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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Slavery > Racism > Sex > Murder > Kidnapping > Africa > War > Caper > Detective > Action > Adventure > Com > Ashanti (1979/Severin Blu-ray w/DVD)/Dick Tracy (1990/Disney Blu-ray)/The Wild Geese (1978/Severin Blu-ray w/DVD)

Ashanti (1979/Severin Blu-ray w/DVD)/Dick Tracy (1990/Disney Blu-ray)/The Wild Geese (1978/Severin Blu-ray w/DVD)


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



There was a time when all-star casts meant an event film, but that started to change by the late 1970s when blockbusters suddenly meant special effects over acting talent and the quick buck meant more than putting out a film of substance that audiences would like in the long term.  Three films now on Blu-ray show us how those changes transpired.



We’ll start with Andrew V McLaglen’s The Wild Geese (1978), a military actioner with a sense of a Professional Western in which a political leader reported as dead is being held hostage for other reasons in Africa.  If he can be freed, people being ruled under a new evil dictator would be over thrown.  So how to get him out?  Richard Burton assembles a team to do so including contacting old friend (Richard Harris) with a son, plus other experts (Hardy Krueger and Roger Moore) to lead a well-funded small army to penetrate an armed compound and bring the man to safety and expose the regime.


Of course, things do not go as planned despite a solid team, but the script is about characters and some character development as much as anything and the film has more than enough moments to hold up despite some problems it has.  Moore holds his own in a role of a less-likable character than ones he is usually associated with (The Saint/Simon Templar and James Bond) plus the film is smart and ambitious.


Sadly, it was one of the last such films in the cycle of War and Westerns it represented, but is a worthy entry in and of both.  Jeff Corey, Frank Finlay, Barry Foster, Stuart Granger and Ronald Frazier are among the supporting cast and Producer Luan Lloyd pulls off a first-rate film that has a good reputation and continues deservedly to do so.  If you have never seen the film, it is worth going out of your way for and those Expendable films have nothing on it.


Extras include the Original Theatrical trailer, Royal Charity Premiere Newsreel of the film in color, an exclusive New Interview With Director McLaglen, another exclusive on-camera interview With Military Advisor Mike Hoare dubbed The Mercenary, The Last Of The Gentleman Producers Documentary on Producer Euan Lloyd that also includes Roger Moore, title song singer Joan Armastranding, the late great Ingrid Pitt & many industry insider of the time, Vintage Featurette “The Flight Of The Wild Geese” and a feature length audio commentary track with Producer Lloyd, Star Roger Moore and Second Unit Director (and future five-time Bond director) John Glen, moderated by Filmmaker Jonathan Sothcott, plus a DVD version is also included.



Also being issued at the same time by Severin, Richard Fleischer’s Ashanti (1979) takes on the issue of modern slavery in Africa, where Wild Geese also takes place.  Oddly and problematically, both films skip over the scourge that was Apartheid in South Africa and that makes both of their appeals to freedom and democracy problematic.


Here, Michael Caine and Beverly Johnson are a married couple of doctors who work for the World Health Organization in an area that needs all the help it can get when she is abducted and put into a slavery situation, led by a sinister Arab businessman (Peter Ustinov in a politically incorrect performance where even then he was chewing up way too much of the scenery) out to sell for a profit.


Caine’s Doctor is determined to find her and gets the assistance of a man (a fine performance by Kabir Bedi, later the henchman in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy) who knows the area and its ways well, so off they go to find her.  The film has some good moments, but more problems and stretches where it does not work.  Fleischer had been on a roll for years as a highly underrated journeyman director when he started to loose his touch on this film.  Johnson was a top model when she took this on and her acting is mixed.  William Holden, Rex Harrison and Omar Sharif all show up in good acting turns, but they are not enough to save the film when all is said and done.


Still, it is ambitious and worth a look, but don’t expect it to hold up all around like Wild Geese.


Extras include the Original Theatrical Trailer and a very informative on camera interview with co-star Johnson, plus a DVD version is also included.



Finally we have Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990), his attempt at a big commercial blockbuster in the wake of the success of the 1989 Batman and to erase the still-bad-to-this-day disaster that was Ishtar.  Originally intended years before as a darker, harder-edged revival with Walter Hill directing, that option lapsed and Disney picked it up hoping for a giant blockbuster.


Beatty plays Tracy, the ahead-of-his-time ace police officer with the wristwatch TV and unrivaled determination to take on all the gangsters he can and clean up the streets.  The make-up department had a field day in latex making dozens of actors look like the legendary drawing of Chester Gould’s rogue’s gallery of odd and often memorable gangsters with distorted faces (inspired by the original Scarface in part) and in a digital age, that make-up is the only thing that has appreciated about this film since its first release 22 years ago.  Too bad it is still excessive and the screenplay by Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr. as empty as ever.


Though Flattop (William Forsythe) is usually the main villain, but thanks to the major critical and commercial success of Brian De Palma’s solid Untouchables movie (1987, see the Blu-ray elsewhere on this site), Al Pacino takes center stage as Big Boy Caprice playing way too much like Robert De Niro’s Al Capone in De Palma’s hit.  We also get Madonna as Breathless Mahoney in a so-so performance that would seem worse if the film was not such a disappointment.  Disney thought just marketing alone would make this into a big franchise film series, but that backfired and was a box office disappointment that did not immediately make its money back.


Still, stilly as it was (and often at that), Beatty did get a fine cast together including Charlie Korsmo as “The Kid”, Glenne Headly as Tess Trueheart, Seymour Cassel, Charles Durning, Ed O’Ross, Allen Garfield, John Schuck, Paul Sorvino, Mandy Patinkin, James Tolkan, Dick Van Dyke, Colm Meaney, Henry Silva, Catherine O’Hara, James Caan, Bert Remsen, Frank Campanella, Mary Woronov, Henry Jones, Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles and R.G Armstrong as Pruneface.  Yet, despite such a remarkable cast that any smart director would kill for, it still failed.


The problem is that it treated the comic book/strip like a joke and was so happy with its self-contained world that it never is believable for a moment.  Though Beatty has done worse (we’ll save that for another essay), it just is never truly fun or involving and doesn’t even know what it is about.  The film has a small following, but even the colorful production design (pre-digital, you can see how sets are matched with colorful matte paintings, et al) is limited and even too confining and unrealistic for its own good.  Too bad, because the character is great and fun.  Maybe the next time, they’ll get it right.


Unless you count Digital Copy, this edition has no extras whatsoever, which has surprised more than a few people.



For more on Tracy, try these links:


1937 Serial



Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc. (1941, 4th Serial)



RKO B-Movie Series



1961 Animated Series





The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Ashanti was shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision, but this MPEG-2 transfer is from an older HD master and is a disappointment, only a little better than the very soft anamorphically enhanced DVD also included.  The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Geese and Tracy are better and on-par with each other, but not without their own problems.  Geese is an MPEG-2 transfer is an older HD master as well, but has a better overall presentation than Ashanti (and better than its anamorphically enhanced DVD included) while Tracy has more grain than it should (especially for a film that had 70mm blow-up prints and award-winning cinematography by Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Reds, 1900) though color is a little better than the 35mm print I saw before it opened.


All films have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) mixes, with Ashanti and Geese in 2.0 Mono (Ashanti sounds better than its DVD version, Geese surprisingly does still sporting warped sound too often; the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the Ashanti and Geese DVDs are very weak.) and Tracy a 5.1 lossless mix that can be a little towards the front speakers, but also sound pretty good for its age and has an interesting audio release history when it first came out.


Besides 35mm prints in old Dolby A-type analog optical sound, it is an authentic 5.1 film since 70mm blow-up prints offered both 6-track magnetic sound and was one of only five film to have digital 5.1 sound with the brief-lived Cinema Digital Sound system on select 70mm prints.  CDS was the first digital sound system for movies before DTS/Datasat, Dolby Digital (which would ironically debut on Batman Returns a few years later) or Sony Dynamic Digital Sound (SDDS) and Tracy was one of only five 70mm CDS releases ever, making it one of the first five digital 70mm theatrical film releases ever along with the silly Flatliners, also disappointing Days Of Thunder, hit Edward Scissorhands and the sonically superior of the five, Terminator 2: Judgment Day.


Maybe Tracy could sound a bit better, though I am no fan of Danny Elfman’s score, but this sounds a bit better than the DTS DVD version and could be improved whenever Disney finally does a special edition Blu-ray of the film.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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