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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Melodrama > Family > Crime > Murder > Mystery > Thriller > Supernatural > Australia > Blaxploitation > Anastasia (1956/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Backtrack (2014/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Dolemite (1975/Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray w/DVD)/Misconduct (2015)/Mojave (2015/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Ride Alon

Anastasia (1956/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Backtrack (2014/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Dolemite (1975/Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray w/DVD)/Misconduct (2015)/Mojave (2015/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Ride Along 2 (2013/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Standoff (2014/Lionsgate Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Anastasia Blu-ray is now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, is limited to only 3,000 copies and can be ordered while supplies last from the links below.

The star system. In all kinds of filmmaking and all the media that followed from TVs early days to the bottom rung of goofs on the Internet giving us endless selfies of themselves trying to brainwashing us into believing their boring lives aren't so, that is a Hollywood side of glamour that has been made permanent. The following feature film releases from the last 60 years show us how it does work and when it also fails...

Anatole Litvak's Anastasia (1956) is a big production form Fox with Yul Brynner at his commercial peak (which is how he started his career) and the return of Ingrid Bergman. Some people are huge fans of the film, as my fellow writer will attest in his coverage of the DVD years ago at this link...


Though it was a comeback for Bergman, who I am a big fan of, I always found the plot contrived (is she the one heir of the repressive Romanoff Royal family that were all killed so we could be stuck with a Soviet Union for longer than any of us needed?) and it just runs on and on too much. There is also too much melodrama, any romance or romanticizing is repetitive and the only reason to watch are the actors and mopey on the screen. I can see why, despite the hit animated film of the same name (taking serious liberties with history), Fox made this a Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray. It deserves the top rate treatment it gets here, including all the extras, but is not for everyone. You should at least see it once to see what you think, however.

Michael Pertroni's Backtrack (2014) is a disappointing horror thriller with Adrien Brody (doing a great Australian accent) as a psychiatrist Down Under who is haunted by a death he does not want to talk about and whose patients are starting to make him loose his grip on things. Sam Neill is the doctor he turns to, in time for him to start seeing delusions of his own. The problem here is that the film is not certain if it should be a subtle supernatural thriller that does things smartly and quietly, or hit you over the head with tired digital visual effects and maybe some gory make-up, so it makes the mistake of doing both. The result is a big disappointment and waste of talent, but the makers were betting on the leads to make it a hit. That didn't work out.

D'Urville Martin's Dolemite (1975) is one of the major Blaxploitation films of the cycle, an independent production (distributed by Dimension Pictures way back in the day) directed by an underrated character actor who was also gifted comically and it shows here as he goes behind the camera to make what was a big hit. The big win here was getting no holds barred comedian Rudy Ray Moore to star, a comic of the Redd Foxx generation who said everything they were thinking and then some in a screenplay he co-wrote and the result is a classic of the genre.

As the title character, Moore plays a pimp with a heart of gold and then some who manages to get one of his women to convince his prison warden to let him go because he was framed. As soon as he does, all hell quickly breaks loose, as does Dolemite's mouth and various guns.

However, this is done very comically, with one-liners that are the best pre-Hip Hop/Rap kind up there with Mohammed Ali. The film gets silly quickly, but is raw and funny on its own terms as only a film form this cycle could be. The marital arts are particularly choreographed basically well, if only they were executed with it looking like the fighters were actually making contact with each other. Otherwise, you can see everyone having fun and that makes for a fun film, albeit an exploitive and knowingly silly one.

No, this is far form the best from the cycle, but it is a minor time capsule classic and, well... you just have to see it to believe it!

Moving back to the present, we are getting more projects with big names not necessarily hitting movie theaters, but betting on star power, but with mixed results. These last four films join Backtrack as part of this unexpected new cycle....

Shintaro Shimosawa's Misconduct (2015) beings together two of the greatest living actors around, method acting genius Al Pacino and stage-to-big screen British legend Anthony Hopkins. They even get a scene together in this big money thriller about a man (Hopkins) dealing with a kidnapping and a businessman (Pacino) out for big money, no matter who he has to run over to get it. They even get a decent scene together.

Josh Duhamel is the young lawyer for Pacino who is up to more no-good things than anyone can imagine and a solid supporting cast that include Alice Eve, Julia Styles, Malin Akerman, Byung-Hun Lee and Glenn Powell do their best to add to the scenes the two legends outright steal without trying. The script tries telling its story in a different way, but its everything we've seen before not rearranged enough and lacking new twists that could have put this over the top and turned it into a surprise hit. Still, it is an interesting failure with a few moments worth sitting through to get to.

William Monahan's Mojave (2015) pits Oscar Issac and the somewhat underrated Garrett Hedlund in a mano-a-mano situation when the latter's character thinks he's killed the formers in a nearby desert, but it did not happen as he thought and now the 'victim' wants revenge. Unlike an older such film like The Wild North (see elsewhere on this site), the reasons for them to struggle against each other are paper thin, unconvincing and never result in anything but a flat story. The leads give it their all to their credit, but to no avail. I wanted this to pick up at some point, but that never happened. Walton Goggins also shows up, but this falls apart early in its 93 minutes and sadly never recovers.

Tim Story's Ride Along 2 (2013) is a let's-cash-in, unnecessary sequel to a film no one talks much about and re-teams Ice Cube and on-the-rise Kevin Hart in a film with a new set of stereotypes and more formula that the baby food isle of a mega supermarket for 102 long, long, joyless minutes where people smile, but no one looks like they're having fun. They play brothers-in-law (where's the divorce lawyer!?!) who go to Miami to solve a criminal case that will eventually involve dumb gun play and even dumber humor. If it wasn't for the loud-when-it-need-not-be soundtrack, I could have used this to replace sleeping pills, as the script is that dull.

The underrated Olivia Munn, Ken Jeong, Benjamin Bratt and Sherri Shepherd show up, but it is a losing situation for fans only if that. This is one ride that feels like a very bad hitchhike!

Adam Alleca's Standoff (2014) is much like Mojave, but we get an odd story that pits a vengeful Laurence Fishburne against Thomas Jane (still the best Punisher) when a 12-year-old young girl lands up witnessing a murder committed by Fishburne's character. They have the intensity and acting chops to cover the man-to-man part, but this become a stuck-in-a film where their fighting inside the protector's home is not well laid-out. Again, I kept hoping this one would pick up to, especially since both of these guys are overdue for another big hit, but it falters by the halfway mark and never recovers. Don't blame them, blame the bad pacing, weak script and mixed directing. At least they both still got it!

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Anastasia is a nice improvement in color, including Red and Black over the older DVD from a while ago, but with new definition, detail and more accurate color comes new flaws and minor issues in the transfer. Otherwise, this is the best I have ever see the film. The same HD-shot aspect ratio HD presentation on Backtrack also has some detail and noise limits, with outside shots looking better more than indoor shots than they ought to. It is not a sloppy shoot, but inconsistent if this transfer represents the intent.

Despite showing some age, the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Dolemite is actually better than either of those other films, believe it or not, as the makers found a 35mm negative print of some kind. However, it must be in good shape because the film has never looked this good and previous video releases are a bit rough. The anamorphically enhanced DVD is not bad, but pales in comparison to the Blu-ray.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film

The remaining HD-shot features, Misconduct, Mojave, Ride Along 2 and Standoff have surprisingly consistent 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers that are more professional and good-looking than you might expect. Guess having stars on the set you like is incentive to make sure this all looks good. However, the anamorphically enhanced Ride Along 2 DVD is the poorest performer here looking very soft and I very hard to watch.

In the sound department, Anastasia is offered in both DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes, but the film cannot get away from the age of its fidelity. This was a film originally designed for 4-track magnetic sound with traveling dialogue and sound effects, which it delivers in both mixes, but you can hear the intent better in the 5.1 mix.

Dolemite is surprisingly good-sounding for an old independent theatrical monophonic release, issued here in a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 Mono lossless mix that is in better shape than expected despite the expected age of the source. There is also a 'boom mic' version that's not bad and some might enjoy more with its different-sounding fidelity. On the DVD version, they are both in lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono sound.

The rest of the Blu-rays offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes that are nothing spectacular, but again consistent and hold their soundfield throughout. However, Standoff is not as consistent throughout for whatever reasons and falls between these new films and the two older ones in sound quality overall. The DVD of Along has a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 that is much flatter than expected and ties with the Dolemite DVD as the poorest fidelity sonically on the list. Weird.

Extras on the five newer films include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, plus Making Of featurettes. Anastasia offers a nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and another excellent, underrated essay by the great film scholar Julie Kirgo, who joins David Del Valle for the first of two outstanding feature length audio commentary tracks, the other is by film scholar and superfan Sylvia Stoddard, scholar John Burlingame, Actor James MacArthur & Screenwriter Arthur Laurentis, then we also get a Song Demo, Fox Movietone Newsreel, an Isolated Music Score and an Original Theatrical Trailer that has its own isolated music score!

Dolemite offers original cover artwork by Jay Shaw & reversible cover artwork, while both disc versions add two framing options: the intended 1.85:1 widescreen version and an alternate full frame 'boom mic' version, the ''I, Dolemite'' making-of documentary, ''Lady Reed Uncut'' featurette, ''Locations: Then & Now'' featurette, Historical feature-length commentary track by Rudy Ray Moore's biographer, Mark Jason Murray with vintage audio by Moore (!) and Original Theatrical Trailers for this film and The Human Tornado, which may be on Blu-ray soon.

Misconduct, Mojave and Along add Deleted Scenes, while Along also has a faux TV commercial from the film and seven Behind The Scenes/Making Of featurettes, four of which are Blu-ray exclusives.

To order the Anastasia limited edition Blu-ray, buy it and other great exclusives while supplies last at these links:




- Nicholas Sheffo


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