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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Historical > French Revolution > Thriller > Comedy > Romance > Gay > AIDS > Health Crisis > Outbreak > The Black Book (aka Reign Of Terror/1949/Film Chest DVD)/Getting Go (2014/Wolfe DVD)/The Normal Heart (2014/HBO Blu-ray)/Summer In February (2013/Tribeca Film/Cinedigm DVD)

The Black Book (aka Reign Of Terror/1949/Film Chest DVD)/Getting Go (2014/Wolfe DVD)/The Normal Heart (2014/HBO Blu-ray)/Summer In February (2013/Tribeca Film/Cinedigm DVD)

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

The following dramas ask questions about liberty, freedom, happiness and more...

Anthony Mann's The Black Book (aka Reign Of Terror/1949) at first seems like it might be a dated, corny, Hollywoodized, everyone-talks-at-each-other account of the French Revolution, but instead, the film slowly builds to tell its story of Robespierre (Richard Basehart) trying to take more power, but the title item is missing and could cost him his power and even his life if he does not get it, so he will kill for it. In his way are Madelon (Arlene Dahl), Charles D'Aubingy (Robert Cummings) and Fouché (Arnold Moss) who are out to find it and expose him.

Once this gets started, the twists, turns and suspense work, Mann proving once again (with the legendary Director of Photography John Alton with him) he knows how to make a major feature film work. You soon forget no one speaks French and keep watching to the end. The sets are not bad for their age, nor are the clothes. Norman Lloyd, Charles McGraw and Richard Hart also star, while Russ Tamblin and Royal Dano show up in uncredited turns.

There are no extras.

Cory Krueckberg's Getting Go (2014) is designed to look almost like a documentary and is dubbed the Go Doc Project, but it is really a drama about a young man (Tanner Cohen) who watches too much XXX and nude gay material on the Internet and becomes a bit obsessed with one particular go-go boy (gay male go-go dancer, though some straight men (known as gay for pay) also dance of then) also do it) who lives near him (Matthew Camp) who he then meets. They talk and the dancer is immediately interested in taking part in a proposed video project.

They becomes friends, then they start getting close and become involved. The script could have stopped there and the conclusions would either be they stay together or split, maybe angrily. Instead, they start to debate what it is to be gay, how much the Net has re-labled and even re-stereotyped gays, but also everyone else, then it talks about what freedom and personal happiness and satisfaction really is. In the process, it is addressing these issues for everyone and turns out to be more surprising and smart than anyone could have expected. As far as gay issues are concerned, it is one of the few gay films as bold as A Very Natural Thing (reviewed elsewhere on this site) that has an absolute grasp of the situation and even in the AIDS era, so much remains the same. That makes it one of the most important Gay Male films in years.

Extras include a slideshow on co-star Camp, Director Q&A session and original theatrical trailer.

Even more important and making more than a perfect companion is Ryan Murphy's film of Larry Kramer's landmark stage play The Normal Heart (2014), now a feature film that debuted on HBO, now issued on Blu-ray. Starting in the late 1970s, Gay Pride and Civil Rights are flying high along with Disco hits on the music charts, but suddenly, something is wrong. Men are dying for no good apparent reason, they are developing rashes on their bodies and getting progressively sick. This also happens to be happening to gay men. Mark Ruffalo plays a man (a surrogate for Kramer) who is especially noticing and gets radical very early on to the shock of his friends and acquaintances in the gay community.

He knows things are very wrong, but most of the gay men are brushing it off, enjoying their newly found freedom. He becomes more emboldened when a female doctor in town with polio no less (a great turn by Julia Roberts) who is noticing even more and has evidence his worst fears are not horrible enough. No one is listening to her and the Right Wing Reagan Administration has zero interest in helping. At this time, he falls for a newspaper reporter (Matt Bomer) and starts to create a crisis center with his friends to reach out when no one else is.

The film is a damning indictment of government of the time, homophobia, ignorance and hate when a so-called 'bright new day in America' meant instant death for those who got AIDS. The backlash, ugliness, how deadly the virus was for everyone who got it (and still is; there is STILL no cure and treatments only slow it down) was an awful situation like nothing we had never seen before, one we now know was used to divide and conquer the nation for political purposes this film does manage to touch on without losing its way.

There will be a little overlap for those familiar with the subject and with the best films and documentaries on the subject to date, but it is a proud work about proud moments for everyone who cared and I commend the makers as the cast that also includes Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory) in top form, the underrated Taylor Kitsch, the great Alfred Molina, BD Wong, Joe Mantello and more making this an amazing film like Hollywood used to make all the time. Gay, straight or otherwise, this is a must-see film to remind us of an ugly crisis as ugly as 9/11 or The Holocaust and one too many allowed to happen.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds a Making Of featurette How To Start A War.

Finally we have a film based on a true story that was only recently discovered. Christopher Menaul's Summer In February (2013) tells of an unusual love triangle that happened without many knowing it. Alfred Munnings (Dominic Cooper) is a painter and show-off with a future as a great painter (he becomes one and a Sir as well), likes painting women, including Florence (Emily Browning. A man named Gilbert (Dan Stevens) is in love with her and friends of both, who finally decides he wants to marry her. He gets the ring and is about to propose when he is interrupted and too soon, Alfred proposes instead and she accepts having no idea Gilbert intended to do the same. It would be a fateful decision.

From there, we see how selfish and lacking in character Alfred is, what a great guy Gilbert is and how Florence feels she has no choice but to go along with things. Well made, acted, nice period set design and costumes, the script and pacing works, yet this lacks some ironic distance and does not say enough. I still liked it, but it does not go far enough and that stops it from being one of the best films of its kind in the last few years, though it is still worth a look and gives us an untold tale that is sadly still all too familiar.

The only extra is an interview with co-star/co-producer Dan Stevens.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Heart was shot on film, is the only entry here on Blu-ray and looks really good, with only its style choices holding back the fidelity or depth and detail. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Go and anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Summer tie for second place with flaws and softness more than I would have liked in both cases, but they are consistent enough. The black and white 1.33 X 1 image on Book is from a rough old print and has detail and depth issues, plus shadow detail limits and needs more work.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Heart is well mixed and presented, offering a solid presentation throughout down to the classic music and is better than many theatrical films we have seen on Blu-ray of late. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Go ranks second place, even though it is inconsistent, more of it is well recorded than not, but the same sound mix type on Summer is too much in the center channel for its own good, making it as weak as the old, lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Book which is already a bit scratchy and a bit brittle at times.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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