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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Crime > Murder > Revenge > Family > Police > Church > Molestation > Pedophilia > Priests > Australia > R > Blood Ties (2013/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/The Devil's Playground (1977/Umbrella Region Free Import Blu-ray)/The Escape (1939/Fox Cinema Archives DVD)/Henry VIII & His Six Wives (1972/Umbrella Region 4/PAL I

Blood Ties (2013/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/The Devil's Playground (1977/Umbrella Region Free Import Blu-ray)/The Escape (1939/Fox Cinema Archives DVD)/Henry VIII & His Six Wives (1972/Umbrella Region 4/PAL Import DVD)/The Rats Of Tobruk (1944/RKO/Umbrella Region Free/PAL Import DVD)/Two Lives (2012/MPI/Sundance Selects DVD)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Fox DVD The Escape is an online exclusive available at Amazon.com from the sidebar of our website, while The Devil's Playground Region Free import Blu-ray, Henry VIII Region B and Tobruk Region Free PAL DVD imports are now only available from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment and can be ordered from the link below.

What follows are some serious dramas, two dealing with very serious subject matter, two about crime and one about history and does it more successfully that many like it...

Guillaume Canet's Blood Ties (2013) is the first of two films on the list that involve criminal activity pulling families into it, though they are not outright crime families. Co-written by the director and James Gray (The Yards, We Own The Night) and taking place in Brooklyn in the year 1970, Billy Crudup is Frank, a cop whose brother Chris (Clive Owen, hitting his New York accent perfectly dead on, along with his overall performance) is a crook coming out of prison. He is there for him upon release, trying to help him immediately, but he is not leading his criminal life just yet. Can Frank stop him from ruining himself?

We've seen this scenario literally a few hundred times, but the makers five it a try to make it work with more realism, some good moments that work and a great supporting cast that includes James Caan, Marion Cotillard, an easy to underestimate Mina Kunis, Zoe Saldana, Matthias Schoenaerts, Lili Taylor and Griffin Dunne among them. It is definitely worth a look for what does work, the talent involved and its consistency, but they cannot escape the classical Hollywood Gangster crime narrative, which I will get to more below in The Escape. Still, if you like this kind of film, see this one once.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds a Behind The Scenes featurette.

Fred Schepsi's The Devil's Playground (1977) is an important, daring drama we have covered before about institutionalized church abuse of underaged boys, but now it is back from Umbrella Entertainment as a Region Free import Blu-ray. Here is my coverage of the DVD:


Again, I don't think the film goes far enough, yet it is ambitious and helped put Schepsi on the map. I think it works better when you can see and hear it better, so cheers to this upgrade, but as recent events since the last time I covered this one reveals, you can never deal with this uncomfortable subject matter because big money interests are STILL lying about such things and covering them up, with big money, terroristic death threats and more. We have a long way to go in dealing with this crisis, but this film at least did not hurt.

Extras repeat the DVD release and include a Making Of featurettes, feature-length audio commentary by Schepisi, stills, trailers and on camera interviews with Schepisi (39 minutes long) and those who made each given film with him.

Ricardo Cortez's The Escape (1939) is a Fox melodrama about a gangster criminal Louie (Edward Norris) who comes out of prison to find his sister (Amanda Duff) engaged to an upright police officer (future Shadow and Spy Smasher, Kane Richmond), but still intends to pull off a big crime. This one has an interesting subplot of Louie's daughter kidnapped (or is she) and we get melodrama criss-crossing the crime plot. By design from the Classical Hollywood Production Code and how it affects genres, the similarities between this film and Blood Ties (75 years apart!) shows how ingrained some of the ideas of justice and a Post-Code moral stance against crime lead to the same formula. At least this film has an excuse being one of the early results of those changes.

In that, it says and does what it needs to in a short 58 minutes and is not as rich as Blood Ties, yet they are stuck on ideas and concepts that may be nice, but do not always ring true and are played out. This was still well done for what it is and deserves a DVD release, showing a little-seen Fox film worth your time.

There are sadly no extras.

It is hard to do historical epics and Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975) put age and datedness on most films before it, but Waris Hussein's Henry VIII & His Six Wives (1972) is among the many smart ones that hold up and have more substance than you might first think. Keith Mitchell (who played the same role in a 1970 TV Mini-Series) is the infamous king in this well-made., two-hour tale of his determination to have a son and heir at all costs in this lush production with a solid script, solid directing by Hussein (Quackster Fortune Has A Cousin In Brooklyn, Possession Of Joey Delaney) and terrific cast that includes Donald Pleasence, Charlotte Rampling, Jim Bryans, Jane Asher, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Brian Blessed, Michael Gough, Michael Godfrey, Peter Madden, John Bennett and Michael Goodliffe.

The film starts off well and stars interesting the whole time, though a few moments fall flat, this is one of the fine lost costume dramas people have forgotten far too easily and deals with the history itself with more depth and intelligence than most of its kind since. Nice to see it on DVD!

There are sadly no extras.

Charles Chauvel's The Rats Of Tobruk (1944) is a classic war drama about the Australians stopping Rommel and the Nazis in North Africa before the war was finished. It is a remarkable film well acted and made with a trio of leads with chemistry to spare in Peter Finch (Network), Chips Rafferty (Wake In Fright) and Grant Taylor (Five Million Years To Earth, British TV's U.F.O.). It holds up very well, gave Australian cinema part of its early identity and has been well-restored for this new DVD release. Also known as The Fighting Rats Of Tobruk, it is here in its full-length 96-minutes-long version finally.

Though some visual effects have dated, others are fine because they were done for real and the story is so consistent and the script has such a constant flow, any age to the film only adds to its charm and feel of authenticity. Like Wake In Fright, this is must-see Australian Cinema worth going out of your way for.

Extras include a Stills Gallery, Trailer and terrific documentary featurette on Chauvel entitled The Big Picture very much worth your time.

Last but not least is Georg Maas' Two Lives (2012), a Norwegian drama about deep, dark secrets finally about to be revealed as the Berlin Wall falls in 1990, but going all the way back to WWII, ugly plots by The Nazis and more ugliness by the soon-to-be obsolete East Germany. The characters don't know that yet, of course, but a woman (Juliane Kohler) has had a happy life with her family, but has been living a lie. She is a spy and lied about being the daughter of a woman (the legendary Liv Ullmann) whose daughter went missing. Who is this woman, then?

Part of this deals with those family lies, other the governmental lies of the Cold War, Holocaust, WWII and the like, then of those people have to hold to keep going no matter how twisted their lives. I won't say much more, except that this is a challenging drama worth your time and worth going out of your way for with Ullmann putting it in the credibility zone if all else would fail you.

A trailer is the only extra.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Playground may can show the age of the materials used at times, but it is the best image performer on the list and this is far better than the import DVD we previously reviewed. The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Ties is a new production was shot on an Arri Alexa HD camera, styled to be in the 1970s, but a little softer than it should be. It is the second-best performer here, but slightly disappoints.

As for the DVDs, the 1.33 X 1 black and white image on Escape & Tobruk (restored) and anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Henry (with its highlights, shot by the legendary Peter Suschitzky and issued in three-strip Technicolor prints!) tie for their place, looking pretty good for the format and form decent prints. They should all be issued om Blu-ray. That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Lives just too soft throughout despite some nice shots.

Moving to sound, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Ties is the sonic champ here as expected and as it should be, more consistent than what could have been merely a dialogue-driven film been. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mix on Playground is a nice improvement over the DVD despite the age of the film and limits of its budget, but that is still enough to place it second in best sonic playback here.

The lossy German/Norwegian Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on Lives (very dialogue-based and a bit quiet) and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Henry and Tobruk (restored) tie for third place sounding as well as can be expected for this old codec. But the oldest film here shows its age too much as the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Escape sounds soft and a generation down.

To order either of the Umbrella import Blu-rays or DVDs among many other hard-to-find gems (many of which we have covered on this site), go to this link:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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