with secrets and lies, Elly makes clever use of foreshadowing both in its subtitled dialogue and classically composed cinematography that plays much better not only the second time around but also on a much larger screen.

Daring to fill the frame with people as far as the eye can see (as opposed to methodically introducing its large cast of characters one-by-one), Elly respects our intelligence right from the start.

Hoping to fix up her daughter's beautiful teacher with a recently divorced friend visiting from Germany, the scheming, if well-intentioned Sepideh tells a handful of white lies in order to see if love between her friends could potentially thrive.

Without any idea just how badly her plan will go awry, Sepideh continues to push the two together after early excitement and exasperation gives way to a few false starts.

A stranger in the midst of a tight-knit group, although Sepideh argues that "to know Elly is to love Elly," just how well anyone knows her (or one another for that matter) is suddenly brought to light when Elly vanishes in thin air after she's last seen (symbolism alert!) flying a kite.

Deflecting guilt and suspicion over whether a woman chose to leave or was forced to stay, as the remaining characters begin turning on each other, secrets come tumbling out.

Made in 2009 and finally released stateside in 2015, admittedly the quality of Netflix's About Elly stream does date the image slightly.

However, much like Farhadi's Douglas Sirkian inspired high gloss soap The Past, given the way that Elly draws upon everything from '40s women's weepies to existential Noir via Preminger's Laura (as well as its most overt inspiration of Antonioni), the aged look works for this instantly addictive and emotionally thrilling timeless tale.

Produced supremely well and seemingly on the cheap, About Elly proves once again how little budget, A-listers, and effects matter when it comes to crafting a masterful work in any language. Even if it's as simple as the debate to stay or go (and just as my professor predicted nearly two decades ago), story is still king.


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Text ©2016, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.