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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Crime > Heist > Biography > Homosexuality > Transgender > Counterculture > Biography > Telef > The Dog (2013/Docurama/Cinedigm Blu-ray)/Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story (2014/Lionsgate DVD)/Venus In Furs (2013/Polanski/Sundance Selects/MPI DVD)/Whitey: The United States Vs. Whitey Bulger (2

The Dog (2013/Docurama/Cinedigm Blu-ray)/Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story (2014/Lionsgate DVD)/Venus In Furs (2013/Polanski/Sundance Selects/MPI DVD)/Whitey: The United States Vs. Whitey Bulger (2014/Magnolia Blu-ray)/The World Of Hugh Hefner (1973/Tony Palmer/MVD DVD)

Picture: B-/C+/C+/B-/C Sound: B-/C+/C+/B-/C Extras: C+/C-/C/C/D Main Programs: C+/C/B-/B/B-

The following set of releases are of the wild side wild life and criminal happenings, plus a few so shocking that some wanted to make criminal, even if they were not...

Allison Berg & Frank Keraudren co-directed The Dog (2013) about John Wojtowicz, the real life man who robbed a bank to pay for his male lover's sex change operation. That became the basis for the great Sidney Lumet film Dog Day Afternoon (1975, reviewed elsewhere on this site) with Al Pacino playing the man very sympathetically. Turns out they really took liberties because the real life man turns out to be a real character, obnoxious, overbearing, lucky to be alive and the kind of personality crazy enough to pull off what he did... until he was finally arrested.

What looks like an examination of the man, events, times and starts as a comparison to the film slowly drifts into a run-on of interview footage with Wojtowicz that barely covers anything about the film, has him repeating the same gross ideas, behaviors and anger over and over and over again. The makers did not seem to know how to edit and as a result, they let him hijack their work, trashing its journalistic potency within the first half-hour, for which this otherwise fine opportunity to examine an under-examined event of the early 1970s or a clown show.

That's a shame, because ironic distance and more information about other people, things and the times would have really helped out here. Besides many things from the deleted scenes that should have stayed in and more that should have been edited down or cut out, it never truly captures the era, stays with the viewer and disappoints. If you want to see it, make sure you are not tired.

Extras include a 12-page booklet inside the Blu-ray case, while the disc adds Deleted Scenes, a digital download, Original Theatrical Trailer and feature-length audio commentary track by the co-directors with Thom Powers.

Jason Lapeyre's Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story (2014) is the story of the teen show that would not die and became a hit by accident due to holes in cable TV schedules. From the point of view of Dustin Diamond, the actor who played the infamous Screech character, we see how bitter things got, how they were being exploited and the weird twists and turns that he says took place. The actors playing the young cast are not bad and some of what Diamond is saying (his character joins everyone breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience) is very credible, but outside of a few amusing things, this is not deeply engaging and seems to be holding back some things. You can just feel it.

We see how overbearing his father was (confirmed by later years where his father still lived with him longer after the show was axed) and in the end when we learn the fate of the actors on the show, he conveniently omits that he made some explicit XXX sex films. This is worth a look for what is entertaining, but it is not to be taken seriously.

There are no extras.

Roman Polanski's Venus In Furs (2013) has Polanski again toying with the idea of turning stage plays into feature films as he did with Death & The Maiden (1994 & highly underrated) and Carnage (2011, with interesting results) by taking the controversial play by David Ives and bringing it to life. He is again successful enough, though some of this is obvious in ways no one can do anything about.

This time a stage director (Mathieu Amalric) is visited by an actress (Emmanelle Seigner) who exchange witticisms, quotes and advanced ideas as she tires to convince him to hire her for the role of sex symbol, thinker, dominatrix, etc., and running 96 minutes, the actors and Polanski are able to keep this going just well enough to be slyly amusing and consistently effective enough to see it at least once. This is very self-conscious from the opening shots of the idea of the stage itself, so they are not delusional about what they do, but they just pull it off.

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer and Interviews with Polanski, Seigner and Amalric.

Joe Berlinger's Whitey: The United States Vs. Whitey Bulger (2014) is a co-produced by CNN and investigates pretty thoroughly how and why James Bulger was able to stay unarrested on a reign of terror in Boston for decades without FBI or other federal retaliation. Not killing any major federal figures did not hurt, but it turns out while people were being killed if they were a threat to his power or massive accumulation of money, many people who were supposed to get him were likely taking big chunks of money to look the other way and no one else did anything about it.

Fast forward to now and he is finally arrested, but the court case keeps getting delayed as we watch and key questions are being shot down throughout as the relatives of the slain think and hope they'll get justice from a man who became a sociopath and was on the kill for far too long. Rich and well researched, you feel bad for the victims and their families & friends, wonder why this was not otherwise stopped sooner and realizes this left a big scar on a great city like Boston it did not need or deserve.

The feds wanted to bust Italian mobsters (the ones most likely to be dubbed Mafia despite the term being invented by the Chinese for their Triads) at any and all costs. It worked, even if it meant leaving other ethnic mobsters alone. Today, the records will say some organized crime families or organizations have ceased to exist and no known mob/group activity is left, though we all know the crime is as alive as ever. That means not just small nondescript criminals have taken over, but that activity has been hidden behind legitimized business and people and from this program, you can imagine more government people are looking away or would prefer to deal with the devils they know than do anything about it. That's how politics perpetuates crime and this documentary shows the more outrageous forms that takes, if not the only ones.

Highly recommended!

Extras include BD Live interactive features, an Original Theatrical Trailer and Sundance Film Festival Interviews.

Tony Palmer's The World Of Hugh Hefner (1973) has the documentary filmmaker take a never-long-enough look at the Playboy Magazine empire and the man who created it. At this time, it is one of the most imitated magazines on the world, one of the most profitable, most successful, has defined the higher class of the counterculture lifestyle & then some and was in its early prime before the Internet, cable and satellite TV. We see Hefner enjoying the latter two, taping feature films off of TV long before VHS and Beta became commonplace and several steps ahead of all of his competitors or even the rest of Corporate America in using advanced-for-its-time technology in running his empire. Amazing.

Then we see the amazing women, the smart photographers (also maybe the happiest around!) and the man in action, telling all about what he thinks, sees and feels about the world around him. Hefner has never held back and this film is no exception, talking progressively about making the world a better, happier place, what it is to be a grown adult and how doing that and taking responsibility just brings more happiness and pleasure. Some recent projects tying into the magazine have disappointed, but this is one of the great records of the man and his empire, which is why you should see it.

There are sadly no extras.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on both Blu-rays (Dog is badly mislabeled as 2.35 X 1) are documentaries that use their share of old analog videotape (including black and white!) to tell their tales of crime and infamy, plus we get some old film footage, but that is to be expected. The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Bell is a little sharper than the same on Hefner, which despite being filmed and restored, needs some more work or an outright HD transfer, but is more sharply shot. That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 HD-shot image on Furs second only to the Blu-rays by a sliver of color and definition quality.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on both Blu-rays have the new recordings in decent stereo, the older audio often monophonic or simple stereo and surrounds usually delivering music. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Furs and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Bell tie for second place, with the former dialogue-based and the latter a flat telefilm recording. The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Hefner is the one with the least fidelity, recorded well for its time, but a little rough. I wonder if a lossless version would bring out more?

- Nicholas Sheffo


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