Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

Pulp

(1972; BD release date December 12)
Mickey King (Michael Caine) is a successful pulp novelist responsible for such titles as My Gun Is Long and The Organ Grinder, who is invited to ghost-write the autobiography of a mystery celebrity. His client turns out to be a former actor (Mickey Rooney), who is well-known for his gangster roles and real-life gangster connections. But, death is around the corner and King finds his commission to be a lot more complicated than he first imagined. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Following the success of their genre-defining British gangster flick, Get Carter, writer/director Mike Hodges, producer Michael Klinger, and actor Michael Caine reunited to poke fun at the tough-as-nails, stiff upper lip conventions they’d helped develop with the semi-satirical Pulp. Though not as well-received or remembered as its predecessor, Pulp anticipates similarly sarcastic, metatextual crime films, like Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty (1995, based on Elmore Leonard’s 1990 novel) and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler). Hodges slick, modernist style is his own (one which he pressed to its breaking point for his 1980 Flash Gordon adaptation), but, visually, he appears to have been inspired by John Boorman’s dreamy gangster revenge story, Point Blank (1967), Gordon Douglas’ sly Bond spoof, In Like Flint (1967), and other pop culture savvy flicks from the end of the 1960s. Sometimes, this is a detriment, as the referential gags can be quite dated. On the other hand, the period is so thoroughly established that dated references become an organic part of the joke. These various elements of Hodges’ script – rib-nudging political parody, super-sarcastic narration, dopey Carry On-level spoof comedy, and a needlessly convoluted mystery – might not have worked very well on their own, but, when cobbled together, they paint a clever, punchy satire of pulp conventions. For his part, Caine sells the movie’s thick sardonicism and anchors the more over-the-top moments with an impossibly straight face and even keel.

Pulp has been released on barebones DVD multiple times in North America and Europe, but this marks its first HD home video availability (I don’t think it has even aired on HD television before). Arrow has taken the original film elements, scanned them in 2K, and remastered the footage under the supervision and approval of director of photography Ousama Rawi. This exclusive, brand-new transfer is presented in 1080p and its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Because Pulp feels so slick, the footage is perhaps a bit rougher than expected. There is some minor print damage (usually small scratches and dotty stains), but, even at its heaviest, the grain seems natural for type. There are no notable blotchy spots and details are as crisp as Rawi’s soft cinematography will allow. The neutral tan, white, and brown palette is consistent, and neatly supported by cool blue highlights.

The original mono sound has been remastered and is presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0. The filmmakers mostly rely on naturalistic, dialogue-driven sound, but do experiment a bit with the aural design. The opening credits, for instance, play with the dynamic range between the incessant clatter of a roomful of typewriters and the calm coo of Caine’s narration. The score was provided by none other than George Martin, the famed ‘fifth Beatle’ who produced most of the Beatles’ records. His music has a bouncy, easy-going quality, similar to Burt Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid soundtrack with mellow, traditional Italian interludes. Somehow, it’s also as sarcastic as the rest of the film. Despite the flat and inconsistent quality of some dialogue tracks, the score is tonally rich and bouncy – just not quite enough to convince you that you’re listening to a two-channel track.

Extras include:
  • Interviews:
    • Writer/director Mike Hodges (17:36, HD) – Hodges discusses the genesis of Pulp, its real-world inspirations (mostly political issues in Italy and the actor George Raft), drawing elements from his previous films, working with the cast, and the distribution process.
    • Cinematographer Ousama Rawi (9:15, HD) – Rawi recalls Pulp being his big break into feature filmmaking, developing the brown colour palette, and some of the technical challenges of photography.
    • Editor John Glen (4:59, HD) – Glen, who is probably best known for directing five James Bond movies during the ‘80s, briefly covers his part in the production.
    • Producer's son Tony Klinger (6:07, HD) – Klinger talks about his father’s work and the making of the film.
  • Four image galleries
  • Trailer


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up


Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

The Witches

(Italian Le streghe, 1967; BD release date January 9th)
In the late ‘60s, famed producer Dino De Laurentiis brought together the talents of celebrated Italian directors for an anthology film. Their brief was simple: to direct an episode in which actress Silvana Mangano plays a witch. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

The Witches (not to be confused with Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 Roald Dahl adaptation or Cyril Frankel’s 1966 Hammer-produced horror movie) consists of five parts:
  • The Witch Burned Alive/La strega bruciata viva – Directed by Luchino Visconti ( Death in Venice, 1971) and written by Cesare Zavattini ( Bicycle Thieves, 1948) & Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (director of Il Mare,1962). A famous actress (Mangano) visits wealthy friends for a night of food, drink, and parlor games. She falls ill and her well-manicured facade slips; first physically, then emotionally in this frantic, yet listless dissection of celebrity that runs a staggering 40 minutes.
  • Civic Sense/Senso civico – Directed by Mauro Bolognini ( Madamigella di Maupin, 1966) and written by Age & Scarpelli (aka: Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli) & Bernardino Zapponi (founder of Il Delatore magazine). A woman (Mangano again) comes upon a car accident and offers to drive a victim to the hospital, then proceeds to drive through the city like a maniac while he rambles in a concussed daze. This tightly-wound, super-short episode (about five minutes) is a simple set-up for a simple joke.
  • The Earth as Seen from the Moon/La Terra vista dalla Luna – Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini ( The Decameron, 1971). A clownish father and son team up to woo women around town, including a mourning widow, a prostitute, a mannequin, and a mute, green-haired woman (Mangano). This absurdist and typically bug-eyed indictment of gender roles feels in line with what we’d expect from the the man who brought us Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).
  • The Sicilian’s Belle/La siciliana – Directed/co-written by Franco Rossi ( The Woman in the Painting, 1955) and co-written by Luigi Magni ( The Conspirators, 1969). A distraught woman (Mangano) accuses a man named Niccolo of wronging her, so her father takes it upon himself to have every Niccolo’s in town murdered. Another short and silly episode.
  • An Evening Like the Others/Una serata come le altre – Directed by Vittorio De Sica ( Bicycle Thieves) and written by Rossi & Magni. This finale features a bored housewife (Mangano) who fantasizes about an extravagant romance with her indifferent husband, played by an uncharacteristically goofy Clint Eastwood, and wonders where it all went wrong. The fantasies feature outrageous odes to Italian pulp/comic book heroes and send-ups of Eastwood’s spaghetti western persona.

The Witches was released on MOD DVD by MGM in 2011, but has been otherwise absent from home video outside of Italy. For the film’s Blu-ray debut, Arrow has restored the original elements in 2K and presented the footage in the appropriate 1.85:1 aspect ratio. All five episodes were shot by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, who brings a sense of continuity to the proceedings. His style is pretty dark and moody, which contrasts nicely with the film’s (generally) light tone. In turn, this transfer looks its best when slathered in shadows and diffused lighting rigs. During these scenes, grain levels are fine, textures are tight, and element separation is impressive, considering how delicate the compositions are. The brighter daylight sequences, on the other hand, are very colorful, but also sort of fuzzy, especially The Earth as Seen from the Moon, which exhibits low-level blocking noise throughout its grainier backgrounds. Since the whole film was remastered in the same fashion, I’m sure this has something to do with the way these scenes were filmed, since the much blurrier An Evening Like the Others doesn’t have the same problem.

The disc comes fitted with the original Italian mono soundtrack in LPCM 1.0. As per usual, all performances and sound effects were added in post-production, so there is no ‘official’ language dub. In this case, the majority of the cast appears to be speaking Italian (until the last short, where both Eastwood and Mangano are speaking English), so their lip-sync is pretty natural. Buzziness is at a minimum, even though the dialogue and effects tend to be tinny. Piero Piccioni’s score (composed with help from Ennio Morricone in some instances) somewhat unifies the episodes with its jazzy piano riffs. The music doesn’t have a lot of range, but isn’t particularly distorted at high volumes.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with Tim Lucas – The author of Mario Bava : All the Colors of the Dark (pub: 2007) and editor of Video Watchdog magazine offers up a typically info-packed track full of factoids about the cast & crew, as well as behind-the-scenes tidbits and comparisons to other films for the sake of context.
  • English-language version of the film (1:44:14, HD) – A shorter version of the film dubbed into English. It’s DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound quality is flatter, yet cleaner than its Italian opposite, and the dubbed performances are actually quite good (Eastwood dubs himself). Most of the obvious cuts are made to shorten the first and third episodes, such as erasing the gender bending couple from the third one.


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up


Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

Viva L’Italia

(1961, aka: Garibaldi; BD release date January 30th)
To celebrate the centenary of Italy in 1961, the Italian government commissioned Roberto Rossellini ( Europe '51, 1952) to make a biopic of Giuseppe Garibaldi – one that would follow his exploits with ‘the Thousand’ and their role in the country’s unification. Rossellini approached the film as he had The Flowers of St. Francis, presenting the main character in neorealist mode, as though making a documentary. (From Arrow’s official description)

Because I am woefully underprepared to discuss Roberto Rossellini’s films and career as a whole, this capsule review will be brief and represent only a first-blush reaction to this film. Viva L’Italia is built on the foundation of a typical late-’50s historical epic. The large, government-funded budget puts the production values on par with similar Hollywood films, including lovingly rendered period costumes, props, and settings. In addition, the battle sequences are massive in their scope and populated by actual armies. Yet, as mentioned in the description above, Rossellini attempted to insert neorealist sensibilities into the mix, thus minimizing many of the cinematic qualities that tend to connect viewers to the historical content. This creates an interesting, though not entirely successful push and pull between not only filmmaking styles, but thematic ideologies. Unlike its more versatile French cousin, cinéma vérité, and the Hollywood hyperrealism that would follow, Italian neorealism thrived while engaging in intimate, working-class environments. It shunned theatricality, which actually fits in the favour of those giant aforementioned battle sequences, but doesn’t fit when staging drama. There’s so much exposition required to tell this technically intricate story that Rossellini is constantly forced to pause, so that actors can stand and explain their feelings and actions. Neorealism is also an inherently politically and morally focused movement and Viva l’Italia is so entrenched in state sanctioned propaganda that there’s really no room to explore the ethical complexities of war. Instead, Garibaldi is presented as a burdened, aging superhero, capable of only virtue and his followers as the righteous architects of modern Italy. Frankly, it feels like a wasted opportunity.

Viva L’Italia has never been released on home video on any format in North America and the full Italian cut has never been available for English-speaking audiences (however, there was a shorter international cut – see below). On top of that, Arrow has restored the original negative in 2K and presents the footage in 1080p HD for the first time. The 1.66:1 transfer is solid, but clearly limited by the condition of the original material. And, by that, I don’t mean that the footage exhibits obvious damage artefacts, but that Rossellini’s pseudo-documentary style and choice of film stock don’t lend themselves to clarity. It’s simply a raw and grainy production and the transfer reflects that fact. Most of the film takes place in medium shots with broad focus that flattens the compositions and softens background details. Edges are relatively tight, but the grain structure creates posterisation effects throughout gradations, which leads to some slightly blobby shots. The image is vibrant and colourful – especially the consistent red and green costume motifs – with strong contrast and rich black levels.

The original Italian mono soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0. Despite its substantial budget, the filmmakers followed the typical Italian sound recording template by dubbing all dialogue and effects in post. The lip sync is better than normal, but the tonal qualities are on the same level as a cheap spaghetti western. Renzo Rossellini’s sweeping score also comes across pretty flat and distorts at its highest volume levels. However, the track does shine during the battle sequences, which feature impressively dynamic effects that are so well-layered that they might trick your ears into thinking you’re listening to a stereo mix.

Extras include:
  • Garibaldi (1:24:09, HD) – This drastically shorter cut of the film was originally prepared for the US market. It’s an amusing oddity and feels like an educational film, given its compressed drama and extensive narration. The dub is good, though, including a number of recognizable English language voice-over actors in key roles.
  • I Am Garibaldi (17:02, HD) – This Arrow-exclusive visual essay was put together by Tag Gallagher, the author of The Adventures of Roberto Rossellini: His Life and Films (pub: 1998). Gallagher offers some much-needed historical context for those of us who are otherwise unaware of the events depicted in the film.


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up


Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

(2009; BD release date February 6th)
In 1964, Henri-Georges Clouzot ( Les Diaboliques, 1953) began work on his most ambitious film to date. Set in a beautiful lakeside resort in the Auvergne region of France, L'Enfer ( Inferno) was to be a sun scorched elucidation on the dark depths of jealousy starring Romy Schneider as the harassed wife of a controlling hotel manager (Serge Reggiani). However, despite huge expectations, major studio backing, and an unlimited budget, after three weeks the production collapsed under the weight of arguments, technical complications, and illness. (From Arrow’s official description)

Movies about the making of other movies are great, but do you know what’s even better? Movies about movies that were never finished. Recently, this particular documentary subgenre has given us the likes of David Gregory’s Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014), Jon Schnepp’s The Death of Superman Lives (2015), and Marty Langford’s Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four (2015), to the on-the-scene, slow-motion car crash of Keith Fulton & Louis Pepe’s Lost in La Mancha (2002). Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea’s Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno follows similar lines, though with its own distinctive blend of traditional documentary filmmaking and artistic license. Armed with archival photos, hours of original rushes & screen tests, newly recorded firsthand accounts, production art, and Clouzot's notes, they reconstruct an expressionistic version of what might have been. Assuming you’re looking for a purely informative experience, it’s an uneven film that assumes its audience already knows quite a bit about the director, French cinema, and technical jargon. Because it is built mostly around the original film’s incomplete production schedule, it doesn’t have the same structure of most behind-the-scenes documentaries, either. Even Frank Pavich’s similarly arty Jodorowsky's Dune (2013) offers a more complete context for that unmade movie’s dramatic implosion. However, given the nature of the subject matter – at one, point effects artist Joel Stein says that they wanted to capture “visual non-security” and “the denial of visual logic” – this loosely-knit approach is apt. Effectively, the directors and interviewees are trying to make sense of Clouzot’s unfinished vision alongside their audience. Frankly, the mind-bending test footage is fascinating enough on its own to justify watching Inferno on the largest screen possible.

Inferno is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and full 1080p video. Because it is a documentary and has been culled from multiple sources – black & white, full colour, digital, and film formats – the image quality can change from scene to scene. However, the overall clarity is surprisingly consistent, even when contrast and grain size increases. Obviously, the filmmakers did an outstanding job remastering the footage they culled from the archives. If you look very closely, there are some shortcomings in the archival material, specifically that there tend to be faintly jagged edges and other JPG-like compression artefacts. But, on the whole, there’s not a big difference in the clarity of the film clips and the brand-new, digitally-shot interview segments. Well, besides the fact that Bromberg & Medrea have taken pains to preserve hue and grain qualities.

The 5.1 French soundtrack is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Assuming I understood correctly, the filmmakers only had about 30 minutes of Clouzot and original composer Gilbert Amy’s impressionistic ideas to work with and even less usable audio from the daily rushes. This left them with a lot of creative room to create their own audio representation of “mental torture.” Bruno Alexiu supplies the complete score and musical texture for the silent clips, alongside the occasional foley sound effects. The stereo channels are engaged by music at semi-regular intervals and some of the more abstract bits flow (or sometimes bounce) into the rear channels. Otherwise, the soundtrack is mostly made up of simple, well-recorded, and perfectly centered interview dialogue, and brief performance bits from the actor recreations.

Extras include:
  • Lucy Mazdon on Henri-Georges Clouzot (21:48, HD) – The French cinema expert and author of France on Film: Reflections on Popular French Cinema (pub: 2001), among others, talks at length about Clouzot, helps to contextualize what he was trying to achieve with Inferno, and explains exactly how the production fell apart.
  • They Saw Inferno (59:43, HD) – A second, shorter (but still substantial), and more conventional documentary about Inferno, including additional interviews and test footage material. It offers a focused and concise look at the production’s woes.
  • Introduction with Serge Bromberg (8:57, HD) – The co-director briefly explains the story behind the documentary and takes time to credit his crew.
  • Interview with Bromberg (18:09, HD) – The co-director offers further explanation and context.
  • Stills gallery
  • Trailer


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up


Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

The Gruesome Twosome

(1967; BD release date February, 6th)
Little old Mrs. Pringle (Elizabeth Davis) develops a scheme to keep her wig shop in business by renting rooms to local college girls and forcing her mentally disabled adult son to murder and scalp them. Meanwhile, a plucky coed named Kathy (Gretchen Wells) mounts an investigation into the disappearances.

Herschell Gordon Lewis, aka: The Godfather of Gore, who just died on September 26th, 2016, is perhaps the most important bad filmmaker in the history of the medium. He was best-known for his groundbreaking gore films, which bent censorship laws and laid the groundwork for hyper-violent movies of all genres. He was also a one-time advertising executive, author, English professor, and studio director who has compared his movies Walt Whitman poems – “They’re no good, but they were the first of their kind.”

Gruesome Twosome saw Lewis sliding another ‘quick ‘n dirty’ gore flick between two of his most ambitious pictures, A Taste of Blood (1967, see below) and Something Weird (1967). Lewis and writer Allison Louise Downe boiled the gore formula down so far to its base essence that the final edit came in well under feature length. With no money on hand, Lewis shot a prologue where two styrofoam mannequin heads have a conversation about the events of the movie. Personally, Gruesome Twosome is my least favourite of Lewis’ so-called splatter movies (ironically, this prologue is the funniest part), but it’s difficult to completely dismiss. At its base, it is essentially a Nancy Drew adventure garnished with go-go dancing breaks and hastily produced gore scenes. Structurally, it is a frontrunner for the slasher genre, even more so than Blood Feast. It’s quite possible that the Friday the 13th series borrowed its mother/emotionally-disabled son motif from Lewis and Downe. Bill Lustig’s celebrated 1980 sleazefest Maniac (as well as Franck Khalfoun’s 2012 remake), which also revolves around a mad killer who collects ladies’ scalps, certainly owe them a debt.

Arrow issued the following statement with their original Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast box set:
Quote: Although the best existing elements were sourced for this project and every attempt was made to present the films in this collection in the highest quality possible, some of the films still exhibit varying degrees of damage that could not be digitally repaired to our satisfaction....Throughout the restoration workflow process, our priority was to retain the original photochemical look of the films rather than create unwanted digital artefacts by heavy handed picture cleanup. Therefore, many of the films in this collection exhibit "warts and all" appearance, in keeping with their distribution history and physical condition.

That ‘warts and all’ comment was meant to apply to the set as a whole, but it really applies to Gruesome Twosome, which is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The scan was taken from a 35mm printed source that is in such rough shape that I’m honestly surprised they decided to give it a solo release before the better-looking and more popular Two Thousand Maniacs (1964), Color Me Blood Red (1965), or The Wizard of Gore (1970). The majority of the image has a raw, grindhouse projection-like look that kind of fits the griminess of the film itself. Details and textures are actually good, thanks to the quality of the scan. Unfortunately, that quality scan also captures some heavy artefacts, the most consistent of which are vertical black scratches and significantly thick green lines. In addition, there hasn’t been any restoration in terms of grading, so the colours are washed out and sort of purplish.

The original mono soundtrack was transferred from directly from the same 35mm print and is presented in uncompressed 1.0 LPCM. None of the films in the larger Feast box set sound particularly good (and they never will), but, again, Gruesome Twosome ended up being one of the more ‘damaged’ tracks (though not the worst of the series by any means). Still, despite some ‘buzzy’ moments and a few startling pops, there has been some effort made to normalize the sound quality, drop the sound floor, and soften high-end distortion.

Extras include:
  • Newly recorded director intro (1:05, HD)
  • Commentary with director H.G. Lewis and producer David F. Friedman ( Gruesome Twosome only), moderated by Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney (from the SWV DVD)
  • Second Feature: A Taste of Blood (aka: The Secret of Dr. Alucard, 1967) – Though he considers Two Thousand Maniacs his favourite, he (and some fans) considers this comparatively lavish and surprisingly long (almost two hours!) version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula his ‘best’ movie. Its unique qualities aren’t tied to its concepts – Hammer had already remade Dracula with oodles of Technicolor gore as far back as 1958 and Herbert L. Strock’s Blood of Dracula (1957) had already brought the title character into the modern era – rather, the innovation is the fact that Lewis is actually trying this time. Reportedly, screenwriter Donald Stanford’s original script was even longer, which forced the director to make some drastic cuts to the epic subject matter, yet he still manages to convey a rather dramatic scope on a $40-$65K budget. The performances are decent and the production values match more typical B-movies from the era, yet the framing/camera movements are still awkward and the dialogue is constantly stifled by exposition. A Taste of Blood is a rare glimpse of what movies might’ve been like in a world where Lewis actually developed and improved his technique. It’s still schlock, but it’s schlock of a higher order.
  • Peaches Christ Flips her Wig! (9:54, HD) – San Francisco drag queen/performer/filmmaker Peaches Christ recalls her affection for Lewis’ work and other early gore movies.
  • It Came From Florida (10:48, HD) – Lewis fan and fellow schlock filmmaker Fred Olen Ray discusses the cultural history of Floridian exploitation movies.
  • Herschell vs The Censors (7:53, HD) – Lewis explains some of the censorship battles he fought throughout his long career.
  • Gruesome Twosome and A Taste Of Blood trailers
  • Gruesome Twosome radio spots


 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

 Arrow Video/Academy Round-Up

*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: