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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Crime > Gangster > Murder > Heist > Racism > Thriller > Supernatural > Clairvoyance > Possession > Tel > At Close Range (1986/Orion/MGM)/House Of Bamboo (1955/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/The Sin Seer (2014/RLJ DVD)/The Stranger Within (1974 telefilm/Lorimar)/They Came To Rob Las Vegas (19

At Close Range (1986/Orion/MGM)/House Of Bamboo (1955/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/The Sin Seer (2014/RLJ DVD)/The Stranger Within (1974 telefilm/Lorimar)/They Came To Rob Las Vegas (1967)/The Todd Killings (1970 aka A Dangerous Friend aka Skipper/National General/Warner Archive DVDs)


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



PLEASE NOTE: The At Close Range and House Of Bamboo limited edition Blu-rays are now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, are limited to only 3,000 copies each and can be ordered while supplies last, while The Stranger Within, They Came To Rob Las Vegas and The Todd Killings are now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series. All can be ordered from the links below.



Here's a new set of thrillers from the last few decades for you to know about...



James Foley's At Close Range (1986) is the pairing of acting legend Christopher Walken (seriously uncompromising) as a crime boss with then popular star Sean Penn showing his acting chops early as the son who comes back to deal with his dysfunctional, even dangerous father again. Coming back home to his Philadelphia home circa 1978, he gets together with his brother (real life brother Chris Penn) and a gal (Mary Stuart Masterson) he gets involved with upon arrival. However, the father's criminal activities have become, more profitable, more daring and as he and his brother get re-involved, the authorities are watching them.


Better know for the #1 hit Madonna record from the soundtrack by Patrick Leonard (see below) quoted often in the score in good ways, the film did not do well at first in its theatrical release, then got discovered on home video and with both growing interest in Penn and ever-present respect for Walken. The era is mostly brought back to life convincingly, but some weird 1980s commercial concessions (like a Toyota ad the actors/characters imitate to the cost of the film's credibility) throw the film off, not helping it one bit. But it is better than you'd think, with additionally good acting turns by Crispin Glover, Eileen Ryan, Millie Perkins, Tracey Walter, David Strathairn, Candy Clark and an appearance by Kiefer Sutherland. The film has aged well and in interesting ways, so it is worth seeing or if you saw it a while ago, catching again.



Samuel Fuller's House Of Bamboo (1955) is both a crime murder drama and an examination of the rough rebuilding of Japan by the Allies, especially the United States. Robert Stack is a visitor who falls for a young Japanese woman (Shirley Yamaguchi) as he starts to cross paths with an American gangster (Robert Ryan) who is up to no good, forcing himself around town with no one to stop him. The film opens with a dead body discovered in the middle of new buildings arising near Mt. Fuji, serving as an ironic start to a world that is not what it seems on the surface, though it cannot hide enough of its dark side.


Ryan is very effective as the head mobster, racism plays into this, as does sexism and some oppressed homosexuality. This plays a bit long at 102 minutes, but Fuller takes his time to show this new Japan (very well too), focuses on character development and has his usual shady side of life points to make (semi-Noir here too, for that matter), so despite some flatness, it is a solid film worth your time. Nice climax too. Cameron Mitchell also stars.


Extras for both Blu-rays include a DigiPak with a nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and essays for each respective film by Julie Kirgo, while the Blu-rays add Isolated Music Scores, Original Theatrical Trailer and feature length audio commentary tracks. Range has an excellent new track with film scholar Nick Redman and Director Foley that covers the film as thoroughly as it does the industry, while Redman and Kirgo have recorded a new track for Bamboo, we get an older audio commentary by film historians Alain Silver & James Ursini and we get related Fox Movietone Newsreels.



Paul D. Hannah's The Sin Seer (2014) is an interesting attempt to fuse the supernatural film and mind reader cycle with the African-American world and religious left they represent as a woman (Lisa Arrindell Anderson) can look into a persons soul and see things they do and don;t know about, including the future. This can make her the target of the mentally ill, vengeful and haunted, so she hires a body guard (Isaiah Washington) who happens to be an ex-con. She is now trying to figure out an older murder that might be a cold case, but her special knowledge is about to heat it up again.


Though this can get preachy and miss more than a few beats, the makers are onto something and it has its moments. Anderson has an interesting appeal and is good in the role, while this seems franchise-able and a sequel ought to be attempted. Not bad for a low budget, C. Thomas Howell, Salli Richardson and Michael Ironside also star.


There are no extras.



Lee Phillips' The Stranger Within (1974) also has supernatural aspirations with Barbara Eden trying for a Rosemary's Baby/Exorcist tale as she plays a happy wife who suddenly finds herself pregnant, despite her husband having an operation to stop that. After a fight over possible infidelity and some doctor's visits, she starts acting strange, eating all of her food with tons of salt, speed-reading books and more. Her husband (George Grizzard) hired a hypnotist (David Doyle of the original Charlie's Angels) to see if he can find out more, but that only brings on more questions than answers.


Though not a great film, this low-budget TV movie still manages to be a bit creepy and seeing the actress who was the title character on I Dream Of Jeannie go wild is the biggest curio appeal of the whole 74 minutes. Eden shows her acting skills here in unexpected ways and when you add co-stars like Joyce Van Patten and Nehemiah Persoff, this is definitely worth a look.


There are no extras, though more TV movies should have them.



Antonio Isasi's They Came To Rob Las Vegas (1967) is a co-production between Spain, Italy, France and Germany picked up by MGM in the U.S. and meant to be a serious international heist film. Its mix of Italian rough cinema and Hollywood star class makes it unique in heist films, but it was part of a new cycle still going on at the time. Gary Lockwood (a year before Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey) is a casino dealer with a big plan to steal a fortune from an armed truck from his boss (Lee J. Cobb) including using his sexy girlfriend (an irresistible Elke Sommer) to get this done. He has some other friends and a lavish plan that will eventually take place in the middle of the desert, but complication will ensue including a persistent cop (Jack Palance) getting in the way.


Budget or not, the technology here might have been impressive for the time, but has dated awkwardly and some items (like the way film is optically printed on then advance television screens) makes this odd as anything to watch. All is still plausible enough, but its the stars and actors (including Jean Servais from the heist classic Rififi) that are the real reasons to see the film. Uneven, it is still worth a look and is definitely something different.


There are no extras, though even a trailer would have been interesting.



Finally we have Barry Shear's The Todd Killings (1970 aka A Dangerous Friend aka Skipper) with Robert E. Lyons in the title role, an older guy hanging with younger teens who trust him and hang with him because of his knowledge, some money and drug connections. However, when we meet him, they are so loyal, they have just helped him commit the murder of a young gal while we crosscut to the mother knowing something has happened to her daughter. We also find he has a co-dependent relationship with his mother (Barbara Bel Geddes) who runs an old folks home, gives him an allowance and makes some good money. He also is interviewed by a military man being more candid about things than you'd expect.


Things get more interesting when an old friend (a young pre-Waltons Richard Thomas looking better and more alive than he ever did on that Depression-era show) reuniting, without him knowing what Skipper has done. The film is also very open about sexuality (gay sex surfaces a few times), drugs, nudity, date rape, violence and nontraditional living when it was a new shock to see in any film, let alone a Hollywood release. James Broderick, Gloria Grahame, Edward Asner and Michael Conrad are among those representing establishment figures.


Thus, this is smarter than your usual film from the time that gave us Zabriskie Point, The Strawberry Statement and Easy Rider, but it is very good, has its mystery storyline that run parallel with the rest of what is being shown, said and is about, thus more than worth your time as more than just a time capsule film. I hadn't seen it in a long time and never uncut, so its impact is as strong as it was when it arrived 46+ years ago and counting. Even with its flaws, it is definitely worthy of rediscovery.


There are unfortunately no extras.



The Blu-rays look best with the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Range (shot in the Super 35mm format) and 1080p 2.55 X 1 digital High Definition image CinemaScope transfer on Bamboo can show the age of the materials used, but both far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the films and impress enough throughout in their big screen intent.


The three theatrical films on DVD all happen to be anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image presentations shot well, but a little softer than I would have liked. Sin just has too much softness from its HD shot, but I wondered if some of that was from a tradedown. The prints on the other films, plus the 1.33 X 1 image on Stranger, sometimes have flaws. However, they are all solid 35mm shoots (yes, another good-looking telefilm from back in the day) that give us hints as to how good their color is on film. Even with Vegas in 2-perf Techniscope, you can see the quality that dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor versions of the film had. Todd also had Technicolor prints, but was shot in the superior Panavision anamorphic 35mm format.


The Blu-rays offer the best sound in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless codecs, with the original 4-track magnetic sound with traveling dialogue and sound effects on Bamboo upgraded nicely to a 5.1 lossless mix, sporting the best sound here. Not bad for being the oldest film on the list. Range has a 2.0 Stereo mix with Pro-Logic surrounds from its original Dolby A-type analog theatrical release. It can sound good, but also has a little warping and distortion (the Madonna hit ''Live to Tell'' sounds great at the end credits on the isolated music track, but not as well on the film's actual soundtrack). Otherwise, its fine.


Sin is the third best here in a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is not badly recorded, if not perfect. That leaves the rest of the DVDs with lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono that sounds aged, second-generation and needs a bit of work. Be careful of volume switching and loud playback levels on those to be on the safe side.



To order the At Close Range and House Of Bamboo limited edition Blu-rays, buy them while supplies last at these links:


www.screenarchives.com


and


http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/


and to order any of the three Warner Archive DVDs, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


http://www.warnerarchive.com/



- Nicholas Sheffo


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