Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Twilight Time's 'Violent Saturday' Blu-ray

Richard Fleischer shot some audacious twists at the traditional noir with Violent Saturday. The first thing you’ll notice is how sunny and colorful his imagery and expansive his use of ultra widescreen vistas are. Scenes that may have taken place in a shadowy factory or seedy pool hall in another picture go down in broad desert landscapes and bucolic golf courses in Violent Saturday. Even more striking is the film’s structure. Fleischer spends the first hour of this ninety-minute film shaking his jigsaw puzzle pieces out onto the carpet. We meet a man (Victor Mature) whose son (great child actor Billy Chapin the same year he starred in The Night of the Hunter) is ashamed of him for failing to become a war hero. There’s a trio of hoods (Stephen McNally, forties monster-movie staple J. Carrol Naish, and king of the charismatic tough guys, Lee Marvin) plotting some sort of caper. A drunk (Richard Egan) is at odds with his wife (Margaret Hayes). A nebbish peeping tom (Tommy Noonan) peeps on a comely nurse (Virginia Leith, unforgettable as the verbose disembodied head in The Brain That Would Not Die) and has a run-in with an acerbic shoplifter (Sylvia Sydney, who’d become Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin’s caseworker in Beetlejuice three decades later). Ernest Borgnine is an Amish patriarch.

Not until the final half hour do we find out how all these puzzle pieces fit together. That’s when Violent Saturday lives up to its title, and quite shockingly so. Those of us who’ve seen a noir or two can certainly figure out where certain characters are headed, but others take surprising turns, and while taking violent actions may make heroes of some, others have no choice but to wrestle with the moral implications of what they’ve done. A heavily melodramatic tone adds extra flavor to an already complex genre picture, making Violent Saturday play out like The Killing if Douglas Sirk had directed it instead of Stanley Kubrick.

Twilight Time presents Violent Saturday in all its vivid, widescreen grandeur. The blu-ray looks fabulous without any significant blemishes. An isolated score and new booklet essay and commentary, both by Twilight Time’s house historian Julie Kirgo, supplement the disc. Get it at Screenarchives.com here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: 'The Beatles Encyclopedia'

A Beatles encyclopedia seems like the logical conclusion of the gazillions of books devoted to all things Fab floating around out there. Actually, it has been tried several times before, but since the only one I’ve read is probably the first one, Goldie Friede’s The Beatles A to Z from 1980, I can’t really attest to whether or not Kenneth Womack’s two-volume The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four measures up to the mass of Beatles encyclopedias. I can say it is one of the more massive collections of Beatles info, coming in at about 1,100 pages with all the essentials in order: the songs and albums and close associates and much relating to the solo years (though only the most popular solo songs get their own entries). While anyone who wants to get cute by looking up Sir Frankie Crisp, Alpha Omega, or The Rutles will reach dead ends (though the latter two topics do get their mentions in other entries), Womack earns his encyclopedic stripes by creating some exhaustive entries (the one on “A Day in the Life” is seven pages long; the one on the aborted Get Back project is nineteen!) and supporting the obvious information with details he dug deep to obtain. A little quoted Lennon quote in the Abbey Road entry supplies the very heartening notion that he still had some enthusiasm for writing songs with Paul McCartney in 1969. There’s also an abundance of trivial morsels like The Beatles considered making their own Sgt.Pepper's TV movie in 1967, McCartney considered “Norwegian Wood” to be a comedy number (huh?), and Allen Klein wanted to include solo songs on the 1967-1970 compilation. However, some of Womacks information needs to be taken with a grain of salt since he has a tendency to frame unconfirmed details, such as the possibility that McCartney did not play bass on “She Said, She Said” or that his “fuzz bass” on “Think for Yourself” might have actually been his Epiphone six-string guitar, as solid facts.

Neatest of all, Womack states in his preface that his book will be useful to high school researchers. So today’s high school kids are studying The Beatles? Shit, I wish I were a high school kid today! We eighties school kids had to study logarithms and laissez-faire economics. What a drag.

Get The Beatles Encyclopedia: Everything Fab Four on Amazon.com here:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Twilight Time's 'Radio Days' Blu-ray

Woody Allen was having a strong streak in the mid-eighties, putting out a film a year, alternating archetypal classics like Hannah and Her Sisters with more modest, relatively lighthearted, and very nostalgic movies like The Purple Rose of Cairo and Radio Days. Woody Allen being Woody Allen, we are talking about relatively lighthearted here. Domestic abuse plays an integral role in the overall enchanting Purple Rose. Similarly Radio Days slips out a few jokes about child beating and links “Mairzey Doats” with a cleaver-wielding maniac, but such stray moments aside, this is one of Allen’s sweetest, kindest films, full of lovably flawed characters whose desires range from the childishly basic—say, scoring a Masked Avenger decoder ring—to the stratospheric—say, graduating from cigarette girl to radio star. In all cases, it is radio that binds the ensemble of characters together, though Hollywood cinema of the past seems to hold equal sway over proceedings that have the same cartoonish tinge as the similarly forties-nostalgic A Christmas Story (another delightful eighties picture in which a secret decoder ring holds sway over a boy’s imagination).

An endlessly pleasing movie, Radio Days gains as much appeal from Allen’s gauzy direction and cuttingly hilarious writing (“You don’t like it, take the gas pipe!”) as it does from a spectacular cast led by tiny Seth Green as Allen’s pre-teen stand in Joe and Mia Farrow at her comedic best as the squeaky cigarette girl. Support swells from Julie Kavner and Michael Tucker as Joe’s parents, and the likes of Wallace Shawn, Larry David, Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Mercedes Ruehl, Tony Roberts, Diane Keaton, Kenneth Welsh, William H. Macy, and Kenneth Mars in small but memorable roles. As is often the case in Allen’s movies, it is Diane Wiest who steals the show as Joe’s perpetually swooning aunt.

Radio Days comes to blu-ray from Twilight Time, which takes titles that might not come to hi-def if left in the hands of the companies that own them and releases them in limited runs of 3,000. Like its Fox Searchlight DVD counterpart from 2001, Twilight Time’s new blu-ray is pretty bare bones, which is standard for Allen’s movies on home video unfortunately. Twilight Time adds its requisite booklet essay and isolated music track, but the real draw is the hi-def upgrade that does not smear out the grain so integral to the film’s olden days aesthetic.

Get Radio Days on blu-ray exclusively at Screenarchives.com here.

Pre-Order 'Batman The Complete TV Series Limited Edition Blu-ray' Now

While we continue to wait for details on the must anticipated "Batman The Complete TV Series Limited Edition" Blu-ray we can just go ahead and leap into the deep end and pre-order it now on Amazon.com here:

Update: We have a release date now too...November 11.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: 'David Lynch: The Factory Photographs'

It seems as though David Lynch has only recently made clear his adoration of abandoned factories, but those who’ve been watching his work from the very start will recognize this has been a long simmering fascination for the artist. Both Henry Spencer in Eraserhead and John Merrick in The Elephant Man live in factory wastelands of black and white. In Dune, the vile Baron Harkonnen resides in a factory world of pipes, ducts, and gangrenous walls. Shortly after making The Elephant Man, Lynch began taking still photos of his favorite environment and continued to through the decades, snapping their looming smoke-stacked exteriors and rusting, shadowed interiors in Poland, Germany, England, and the U.S. Many of the most evocative are collected in Prestel Publishing’s new book David Lynch: The Factory Photographs. This may sound like a willfully nichey novelty, but Lynch has a way of taking the most mundane concept and working his dark alchemy on it, chilling you deeply with ordinary objects like windows, pipes, fans, ducts, bricks, and lighting fixtures. The Factory Photographs is as purely a Lynchian work as Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, or his photos of ants crawling on clay heads. And it is not just an assortment of pictures on a single subject; it is a total exploration of that subject’s place in Lynchland. There’s an extensive essay on Lynch’s use of factories across the multitudinous media he has explored, a compendium of Lynch quotes on factories, and reproductions of his factory-inspired paintings and a short interview with the artist himself about this pet topic. Like all of Lynch’s work, The Factory Photographs is something to get lost in, a place to dream.

Get David Lynch: The Factory Photographs on Amazon.com here:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Turn Left at Greenland, Part 7: ‘Help!’

In this monthly feature on Psychobabble, I’ve been looking at how The Beatles were presented on long-playing vinyl in the United States.

The Beatles’ most recent record—Beatles for Sale (chopped up into Beatles ’65 and Beatles VI in the states)— implied the guys were tiring of their work schedule. Their next project suggested they found a way to stop caring. That way was pot and lots of it. That project was their second feature film and second soundtrack. Help! was a lazily written film, leaning on a so-so James Bond parody and an uncomfortable level of racism that the more forgiving viewer might write off as a parody of Bond’s racist sentiments.

As much charisma as they exuded when away from their mics, The Beatles were still a band first and movie stars a distant second (or third or fourth or fifth). However, that stoned disinterest crept into some of the songs they wrote for the film too. There is some monumental new work to be heard, mostly from Lennon’s increasingly imaginative pen: “Help!”,  with its very real desperation lurking just behind a buoyant beat and melody, “Ticket to Ride”, a chunk of downbeat hypnosis, “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, his clearest and most intriguing Dylan homage yet, and “You’re Going to Lose That Girl”, a sort of “She Loves You” sequel with an aching vocal. Paul McCartney’s contributions are less interesting. “The Night Before” and “Another Girl” are too repetitive and not melodically inventive enough. Some might toss George Harrison’s “I Need You” among the weaker tracks, though it has too much of his underdog charm and the guitar swells are too appealingly wistful for the song to be dismissed so easily. Nevertheless, this is not the flawless line up of tracks that A Hard Day’s Night enjoyed.  
Although photographer Robert Freeman’s original concept was to have the boys spelling “HELP” in semaphore, he decided the positions were not aesthetically pleasing enough, so he had them spell “NUJV” instead. For the rearranged Capitol cover, only George remained in his rightful place, which did nothing to make the semaphore any less nonsensical.

Side B of the Parlophone album is equally unequal. Impressive new leaps forward (“Yesterday”, “I’ve Just Seen a Face”) are jumbled with the good (“Tell Me What You See”, “It’s Only Love”, “Act Naturally”) and the outright filler (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy”, “You Like Me Too Much”) senselessly. Capitol did away with all of those tracks for its Help!, slipping some onto Beatles VI and holding others in reserve for future release. Instead it followed in the Cuban heel prints of United Artist’ A Hard Day’s Night, mixing the proper Beatles songs with selections of incidental music from the soundtrack.

The placement of Larry Williams’s “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” after Paul’s sophisticated “Yesterday” was the first of several bizarre juxtapositions on Beatles LPs, though the haphazard nature of Help! meant this particular one lacked the conscious zaniness of the way “Yellow Submarine” would follow “Here, There, and Everywhere” on Revolver or the back-to-back placements of “Within You, Without You” and “When I’m 64” or “Revolution 9” and “Goodnight”.

While the Help! songs do not compare to the Hard Day’s Night ones, the non-Beatles tracks are much more interesting. George Martin’s personality clashes with director Richard Lester while making A Hard Day’s Night caused him to decline work on Help! So the job went to Ken Thorne, who’d previously worked with Lester on the early pop film It’s Trad, Dad! (featuring such luminaries as Del Shannon, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, and Gene Vincent). Thorne was a year away from winning his one and only Oscar for scoring A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, three years from writing the rousing “Plus Strings” that closes The Monkees’ film Head, and four from contributing music to the Ringo Starr vehicle The Magic Christian. For Help!, he displayed great resourcefulness, creating an exciting variation on Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” (I first owned “Help!” on the 1962-1966 compilation, which opens with Thorne’s “James Bond Theme” in the U.S., so the song always sounds a little naked to me without it), adapting Wagner's Act III prelude to Lohengrin for a piece titled “In the Tyrol” (George Martin would later pull a similar trick when working a snatch of Bach's “Air on the G String” into “Sea of Monsters” on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack), adapting such Lennon/McCartney numbers as “From Me to You”, “You Can’t Do That”, and “A Hard Day’s Night”, and most significantly of all, introducing Indian raga to many a Western ear. Two of these ears belonged to George Harrison, who’d soon develop on The Kinks and The Yardbirds’ experiments with fusing Western Rock & Roll and Indian classical by playing the sitar on The Beatles’ next UK LP (he first fiddled with the many-stringed instrument while filming the restaurant scene in the film). As for its use on the Help! soundtrack, the brief but frantic “The Chase” is one of the more exciting examples of the instrument on pop wax.

Its gatefold cover gave Help! the whiff of a deluxe package—and caused Capitol to boost the sales price by a dollar— but it was not the first Beatles album to fold out. Capitol’s double-LP The Beatles’ Story had one for practical reasons, and Parlophone’s single-LP Beatles for Sale had one purely for design reasons.

Thanks to Thorne’s creativity, Capitol’s Help! remains a more listenable soundtrack record from start to finish than UA’s A Hard Day’s Night. Not that it’s perfect. Thorne’s Lennon/McCartney interpretations suffer simply from comparison to The Beatles’ unforgettable original versions (though the interpretation of “A Hard Day’s Night” as a raga is pretty neat). The old heavy-handed echo application is in full, full effect on the duophonic mix of “Ticket to Ride”, making an already booming track sound like it’s broadcasting from the floor of Carlsbad Cavern. There are McCartney’s two shoulder-shruggers. Nevertheless, The Beatles and their co-conspiraters were onto something with their latest project: the Western classicalism of “Yesterday” and the Eastern classical influence that “The Chase” and “Another Hard Day’s Night” had on George, the druggy mesmerism of “Ticket to Ride” and personal cry of “Help!”, the flute of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, and the deeper folk effects of  “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, which would be put to striking use on The Beatles’ next album. So would that particular song when it found a prominent home on Capitol’s version of that next album. And for the first time, a U.S. LP arguably would have a leg up on its UK counterpart.
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