Tag Archives: dvd review

DVD review: ‘Film Noir Collection Vol. 4’

This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press.

noir-coverTHE FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION VOL. 4
***½

The 12 black-and-white crime movies in this set from Warner are fairly obscure, other than Nicholas Ray’s stirring 1948 classic, “They Live By Night,” starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell as doomed lovers on the run. Also starring Granger, 1950’s “Side Street” is a confusing yet compelling story of a poor man whose act of thievery leads him into a web of bad guys. One overlooked treasure, 1948’s “Act of Violence,” begins as a tense stalking scenario and ends up as a dark meditation World War II’s aftermath, with a hero who turns out to be more of a tragic anti-hero. (The movie feels similar to David Cronenberg’s recent “A History of Violence.”) The entertaining “Mystery Street,” from 1950, features Ricardo Montalban as a Cape Cod cop who cavalierly arrests the wrong guy and spends the rest of the film fixing his error. The 1954 police procedural “Crime Wave” shows a high level of sophistication, though its conclusion is somewhat pat. Starring Robert Mitchum, 1949’s “Where Danger Lives” is a soapy melodrama at first, but it becomes an excellent variation on the theme of an innocent guy caught in a situation that makes him look guilty. In 1949’s “The Big Steal,” a highly enjoyable caper on noir’s lighter side, Mitchum and Jane Greer make a great couple, sarcastically bickering as they fall in love while chasing stolen money through Mexico. “Decoy,” a twisty 1946 tale about a faked execution and assorted double-crossings, is intriguing if a bit too outlandish. There are a couple of clunkers in the bunch — 1950’s “Tension” is little more than mediocre cop show, marred by “Dragnet”-style voiceovers, and the 1955 Edward G. Robinson vehicle “Illegal” loses its verdict with hackneyed melodrama and ludicrous courtroom antics — but most of these noirs make for addictive watching. They also make you wonder what other gems are left in the archives.

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DVD review: ‘Last Days’

This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press.

lastdays-coverLAST DAYS
**½

The drug-addled rock star wandering through this film is named Blake, but he’s obviously supposed to be. Kurt Cobain. (It even says so on the DVD cover, but not in the script — probably for legal reasons.) Director Gus Van Sant has an almost magical ability to make seemingly mundane material — long shots in which nothing eventual happens — into compelling visual poetry. That said, it’s still pretty mundane. The film would be more interesting if it revealed at least a little of the back story behind these characters. Extras include a making-of featurette, a music video, a deleted scene and, best of all, optional English subtitles that will make it possible to comprehend the lines that lead actor Michael Pitt is mumbling.

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DVD review: Myrna Loy & William Powell films

This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press.

MYRNA LOY AND WILLIAM POWELL COLLECTION
**1/2

loypowell-coverThe old “Thin Man” mystery-comedies starring Myrna Loy and William Powell as debonair sleuths are the epitome of breezy old-style Hollywood entertainment. Each one feels like a visit with old friends, so it’s natural to want more. As it happens, Loy and Powell shared screen time in an additional eight films, five of which are collected in a new box set from Turner Classic Movies. “Thin Man” fans may be a little disappointed with their other films, however. The movies are diverting enough, thanks to the irrepressible personalities of these witty, charming stars, but the scripts are uneven and, at times, downright stilted or silly. The silliness actually works in “Double Wedding,” a delightfully daft comedy with Powell as a bohemian eccentric wooing Loy as an uptight businesswoman. “Love Crazy” is also fairly amusing, with Powell pretending to be insane to stop Loy from divorcing him. The amnesia plot in “I Love You Again” is forgettable, however, while the less comedic “Evelyn Prentice” and “Manhattan Melodrama” (the movie John Dillinger was watching before he was shot at the Biograph Theatre) are so melodramatic you can almost hear the plots creaking.

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DVD review: Bela Tarr films

This review by Robert Loerzel originally appeared in Pioneer Press.

werckmeister-stillWERCKMEISTER HARMONIES
****

Six years after it was made, this masterpiece of surrealism by iconoclastic Hungarian director Bela Tarr is finally available on DVD in the U.S., thanks to Chicago’s Facets Video. In this gorgeously filmed black-and-white epic, peculiar and menacing events happen for reasons never fully explained. A “circus” comes to town, but it’s nothing more than a corrugated-metal trailer with the carcass of a whale inside. Rumors abound of a powerful “Prince” who is behind the scenes, his speeches rousing people to violence. A mob gathers and finally erupts into violence, attacking a hospital. Viewers looking for a logical plot may be frustrated, and the slow pace requires patience. At a Chicago International Film Festival screening a few years ago, someone asked Tarr what all of the symbols meant; he bluntly replied, “There are no symbols. There is only what you see on the screen.” That answer may sound facetious, but in a sense, he’s right. Against the backdrop of a place ravaged by Nazism and Communism in the 20th century, this is a film about how seemingly meaningless events can cascade into mass hysteria, paranoia and authoritarianism. Other Tarr films released recently by Facets include “The Outsider” (**½) about a young man’s aimless life, a film that is itself a little aimless, and “The Prefab People” (***), a John Cassavettes-style drama about an argumentative couple.

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