Blu-ray/DVD Reviews

Category

Currently showing posts tagged Gangster

  • Live by Night (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Live by Night (2016)

    Director: Ben Affleck

    Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana & Chris Cooper

    Released by: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Nearly a decade after making his directorial debut based on Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck brings his trifecta of talent to the gangster-ridden world of Live by Night, cementing his acute instincts in realizing Lehane’s literary works for the big-screen.  Refusing to follow orders ever again after serving in World War I, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck, The Accountant) returns home to Boston and a new life of crime.  While his actions speak otherwise, Joe’s line of business is merely a means to an end unlike the ruthless gangsters who run the corrupt city.  After a risky affair pits him in the crosshairs of a mob war, Joe seeks to right his wrongs and extract revenge by relocating to the humid terrain of Tampa to spread rum and gambling during Prohibition.  Before long, Joe realizes that every one of his dangerous choices comes at an unexpected price.  Returning Affleck to a haven of complicated characters and uniquely wired hoodlums where the auteur thrives, Live by Night is yet another striking achievement in the director’s modest body of work.  While Affleck, along with his male costars do what’s expected of them, the performances by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) as Joe’s Irish femme fatale girlfriend, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond) appearing later as Joe’s eventual Cuban wife and Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as a wannabe starlet turned junkie who jeopardizes Joe’s empire while enlightening his morale compass, are diversely electric in their roles.  

    Finding his operation combatting against disapproving members of the Ku Klux Klan while focusing on abolishing laws against gambling to open a casino, Joe’s opposition to invest in narcotics by order of his Italian mob boss pits him in a battle unlikely to survive.  From the gloomy streets of Boston to the sweat pouring speakeasies of Florida, Live by Night is an epic examination of a gangster smarter than his gun who runs the gamut of illegal extremes in hopes of making it out alive to protect those most important to him.  Following a myriad of date changes before being dumped to a dead of winter release, Live by Night’s abysmally poor box-performance hardly reflects the film’s exceptional style, cast and swift direction, making it, for better or worse, one of last year’s unfairly overlooked gems.

    Warner Bros. Home Entertainment presents Live by Night with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  While not a wildly colorful film by any stretch, the transfer thrives through its deeply inky black levels that capitalize during nighttime sequences, dimly lit bars and alleyways.  Furthermore, detail is immaculate with textures in the period costumes looking particularly strong.  Meanwhile, skin tones maintain a true appearance with finer details found in wrinkles, Fanning’s track marks and the humidity of the Florida setting apparent on foreheads.  Equipped with a powerful DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, the softer hushes of Affleck’s narrated bits are crisply relayed while more robust exchanges of dialogue are pristine.  Most impressively, the onslaught of gun fire, bar ambiance and the film’s intensely orchestrated car chase sequence all earn the highest of grades.  An optional Dolby Atmos mix is also provided for those technically enabled.  

    Supplementary material includes, an Audio Commentary with Writer/Director/Star Ben Affleck while, Blu-ray exclusive content offers, Angels with Dirty Faces: The Women of Live by Night (8:54) that finds Affleck and Author Dennis Lehane examining the three sections of Joe Coughlin’s life represented by the three female leads with insight from actresses Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana and Elle Fanning.  Additionally, Good Guys and Bad Guys: The Men of Live by Night (8:30) finds Affleck and his costars, Chris Messina, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Remo Girane and Robert Glenister reflecting on their roles, Live by Night’s Prolific Author (6:53) hosts Lehane as he shares his inspirations for the novel and their themes with additional insight from Affleck and Producer Jennifer Davisson while, In-Close Up: Creating a Classic Car Chase (7:35) details the sequence’s development with Affleck, Stunt Coordinator RA Rondell, Director of Photography Robert Richardson, Editor William Goldenberg and Composer Harry Greyson-Williams detailing their essential contributions.  Lastly and available also on the film’s separate DVD release, Deleted Scenes (15:56) with optional filmmaker commentary are provided with a Digital HD Code concluding the special feature offerings.  Contrary to critical dismissal and low box-office turnout, Live by Night continues Affleck’s remarkable streak behind the camera where an intense examination of a conflicted gangster and the empire he’s built unfolds.  Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s high-definition treatment is an A/V marvel with a surprisingly well-stocked supply of extras on hand likeminded viewers will appreciate.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 21st from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, Live by Night can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Yakuza (1974) Blu-ray Review

    The Yakuza (1974)

    Director: Sydney Pollack

    Starring: Robert Mitchum, Takakura Ken & Brian Keith

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Bringing the honored and dangerous underbelly of gang war traditions to the screen, The Yakuza finds former private eye Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter) traveling to Tokyo in order to retrieve the kidnapped daughter of a trusted friend whose business ties to a powerful crime boss have soured.  Relying on his Japanese connections and reuniting with an estranged former flame, his post-war lover’s yakuza connected brother Ken (Takakura Ken, The Yellow Handkerchief), cold to Kilmer yet forever indebted to him for saving his sister’s life years previously, aids the American in his journey that embroils them much deeper into the criminal world’s activities than expected.  Gorgeously shot on location predominately in Japan, The Yakuza rewards viewers with a trifecta of powerhouse talent unanimous with the 70s movie revolution including, Screenwriters Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) & Robert Towne (Chinatown) whose noirish mood gives the film its unique tone and Sydney Pollack’s (Three on the Condor) guided direction that handles the sometimes complex narrative with poise.  As Kilmer and Ken’s investigation puts them directly in the crosshairs of the yakuza organization, guns and blades take precedence over negotiations, testing the very limits of honor and exposing the corruptive truths of those once trusted.  Featuring an evocatively cultural East meets West score by Academy Award winning Composer Dave Grusin (The Goonies, The Milagro Beanfield War), The Yakuza is a decently constructed crime-mystery of hardboiled investigation and katana-wielding mobsters that has appreciatively widened its appeal in later years for its unique setup and handsome photography.

    Warner Archive presents The Yakuza with a pristine 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Notably filmic-looking throughout, skin tones are natural with details in sweat beads and battle scars well observed.  Furthermore, the beautiful Japanese exteriors are exceptionally captured while, the gaudy coloring of interior rooms and offices pop nicely.  Meanwhile, Mitchum’s earth tone jackets and turtlenecks are impressively textured with black levels found in the darker suits of the male characters appearing solidly with no traces of digital crush.  Joined by an equally satisfying DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that delivers dialogue with no pops standing in its way, Grusin’s excellent score benefits the most with gunfire and the clicking of sword blades making striking effects during fight sequences.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Director Sydney Pollack, the vintage Promises to Keep (19:26) featurette and the film’s Theatrical Trailer (3:01).  Honor, revenge and tradition all converge in this increasingly appreciated albeit, imperfect neo-noir armed with swords and bullets.  Bowing its head in deserved recognition, Warner Archive awards The Yakuza with a stunning hi-def presentation that will obligate viewers to offer a few fingers in exchange for its exceptional quality.

    RATING: 3.5/5

    Available now from Warne Archive, The Yakuza can be purchased via WBShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Dillinger (1973) Blu-ray Review

    Dillinger (1973)

    Director: John Milius

    Starring: Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, John Ryan & Richard Dreyfuss

    Released by: Arrow Video

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Chronicling the final months of the infamous gangster, Dillinger stars Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch) as Public Enemy No. 1 John Dillinger on his bank robbing exploits as determined FBI Agent Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson, The Last Picture Show) closes in on his gang’s reign of crime.  Michelle Phillips (Valentino), Cloris Leachman (Young Frankenstein), Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man), John Ryan (It’s Alive) and Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) co-star in John Milius’ (Red Dawn) directorial debut.

    Displeased with the outcome of his previously scripted features, the intimidatingly creative John Milius would be lured by American International Pictures to tell the tale of one of America’s most infamous characters.  Smooth as he was crooked, John Dillinger was idolized by the country’s average joes for his style and prison escape abilities while, law enforcement, rightfully so, had little affection for the criminal outside of seeing him push up daisies.  Creative liberties withstanding, Dillinger traces the famed bank robber’s assault on the midwest, his encounter and love affair with Billie Frechette (Phillips), the culmination of his cohorts including, Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly, Dallas), Baby Face Nelson (Dreyfuss) among others and FBI Agent Melvin Purvis’ ruthless pursuit of Dillinger leading to his unapologetic demise.  Crafting a mythic tale that lives up to Dillinger’s legendary reputation, Warren Oates, reportedly never deeply researching his character, exudes charisma and ferocity as the commonly nonlethal criminal while, Academy Award winner Ben Johnson’s controlled demeanor and cigar chomping fearlessness wonderfully counterbalances the wildness of Dillinger’s gang of deviants.

    Although its female characters are grossly underdeveloped leading more to be desired from Dillinger and Billie’s relationship, Dillinger’s technical limitations affords the film a raw, documentary-like quality juxtaposed with black and white still photography and era accurate stock footage crafting a tonally rich presentation.  Far more brutal than the eternally hailed Bonnie and Clyde, Director John Milius' debut opus is an ambitious, down and dirty shoot’em up centered on the fascinating Dillinger gang and their violent assault on the country before succumbing to the returned fire of the capture hungry FBI.  Concerned with honoring the larger than life aspects of its titular character, Dillinger enforces the legend with its ruthlessly entertaining depiction.

    Restored in 2K, Arrow Video presents Dillinger with a 1080p transfer, retaining its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Casting a softer focus to retain a naturally lit appearance, colors can appear subdued with bolder choices found in wall paint and particular ensembles making stronger impressions.  Skin tones are rich with the gang’s suits appearing nicely textured while, black levels, although not deeply inky, are sufficiently pleasing with only minor instances of specks and flakes on display.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is audible while, the screeching sounds of getaway vehicles and tommy gun fire leave effective statements.  Special features include, an Audio Commentary with Author Stephen Prince, a Music & Effects Track, Shooting Dillinger with Jules Brenner (12:01) where the film’s cinematographer sits down for a newly captured interview, Lawrence Gordon: Original Gangster (10:08) hosts the producer as he recollects on his many credits and the film in question and Bullets and Ballads with Barry De Vorzon (12:00) finds the composer of The Warriors and Rolling Thunder sharing his personal experiences on many of his achievements.  Finally, a Still Gallery (99 in total), the Theatrical Trailer (2:23), a 23-page booklet featuring new and vintage essays from Kim Newman and John Astin, a DVD counterpart and a Reversible Cover Art boasting the film’s original 1-sheet poster conclude the releases supplements.

    Violently entertaining and wonderfully capturing a bygone era, Dillinger continues the assault of gangster cinema laid forth by Bonnie and Clyde with skilled performances and a rawness that draws viewers into Dillinger’s getaway ride.  Arrow Video does remarkable service to John Milius' directorial debut with a rich, newly transferred HD presentation and a strong stable of supplements that highlights the contributions of those behind the lens.  No one did it quite like Dillinger as Arrow Video’s capture and appreciation of this underrated AIP effort further cements its status.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Arrow Video, Dillinger can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Gone with the Pope (1976) Blu-ray Review

    Gone with the Pope (1976)

    Director: Duke Mitchell

    Starring: Duke Mitchell, Peter Milo, Jim LoBianco, Giorgio Tavolieri, John Murgia & Lorenzo Darado

    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Lost for over 30 years, nightclub performer Duke Mitchell would once again don several hats in his directorial followup, Gone with the Pope.  Mitchell stars as Paul, a paroled gangster with a near impossible scheme to kidnap the Pope and charge every Catholic for his safe return.  Unfinished at the time of Mitchell’s death in 1981, Gone with the Pope lives once again as its creators exploitation swan song.

    Highlighting the exploits of criminals serving decades behind bars, Gone with the Pope finds Writer/Producer/Director Duke Mitchell starring as Paul, a recently paroled man with no choice but to revert back to his former lifestyle.  Loyal to his friends still serving time and attempting to ensure their survival on the outside, Paul accepts a $50,000 job to wipe out several casino owners in Los Angeles while, his brother Giorgio (Giorgio Tavolieri) takes out the others in Las Vegas.  Simultaneously rekindling a romance with wealthy widow Jean (Jeanne Hibbard), Paul, with his hard-earned money in tow, borrows his lover’s yacht to sail his recently released cellmates to Rome for a ransom like no other.  Determined to abduct the Pope from the Vatican in order to demand one dollar from every Catholic in the world, Paul finds himself on an existential journey that questions his choices and sins while attempting to better his life and those closest to him.  Sliding comfortably back into the fictional realm of gangsters, Duke Mitchell’s final effort ensures more bullet blasting bloodshed and the comical side of former prisoners sowing their wild oats including, a hilarious sexual encounter with an overweight female and Mitchell’s oh so offensive yet, highly engaging dialogue with a sexy black prostitute.

    Ambitiously shot in California, Las Vegas, Rome and appearing far more flashy than its budget would suggest, Gone with the Pope continues to finesse the emerging cinematic voice of Duke Mitchell who was sadly combatting lung cancer during production.  Comprised of nonprofessional, most of whom never acted again, the thespians deliver a naturalism fitting to the film’s eccentric atmosphere and positively cool leading man.  For all its noticeably charming drive-in qualities, Duke Mitchell proves his way with words in the aforementioned encounter with a prostitute and his heated distaste for the Catholic Church vented to his Eminence.  As Paul and his brothers in crime succeed with their kidnapping, the Pope’s presence effects the group in various ways leading Paul to restore balance in his own life through means of unapologetic violence.  Concluding rather abstractly with Paul unable to fully escape his sins, Gone with the Pope is a holy grail discovery for cult enthusiasts that was discovered in a garage in its unfinished state.  Adored with love and spending nearly a life sentence restoring it back to existence, Gone with the Pope beautifully compliments Duke Mitchell’s Massacre Mafia Style like spaghetti and meatballs with all the exploitation and swagger Mitchell is now rightfully being praised for.

    Restored in 2K from the original 35mm camera negative, Grindhouse Releasing debuts Gone with the Pope in its long-awaited Blu-ray release with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Having sat in a garage for years, the elements astound with rich skin tones and popping colors from the lights of the Las Vegas strip to the bright blue sea water as Paul and his cellmates sail to Rome.  While inherent unfocused moments occur with minor speckling during a brief strip club sequence, black levels appear inky and visible.  Bearing an absolutely filmic quality and striking detail, Gone with the Pope’s transfer is dynamite!  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Gone with the Pope generally satisfies with efficient dialogue levels that only encounter brief instances of muffled quality.  Delighting with a mix of orchestrated horns and rocking guitars, its score is a more solid example of the track’s finest aspects.  In addition, optional DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes have also been included.  Grindhouse Releasing once again rolls out the red carpet for another splendid array of special features including, Gone with the Pope: The Players (66:52), Shooting Gone with the Pope (23:18), Restoring Gone with the Pope (3:14), seven Deleted Scenes (17:18), Out-Takes (12:41), Inserts (6:11) prefaced by Cinematographer Peter Santoro, Frankie Carr & The Nove-Eltes Live in Vegas (8:15), Hollywood World Premiere (20:48) from March 12, 2010 with a cast and crew hosted Q&A.  In addition, a Theatrical Trailer (2:00), two Still Galleries consisting of 69 images in total, a Duke Mitchell Filmography, Grindhouse Releasing Prevues, an Easter Egg Interview (2:25) hidden in the Set Up section of the disc joined by Linear Notes by John Skipp with a reversible poster and DVD edition of the release wrap up the supplemental offerings.

    For what seems like an eternity of anticipation, Grindhouse Releasing’s exceptional care and preservation of Duke Mitchell’s final curtain call has been well worth the wait.  Wonderfully restored and boasting a variety of audio options, the expansive special features only enlighten and increase the appreciation of its source material.  Unlike most other exploitation offerings, Gone with the Pope combines crime elements and friendship with religion and faith to deliver a one of a kind gem only a Duke could produce.  If there’s one cult discovery well worth praying to, it’s Gone with the Pope.  

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available now from Grindhouse Releasing, Gone with the Pope can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.