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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Fantasy > Myth.Superhero > Drama > Blaxploitation > Vietnam > Gangster > Crime > Urban > Documentar > Cross (2011/Sony DVD) + Gordon’s War/Off Limits (1973/1988/Shout! Factory DVD) + Kill The Irishman (2010/Anchor Bay Blu-ray) + Pros And ExCons (2011/Lionsgate DVD) + Public Speaking (2010/Scorsese/Fra

Cross (2011/Sony DVD) + Gordon’s War/Off Limits (1973/1988/Shout! Factory DVD) + Kill The Irishman (2010/Anchor Bay Blu-ray) + Pros And ExCons (2011/Lionsgate DVD) + Public Speaking (2010/Scorsese/Fran Lebowitz/HBO DVD)


Picture: C/C/B-/C-/C     Sound: C+/C+/B-/C+/C     Extras: D/C+/B-/D/B-     Films: D/C+ & C/B-/D/B-



For the action genre to stay alive after being so played out since the 1980s, it is drifting into areas that do not work or make sense to have credibility which is a sign of desperation, including trying to add elements of Horror, Gangster and even Torture Porn into the mix, while still also contrarily adding Fantasy and Superhero genre elements.  The result is often a mess, so we will look at two current releases that try and fail at this, then look at others that all fared better, even if they do not seem to be related initially.


Patrick Durham’s Cross and Tim Boyle’s Pros And ExCons (both 2011) may boast some name actors, but are really low budget wrecks that are more interested in being product than telling a story and though they are not the same general story, they might as well be in their lack of energy and ambition.


Brian Austin Green (desperate to continue his career) tries to go for the older tough guy look that never works and his acting (what there is of it) actually playing a character they had the nerve to call Callan, though his nickname is the title of this release.  Note Callan is the brilliant British Spy TV series (reviewed elsewhere on this site) with unequalled actor Edward Woodward (The Equalizer) as an ace assassin.  Green will never be in that class, so good thing they gave him a nickname, which also fends off any lawsuits we gather.


Women are disappearing and only he can save them (yikes) but he has been given special powers by a Celtic cross from centuries ago that makes him a sort of Superhero.  They got Vinnie Jones, Michael Clark Duncan, Tom Sizemore and Jake Busey to sign on too, but they cannot save this ridiculous, silly mess from working and I was never convinced by any of this for one minute, including its condescending attitude (I also get the impression the writers still think it is the 1980s) that also wants to set itself up to be like a graphic novel comic book, but has less edge than the latest issue of Archie & Jughead.  When Cross/Callan has to fight an ancient Viking to stop the end of the world, I figured the script beat the Viking to it.  Wow is this one bad.  Extras include lame Alternate Ending, Animatics (this has way too many digital effects), Deleted Scenes of no consequence and (if you can stop laughing as you play it) feature length audio commentary by Durham.


Less pretentious and just as bad, ExCons claims Sam Worthington (The fourth Terminator, the Clash Of The Titans remake) as its star, but he is not seen enough in this no-name-cast bore about two Ex Cons who assassinate someone for a powerful kingpin, only to kill the wrong person, leaving them in worse trouble than they started out with.  An idiot plot script anyhow, the acting is jokey and awful, the writing and dialogue lame and at 92 minutes goes nowhere and has no idea where it is going.  A trailer gallery is the only extra.


A new double feature allows us to compare by rewinding to two previous eras of the genre for better and worse.  Gordon’s War (1973) and Off Limits (1988) are both films originally issued by Fox that show you the peak and slow decline of the Action genre, which is not dead and still with us, bet very battered.  Both have military ties (the Vietnam debacle in this case) so that is hwy they are paired.


War has Paul Winfield returning form distinguished service to find the love of his life is gone due to a new drug dealing menace, so he calls upon some of his soldier friends to go after the men responsible for revenge.  As directed by the actor Ossie Davis, this is one of the more interesting Blaxploitation films with less stereotypes and conventions than you might find in the cycle and though some of it is predictable to meet expectations, it is well acted and made overall with enough realism (it does not try too hard like the two duds above) and character development to deliver a film that holds up well for its age.  Also Winfield is such a good actor and the supporting cast here is good too.  Extras include TV Spots, a Theatrical Trailer and fine feature length audio commentary by Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper and Actor Tony King.


Christopher Crowe’s Off Limits actually takes place in Saigon 1968 with Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines as U.S. cops investigating a series of Vietnamese women with American fathers being killed.  Despite some good stunts, some good acting and a few interesting situations, this is a very dated 1980s film that falls under a subcycle of Vietnam films offering revisionist history about what happened there (think Air America, the Rambo films and other fantasy versions where it was a legitimate war we could “win”) implicit (when it is not explicit) about genocide and politics, portrays the situation with a 1980s attitude that did not exist at the time complete with that 1980s false smugness that has since failed the country spectacularly.


Is the mad general (Scott Glenn) a killer?  Is it a Vietcong guy or gal?  Should we care?  I had seen the film when it first came out and was only so impressed, though having Hines (not known for acting all the time) and then-unknown Dafoe (so good in To Live & Die In L.A., about to face more criticism for his work in Mississippi Burning and (by default) Last Temptation Of Christ) did get people’s attention, but it seems so phony and bad now; more than I could have imagined at the time.  It might still be a curio, but that does not make it a good film.  The only extra is a feature length audio commentary by Crowe and Dafoe.


The big surprise is a much more honest film in the Gangster genre that should have had a larger theatrical release.  The Sopranos may have stopped and killed off many a Gangster film and we are better for it, but there are still some good stories to show and tell (Love Ranch a recent example) and Jonathan Hensleigh’s Kill The Irishman (2010) is a very formidable version of how bold Irish mobster Danny Greene (Ray Stevenson in a surprise performance) stood up to anyone who got in his way to be powerful and build an Irish stronghold in Cleveland, Ohio.


Once a powerful union head, he went into business for himself, including the illegal kind and gained more and more power.  He was also very physically and mentally strong, with a deep belief in Celtic ideals (which is why you will not see a Brian Austin Green here, since the idea is for the audience to not laugh unintentionally) that would help him for a time more than he ever imagined.


The turning point is when a rich Jewish Mobster feels Greene owes him $70,000 (which was much more money in 1976, when the film takes place) and that conflict leads to Greene killing the man.  At the same time, the Italian Mafia wants him dead, but he has secretly turned informant to the FBI, so that Mafia sets out to kill him and every time they try, it backfires and they fail, even getting themselves killed in the process making Greene seem more and more invulnerable!


Unlike some of the other name cast releases that were duds, we also get great performances by Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken, Robert Davi, Paul Sorvino, Tony Lo Bianco, Vinnie Jones (who does much better here than in Cross) and Fionnula Flanagan among others.  The only problem is that Hensleigh (a writer and sometimes director who has had his ups (Die Hard 3, The Punisher) and downs (The Saint, Armageddon)) uses the language of Italian Mob movies to tell a story that is as much Irish as anything and playing Irish music all the time cannot make up for that.  I wish he had seen State Of Grace or Miller’s Crossing before production began and he misses some great opportunities for the movie, which is more obvious after watching the documentary Danny Greene: The Rise & Fall Of An Irishman in the extras.  Still, it is one of the must-see releases you missed since it did not get to theaters like it should have.


Of course, the film owes something to the urban and Gangster films of Martin Scorsese, a giant among filmmakers whose urban authenticity is so strong, it even outdoes narrative films when he is making his own documentary works.  The latest example is Public Speaking, where he does a profile and has a hilarious interview with the great, outspoken, opinionated and bold Fran Lebowitz.  The author and lecturer has great insight, well thought out opinions and observations worth your time, plus she has some hilarious, classic stories about her various experiences with big names and interesting events.  Scorsese is obviously enjoying this and you will too.


Shot in New York, there is even this wild Taxi Driver moment (complete with a piece of Bernard Herrmann’s classic score) where we follow Lebowitz driving around the city as she actually owns a very nice Checker Marathon automobile (the long discontinued make and model used for cabs in New York (as in Taxi Driver and the hit TV show Taxi) and nationwide that is still her car!  That is the level of wit and cleverness Scorsese renders this interview film into throughout and is a triumph for all involved.  It is also more authentic in its urban side than so many of the posers and imitators that have made so many bad genre films possible.  See it!


The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Irishman has some obvious digital effects (it was also a digital shoot, lensed by Director of Photography Karl Walter Lindenlaub (B.V.K./A.S.C.) of Independence Day, Black Book) and some soft detail (due in part to its idea of styling the image down to look like what its thinks is the 1970s), but it is easily the best performer on the list, as well as the only Blu-ray.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the rest of the DVDs all tend to be softer than I expected, though the motion blur fest that is ExCons is actually worse than Cross, which is an achievement in bad picture fidelity.  Limits has a dated print with phony color and Gordon’s War is the best looking of all the features on DVD, except that it gets hampered by color flaws in parts that betray what a good full color film it really is.  When the color does work, it is impressive and fortunately, that is often enough but the film needs some at least minor work.  That leaves Speaking an HD shoot with motion blur, but that is to be expected from a documentary today and would likely be less of an issue on a Blu-ray.


The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 on Irishman has the best soundfield of all the releases here, though the sound can be dialogue-based and toned down since it takes place in the 1970s, where (in a cliché) sonics did not exist in real life?  Still, this is well-recorded enough, but could have been a bit better.  The Dolby Digital 5.1 on Cross and ExCons have serious recording limits and issues and might as well have been simple stereo releases, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 on Speaking is actually a little better (and a bit better than its Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix) because Scorsese knows how to record sound simply and effectively.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Gordon’s War is good for its age, though it can show its age, this was recorded well for a film of its type and the soundtrack holds up well.  That leaves the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Limits is aged and was originally an analog Dolby A-type noise reduction release.  Pro Logic will decode slight surrounds here, but the fidelity is limited.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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