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  • 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.

  • American Experience: Walt Disney (2015) DVD Review

    American Experience: Walt Disney (2015)

    Director: Sarah Colt

    Starring: Various

    Released by: PBS Distribution

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In PBS’ exhaustive documentary of their long-running series, American Experience: Walt Disney centers on the polarizing man who dared to wish upon a dream and built an empire of magic and timeless entertainment.  From his early beginnings in the midwest to the development of his own successful studio and beyond, Disney’s complexities and enduring legacy are discussed through countless interviews with biographers, animators and historians in this detailed document of one of the greatest visionaries of all-time.  

    Narrated by Oliver Platt (Bicentennial Man), American Experience: Walt Disney takes viewers back to the cherished midwest origins of Disney where his initial attraction to animation and filmmaking began.  Boldly teaching himself how to crudely animate, Disney, along with noted animation veteran Ub Iwerks, opened his own moderately successful studio before making the leap to Tinseltown.  Joining forces with elder brother Roy, the Disney brothers opened their own new studio leading to the successful Alice’s Adventures shorts before his most popular creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was swindled away from him by a blindsiding producer.  Driven by determination and sticktoitiveness, Disney’s creation of the rebelliously good-natured Mickey Mouse would become an icon to the public with popularity of the character’s technologically advanced sound cartoons booming.  Obsessed with pushing the boundaries of the art form, the Disney Studios quickly became a haven for hungry talent yearning to create within the walls of this unprecedented imagination factory.  As his Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies shorts infused color and other techniques, Disney continued to look towards the future.  Once considered not real art by critics, Disney and his talented stable of artists dazzled audiences worldwide with the first feature-length animated film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  Following up his landmark opus, Disney’s studio churned out other golden age classics including, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi and Dumbo, each with vastly different styles but, all equally gorgeous representations of the now respected animated narrative.  

    While Disney’s many accomplishments are profiled in detail, Producer/Director Sarah Colt’s intimate look takes closer examination of the man himself and his strained relationship with his father, the financial woes struck by the studio during wartime and the animator’s strike of 1941 that Disney saw as a personal betrayal.  Crafting a humanizing portrait of the man many simply referred to as Walt, American Experience: Walt Disney delivers a deeply honest retelling of a brilliant yet, flawed individual told through interviews with Biographer Neal Gabler, Composer Richard Sherman, Veteran Imagineer Marty Sklar, Disney’s son-in-law Ron Miller and more.  As decades past, Disney’s ability to continuously revolutionize never waned in his later years as the legendary tycoon brought his whimsy to television screens across the country while crafting his most ambitious project of all, Disneyland.  Always delighted at the prospect of creating, Disney longed to develop an environment for families where fantasy ruled and the worries of reality were left behind.  Much like his impact in film and television, Disney changed the aspect of vacationing that continues to be felt nearly 50 years after his death.  Enthralling and inspiring, American Experience: Walt Disney stands as one of the most balanced and comprehensive examinations of Disney, allowing viewers to not only hold his many accomplishments in higher regard but, gain a stronger understanding of the American icon like never before.

    Presented in its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, American Experience: Walt Disney presents its newly shot interviews with a genuine sharpness that satisfies.  Although vintage footage of its subject alters in quality, clips from Disney’s many animated features arrive with nicely represented colors.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, dialogue is clean and audible during interview sequences while, sound clips of Disney from decades past can be mildly hissy but, surprisingly still in fine shape for their age.  In addition, no special features have been included on this release.

    Cherished and complex, Walt Disney’s ideals and achievements continue to shape a culture still enamored by the game-changing genius.  Amidst criticism of over-sentimentality, Disney’s legacy thrives with new generations charmed by his revolutionary works and immersive worlds of fantasy.  Nearly four hours long and standing proudly with Bob Thomas’ “Walt Disney: An American Original”, American Experience: Walt Disney is an expertly crafted document juggling the flaws and unwavering optimism of one of history’s most creative minds.  Fascinating and personal, American Experience: Walt Disney is an essential work of striking depth for devoted Disney enthusiasts.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Premiering on PBS September 14th-15th and available on DVD September 15th, American Experience: Walt Disney can be purchased via ShopPBS.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Cover Up (1949) Blu-ray Review

    Cover Up (1949)

    Director: Alfred E. Green

    Starring: Dennis O’Keefe, Barbara Briton, William Bendix & Art Baker

    Released by: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set in a charming Midwest town in the wake of a possible suicide, Cover Up stars Dennis O’Keefe (Raw Deal) as insurance investigator Sam Donovan following up on his deceased policyholder.  Convinced murder is at hand but, struggling to receive assistance from fellow citizens, least of all the local sheriff (William Bendix, Detective Story), Sam finds love and answers in local bombshell Anita (Barbara Briton, Mr. & Mrs. North) as the truth slowly unravels.

    Taking a cue from Billy Wilder’s film noir classic Double Indemnity, Dennis O’Keefe stars as ace insurance investigator Sam Donovan arriving in a peaceful, small-town community to uncover the answers surrounding a policyholders supposed suicide.  Before exiting his train, Donovan catches the attention of the strikingly attractive Anita (Briton), beginning a romance that will persist throughout the picture.  Getting right down to business, Donovan finds the suicide’s circumstances questionable after the murder weapon is reported missing and the local sheriff highly uncooperative.  As townspeople grow weary of Donovan’s questions and likely suspects including, the niece of the deceased and her probable husband, coming into focus, Donovan is more than convinced that someone wanted his universally hated policyholder dead.  With the investigation taking longer than expected, Donovan and Anita’s brief encounter escalates to true love until, several clues indicate someone close to her may be responsible for the crime.  With the writing seemingly on the wall, Cover Up descents into a tense final act that throws viewers for a satisfying twist most will not see coming.

    With snappy dialogue and stylish cinematography courtesy of Ernest Laszlo (Ten Seconds to Hell), Cover Up is an intriguing mystery that keeps viewers guessing until the end.  Dennis O’Keefe possesses the looks to woo his leading lady and the tenacity to crack the case while, Barbara Briton turns heads in every frame with her perfect smile and effortless grace.  In addition, William Bendix steals scenes as the secretive sheriff who gives O’Keefe’s Donovan a run for his money.  Filmed in gorgeous black and white photography and guided under the well executed direction of Alfred E. Green (Baby Face), Cover Up is an underrated murder mystery gem, ripe for rediscovery.  

    Newly remastered, Kino Lorber Studio Classics presents Cover Up with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  With the exception of minor speckling and brief instances of softness,Cover Up achieves strong detail in facial features and its small-town setting.  The period photography offers satisfyingly inky black levels with only a later sequence in a dimly lit room bearing signs of noise.  Generally clean looking, Cover Up looks as good as it plays.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, Cover Up relays underwhelming dialogue levels that project on the low side, requiring a vast increase in volume.  With a hint of hiss apparent on its mix, dialogue levels are still audible with no other distracting occurrences to mention.  Unfortunately, no special features are included on this release.

    Well shot and cleverly crafted, Cover Up is a tightly paced mystery thriller with admirable performances and a left field twist ending.  Meanwhile, Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ new high-definition remaster is a valued effort that preserves this lesser discussed picture for a whole new generation to discover.  Although, set during the Christmas season, Cover Up will hardly keep viewers out in the cold with a crime tale this satisfying.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available March 24th from Kino Lorber Studio ClassicsCover Up can be purchased via KinoLorber.comAmazon.com and other fine retailers.