(2012/Brandon Cronenberg/IFC Midnight/MPI Blu-ray)/Charlie Chan Collection (1946 – 1948/Monogram/Warner DVD Set)/Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space
(1970/BBC Blu-ray)/Greystoke: The Legend
Of Tarzan: Lord Of The Apes (1983/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/The Hildegarde Withers Mystery Collection
(1932 – 1937/Warner Archive DVD Set)
B/C+/B-/B/C+ Sound: B/C/B-/B-/C+ Extras: B-/D/B/C+/D Main Programs: B-/C+/B/C+/B-
PLEASE NOTE: The Greystoke Blu-ray and Hildegarde
Withers DVD set are only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner
Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.
and suspense play a huge part in some of the best kind of filmmaking, whether
strictly genre work or work that tries to be something more. The
following releases made over an eight decade period show us the better attempts
Cronenberg makes his directorial debut with Antiviral (2012) set in a near future where sick, dehumanizing
behavior has become al the worse. Calen
Landry Jones is very impressive as the biological viral expert at a company
that sells something very unhealthy in viruses, but one’s that people want to
buy and at high prices. Why? Because they are guaranteed to be viruses
that major, popular celebrities have had and a hugely profitable industry has
been manufactured that people are idiotically and sickly buying into.
Gadon is the sexy blonde who is especially popular with clients of his company,
but something else is also going on. He
is an addict who “illegally” injects himself with every single copyrighted
virus his company is selling, hacks them for cash and continues on at the
company like nothing has happened, but his addiction to such experimentation is
about to become entangled with a competing company, the sick environment that
makes these companies possible and other twists and turns that are blatantly
honest about how ugly the situation is.
are loosely reminded of elements of Re-Animator,
that is a good thing, because it has a similar post-modern Frankenstein element
to it and it works as well as that celebrated cult film, but it is also capable
of some dark humor in the proper places, has other fine performances and is as
much in the David Cronenberg mode as it is in the Stanley Kubrick mode down to
casting Malcolm McDowell in a key role.
smart, ahead of its audience most of the time and well made, Antiviral is one of the best thrillers
and science fiction films of the past year as well as a stunning debut that is
purely cinematic on many levels. Don’t
a feature length audio commentary track with Cronenberg and his Director of
Photography Karim Hussain that gets silly at times, should not be heard until
seeing the film and may even undermine some scenes, plus we also get the Making
Of documentary featurette Anatomy Of A
boldly named Charlie Chan Collection
is actually the eighth DVD box set of the hugely successful mystery movie
series to hit DVD. Instead of the glory
days of the Fox-produced movies, this marks more of the later films made by the
low-budget Monogram Studios from 1946 to 1948 when Fox made the giant mistake
of thinking the series was dead. This
set debuts the four films included, starting with Shadows Over Chinatown (1946) with Sidney Toler in a mystery about
insurance fraud and murder, but the amazing thing is how dark this one is
thematically as dead bodies that have been mutilated and have their heads, arms
and legs chopped off are part of the storyline.
That is unusually dark for any mystery series or film of any kind of the
time, but Film Noir had finally affected the series. It is a mixed film, but so dark, it is a
eventually passed away during his run of the series, so e was quickly succeeded
by Roland winters, who was not as convincing or even seemed the proper age
versus Victor Sen Young as his son Jimmy.
The three remaining films are form 1948 and include Docks Of New Orleans (key people from a major chemical company
being knocked off), Shanghai Chest (the
William Beaudine-directed entry about jurors and law officials being killed in
a case where a dead man would only want revenge) and The Golden Eye (Beaudine again helming in a tale of bloodlust for
gold tied to a major company) are not as good as the Toler film, but have some
good moments and the cats is having fun, but even they know the formula
Monogram adapted is wearing thin.
Moreland as Birmingham is here as the Chan equivalent of Jack Benny’s
Rochester, but it is just a new stereotype replacing an older one (like how
Monogram started their Chan films as filler for the lack of budget versus the
money Fox put into these), but he is such a good actor that even his charm and
talent override the stereotypical role.
Fox films are still the best in the series, but these are not awful and
Monogram was at least trying to make them work since higher profits could be
used to fund other projects and save, grow and prolong the life of the little
studio. It didn’t work out.
no extras, but here are links to other Chan DVDs:
Fox V. 1 Box
Fox V. 2 Box
Fox V. 5 Box
Charlie Chanthology (what a title!)
The Amazing Chan & The Chan
hit show gets into trouble, it has to reinvent itself or it ends, which is
exactly what happened when Jon Pertwee took over the role of TV’s most
successful time traveler in Doctor Who:
Spearhead From Space (1970) which found the classic hit show facing
unexpectedly healthy competition not just from U.S. TV outlets, but at home in
England including hits like The Avengers,
Lord Lew Grade’s action shows (The Saint,
Strange Report, Department S, The Prisoner)
and those SuperMarionation shows Grade was making with Gerry & Sylvia Anderson
(Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds; all reviewed elsewhere on
this site) so the BBC had some catching up to do and they did.
on Blu-ray, we originally covered this four-episode debut on DVD and you can
read more about it at this link:
did not use any PAL videotape of this show, shooting the entire thing in 16mm
and seeing it here in HD, it looks so good, you would think it was one of Lord
Grade’s shows and you can also see some elements from other hits creeping up
here. In particular, I found The Avengers and their classic black
and white episode The Cybernauts a
big influence, as the Autotons that Who and the classic introduction of
U.N.I.T. (an spy-like anagram at that) are similarly creepy to said Cybernauts,
the idea of an automated future as bad resurfaces and Who himself wears classic
British clothing and even fancies a classic British roadster ala John Steed,
but it all works and the show bounced back.
here is a revelation, looking as good as any of the newer HD-shot Who shows and reminding us of what a
great golden period of genre TV Britain was enjoying. In an earlier attempt to do an Avengers-like show, the BBC made Adam Adamant Lives! (reviewed elsewhere
on this site) and it was something special, yet had problems it could not
overcome and was cancelled after two seasons.
Especially seeing this set of episodes on Blu-ray, I believe the BBC
learned from what did not work on that show and it commercial failure (and
artistic successes) save Doctor Who in the long run without anyone at the time
knowing it. Spearhead From Space continues to be a key classic in the Who cannon and if you have a Blu-ray
player, you should make this a must-see release on your list.
the same as the DVD edition, but adds a Restoration Comparison so you can see
the work the BBC did to fix and save these episodes.
MGM/Bo Derek Tarzan film in 1980,
you can imagine how the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate wanted to revive the
character in a much more intelligent, realistic way. Greystoke:
The Legend Of Tarzan: Lord Of The Apes had gone through the hands of several
directors and scripts before Chariots Of
Fire director Hugh Hudson took over the project. Finally released in 1983, the film was a
mixed critical, commercial and artistic success, but certainly one of note that
should have turned out even better than it did and was made some mistakes along
Lambert (Highlander, Cimino’s The Sicilian) made a strong
breakthrough debut here as the title character when he finally becomes an adult
in the long (this cut runs 137 minutes) storyline that goes back to his being
lost as a child and spends more than a little time watching him grow up among
the apes. With what looks like an
extended version of the Dawn Of Man
sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey
(1968), the film goes bonkers enjoying the new breakthroughs in latex make-up (Rick
Baker’s work here is some of his best) and like the film Quest For Fire which also overdoes this, it all becomes a run on
that should have been shorter than it was.
Truffaut’s Wild Child had
some influence here as well.
those who want to see that part of the Tarzan story and myth done the long way
can say it was achieved here and we should never have to see it this way
again. When Greystoke finally gets to
civilization, late Victorian England, the culture clash is expectedly immediate
and well done, but like Hudson’s
Chariots Of Fire, the most involving
moments are interrupted by moments that drag, though the money is definitely on
the screen here, which is a nice plus.
MacDowell in an early role was unnecessarily dubbed by Glenn Close, which does
not help the film, but a cast that also includes Ian Holm, James Fox, Ralph
Richardson and Nigel Davenport among others make this classy and makes it one
of the rare Tarzan films that is not a simple B-movie adventure romp. Still, it misses the mark overall and could
have been better, but it has aged much better than you might expect and is
worth seeing and rediscovering, especially on such a solid Blu-ray edition.
include a feature length audio commentary track by Director Hudson &
Producer Garth Thomas and the Original Theatrical Trailer.
definitely not least is The Hildegarde
Withers Mystery Collection featuring six mystery films (from 1932 to 1937) with
Stuart Palmer’s schoolteacher who quickly becomes a detective. The first three films are classics with the
great Edna May Oliver in the title role, but RKO did not renew her contract, so
the remaining films had two other actresses try top fill in, but RKO dropped
the ball and the series ended long before it should have. Based on the first three films along, this
should have run as long as the Charlie Chan series.
The Penguin Pool Murders (1932) has Miss Withers with her class
at a zoo on a field trip when a dead body lands up in the pool where the title
animal lives. James Gleason makes his
debut as Inspector Piper and held the role for all six films (getting top
billing on the last three in a move that did not help the longevity of the
series) and we get more than a little time with her students, who should have
been regulars more often through the series.
This is a top rate mystery with great writing and true suspense, plus
the chemistry with Oliver and Gleason is immediate. Robert Armstrong, Mae Clarke and Edgar
Kennedy as Donovan (in a regular role) are among the fine supporting cast. Terrific!
Murder On The Blackboard (1934) is a worthy follow-up as a
fellow female teacher at Withers’ school turns up dead and she is determined to
find out whom, why and what happened no matter what. Bruce Cabot and Regis Toomey are among the
fine supporting cast in another solid mystery yarn and Oliver steals most every
Murder On A Honeymoon (1935) has Withers flying to Catalina Island when a passenger who gets sick for
unknown reasons is dead soon after touchdown, so she investigates and even lets
Piper know about it. When he finds out
something much deadlier is going on, he flies out immediately before Withers
gets herself and many others killed. A
young Leo G. Carroll plays an arrogant movie director and the change of pace
makes this one another winner!
Murder On A Bridle Path (1936) has Helen Broderick (Top Hat, Swing Time, plus the author of The
Mystery Club (1926)) taking over as Withers as if Oliver never played the
role. She is not bad here, but wrong for
the role, yet it also shows if she had a detective character who was more like
a fast-talking city woman instead of a school teacher, she could have had her
own great series. She more than holds her
own against Gleason and carries her scenes well, but they never gel as a team
and the case of death by horse turns out to be murder and not just a
Best (under the racist credit Sleep N Eat (which he had in (too) many of his
early film appearances) plays the young African American who handles the stable
is actually very good when he is not being made a joke of and interestingly, he
has a somewhat progressive relationship with the Withers character. Too bad racial barriers ruined that from
turning into anything.
The Plot Thickens (1936) has RKO realizing Miss
Broderick’s Withers lacked humor, so they hired the great Zasu Pitts and may
have got too much humor this time out as murder and jealousy at a rich
household involving a butler, a secret employee affair and other secrets
quickly leads to a dead body. This is
well plotted and Pitts is not bad in the role, but she eventually plays herself
too much and never totally becomes the character. She is not a bad match with Gleason, but it
just makes one miss Oliver all the more.
Forty Naughty Girls (1937) is the poorest of the
films with a weak script, the cast on auto pilot and a few giggles at best with
no real mystery as Withers and Piper try to figure out murder in a backstage
ballet setting. I don’t know what RKO
was thinking, but the energy is gone, atmosphere lame and Pitts even seems
lost. Can’t blame her.
sadly no extras, but this is a series that calls for Blu-ray and that would be
a time to come up with some.
2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Antiviral (shot in HD) and Greystoke
(shot in Super Techniscope, a precursor to Super 35mm) are the best
presentations on the list with some minor detail issues (Antiviral has some detail issues due to its HD shoot, Greystoke (delayed to get the image
correct) more grain than you would expect from a film that received 70mm
blow-ups) but they look good and consistent throughout, delivering the intended
look in both cases. I cannot imagine
either looking much better in this format and color is also consistent in both
1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on the Doctor Who episodes come from the original and surviving 16mm color
elements, a rare case of an older episode being totally filmed. Save some fine details in some shots lost in
the restoration, this looks fine with consistent color, depth and detail equal
to any possible film print of the show.
Fans will be particularly surprised and I hope we see this in some other
rare cases, even if videotaped sections have to be line-doubled to 1080i where
film and PAL video is mixed as was often the case for the show.
leaves the 1.33 X 1 black and white image on the Chan and Withers films
looking pretty good for their age, with interesting issues in each case. The Chan
films are made by Monogram with limited budgets, so the stocks will not be as
glossy or rich necessarily as the Withers
films, made at RKO, but those films are older and have age issues they cannot
avoid. Despite some print damage and
detail issues (including some second generation footage here and there), this
is the best these films have ever looked and with enough work, Blu-rays would
be more than possible. Fans will not be
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Antiviral is the sonic champ here with advanced sound design,
character in the mix and one of the most creative mixes we have encountered
lately down to warm playback, a consistent soundfield and what we expect from
Blu-ray and do not often enough get in dynamic range. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix
on Greystoke comes in second place
with a decent upgrade of the sound that tends towards the front speakers, but
this was a film originally designed for 6-track magnetic sound in the 70mm
Dolby 4.1 blow-up film prints that made it out to select theaters.
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mix on the Doctor Who episodes have been nicely restored and this is as good
as any set of classic episodes have ever sounded, so fans of the show used to Blu-rays
of British TV classics like Space: 1999,
The Prisoner, The Persuaders and/or The
Sweeney (including the Regan
telefilm) will be more than happy to add this one to their shelves.
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on the Chan
and Withers films show their age,
including some brittle sound at times, but they have been cleaned, though the
Chan films are at a volume level that is lower than I would have liked, so be
careful of volume switching and high playback levels. Otherwise, they sound good.
To order the
Greystoke Blu-ray and Hildegarde Withers DVD set, go to this
link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at: