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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Epic > Faith > Religion > History > British > Politics > Civil Rights > Melodrama > Family > Writers > A > Alfred The Great (1969/MGM/Warner Archive DVD)/All The Way (2016/HBO Blu-ray)/The Automatic Hate (2015/Film Movement DVD)/Genius (2016/Summit/Lionsgate DVD)/Once Were Warriors (1994/Film Movement Blu-

Alfred The Great (1969/MGM/Warner Archive DVD)/All The Way (2016/HBO Blu-ray)/The Automatic Hate (2015/Film Movement DVD)/Genius (2016/Summit/Lionsgate DVD)/Once Were Warriors (1994/Film Movement Blu-ray)/The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016/Fox Blu-ray Set)/Take Me To The River (2015/Film Movement DVD)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Alfred The Great DVD is now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the links below.

Now for a new slew of dramas for you to know about...

Clive Donner's Alfred The Great (1969) has David Hemming as the title character, who is about to help his Saxons survive severe changes that will shape their land for centuries to come with them even knowing it, fighting the Danes and trying to figure out their best future. He is in love with his wife (the underrated Prunella Ransome), but he must deal with his strong opposite number leading the invaders (a really strong Michael York, so underrated himself, stealing pretty much very scene in this film in rare form).

Donner has always been a mixed helmer to me, but still more competent than many director's we have today and to their credit, MGM backed this film as well as it could. Not a huge hit in its time, it is still very ambitious from a year with so many big ambitious productions that it is worth seeing at 122 minutes. Add Ian McKellen, Colin Blakely, Julian Glover and Peter Vaughn and any serious movie fan needs to put this one on their list.

A trailer is sadly the only extra.

Jay Roach's All The Way (2016) seemed like it might just be a pompous TV movie about the mid-1960s and making Civil Rights more the law of the land, but I was pleasantly surprised that we get Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson, flawed and damaged and pleasantly surprised Anthony Mackie (who I also like) played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so well. The Steven Spielberg-co-produced project covers how LBJ had to deal with Dixiecrats, understood how the future of his party was doomed if he did not take big risks and just how tough it was to get his legacy achievements done in the face of huge resistance.

Melissa Leo is amazing and unrecognizable as Lady Bird Johnson, the ever-underrated Stephen Root is brilliant as J. Edgar Hoover in ways that might not be apparent at first, the great Frank Langella is the Senator related to LBJ and Bradley Whitford makes a really fine showing as Hubert Humphrey. The teleplay is solid and consistent, even smarter than you might expect the period and clothes are on target and despite the 'important;/civil rights will happen' music cliches, this is an excellent work that is worth going out of your way for. Nice to see HBO back in prime form.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds a Behind The Scenes/Making Of featurette and second featurette Bryan Cranston Becoming LBJ, both worth seeing after the film.

Justin Lerner's The Automatic Hate (2015) has a young man (Joseph Cross) dealing with an upset girlfriend where they live when a young woman (Adelaide Clemens) shows up claiming to be his cousin and tells him things about his family he is certain are not true. When they turn out to be true, he lands up dealing with her, meeting relatives he never knew he had, unleashing anger, ugly secrets and a few things so sad that it I no wonder everyone is so toxic and continues to be so.

Richard Schiff and Ricky Jay are brothers who have not talked to each other in eons and the script offers some very serious subject matter. The rest of the cast is also good, but the script is a problem in being to predictable, portraying the people as not always smart in an 'idiot plot' way that backfires and this results in a few missed opportunities.

However, it has its ambitions, talent and I'm glad Film Movement picked it up. See for yourself, but be warned that this is bordering on an NC-17 rating.

Extras include a feature length audio commentary track with Director Lerner and star Joseph Cross, plus Eva Riley's impressive 15-minutes-long British short film Patriot.

Michael Grandage's Genius (2016) is a portrait of publishing in the early 20th Century with a somewhat unrecognizable Jude Law in one of his best roles in years as writer Thomas Wolfe, Nicole Kidman is his troubled wife, Colin Firth his publisher Maxwell Perkins and becomes a character study of the time and people trying to say something and live well. Firth and Law are very convincing in their exchanges where Wolfe needs all the help he can get with his run-on ideas, Guy Pierce shows up as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway and Laura Linney as Perkins wife makes this as palpable as the accurate look we get throughout.

Unfortunately, some scenes run on too long that could have been used for exposition or ironic distance and we don't always learn as much about these people as we should. Yet, there is much chemistry here and if you can get through the lower points, it is worth your time to see it.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the DVD adds two Making Of featurettes: Genesis Of Genius and Painting A Portrait Of A Lost Generation.

Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors (1994) has finally made it to Blu-ray (thanks to Film Movement) and this masterwork about the Maori in New Zealand dealing with oppression, poverty, being ignored and living in despair is like nothing you have seen before. It is a rough film at times to watch, but the people we meet we have not really met before and are like too many we ignore. The film's opening quickly contrasts the pie-in-the-sky beautiful tourism of the nation (and it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world) with the plight of those not doing as well, but especially those who had the land first before their ancestors were pushed off most of it.

In Auckland, Beth (an unforgettable performance by Rena Owen) raises her family, putting up with the husband (Temuera Morrison, later of the Star Wars films, here in an eventually thankless role) because she loves him and he can be there for her, yet he is also immature and puts her household and children in the way of his drunken friends, et al. They are also trying to get buy, dealing with racial profiling by the police and an extreme lack of opportunity, so it is an ugly case made worse by circumstance, depression and substance abuse.

It is also about a lack of connection to the past somewhat because though the Maori know their traditions, their history is too lost for anyone's own good and that causes problems (the excellent book The Bone People addresses this, but when I tried to explain this prior to the release of this film in a college class of all things, the whole class (including the professor!) missed my point and even turned on me in a bizarre PC incident that is one of the most disgraceful I have ever seen, heard of or certainly personally encountered) and Beth also becomes an abused housewife.

The film (and its great script) never pull back from this horror and is explicitly honest about it to its great credit. It becomes the most brutal of character studies, but a glorious moment of original cinema that speaks the deepest truth far beyond the obvious. The cast (mostly first time actors) are great and it all feels real and palpable from scene one to the end. It also shows the beauty of the Maori as for real, not exotics, not stereotypes and out of the darkness something undeniably beautiful and great emerges in the end. The film is 21+ years old and if anything, its become even more powerful, important and remarkable in all those years, which is the sign of a true classic. I love this film, even when it is hard to watch, but you have to go through the bad to get to the good and it is about time this incredible film is rediscovered because it is a must-see film for anyone serious about films about people, ideas, being human and who we all are.

The industry took quick notice, so Tamahori moved quickly onto Hollywood projects that did not work (Mulholland Falls, Along Came A Spider, XXX: State Of The Union, Next) and one that almost did (The Edge) and one of the worst James Bond films ever was or will be made (Die Another Day), but this film remains his masterwork and I hope one day he gets back to basics. Through all those films, many of which had big ad campaigns, odd it did not get more people to see this one.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and a fine essay on the film by the film scholar Peter Calder, while the Blu-ray adds an Original Theatrical Trailer and vintage Behind The Scenes featurette. Tamahori's audio commentary from past video versions is not here sadly, but certainly don't let that stop you from grabbing this one.

The People V. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016) is a Cable TV mini-series that wants to take on the so-called 'trial of the century' (whatever that means anymore) and lands up taking the brutal murders of two innocent people and nearly making a comedy out of it. Co-produced by John Travolta, who plays attorney Robert Shapiro, the pacing, writing, directing and oddball casting backfire and reaffirm the 'celebrated ugliness' aspects of the case versus what really happened.

For instance, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays O.J. Without losing his previous 'nice guy' persona, which is a real issue here. Nathan Lane is inspired casting as F. Lee Bailey, but he is known mostly for his comic acting, so that turns out odd in the end. David Schwimmer, who can act when challenged, I Robert Kardashian, but he seems more like his Friends character in bad make-up, though we get plenty of bad make-up through the 10 episodes here. Rob Morrow fares better as Barry Scheck, while Jordana Brewster makes more sense as Denise Brown. Courtney B. Vance plays Johnnie Cochran as a bit arrogant and almost overdoes it.

The rest of the mostly unknowns are not bad, but everything is also too long and drawn out. I was bored when I was not laughing for all the wrong reasons and most of the even cheesiest documentaries (using that term loosely) that covered the same material were better and more serious, even by default and even in the face of sensationalism. The media used the case to promote hate and racism, so justice was never totally done and we are still suffering the repercussions of this mess today. This version cleans too much of that mess up in a revisionist way and that is why I was really disappointed the most.

Two Making Of featurettes and a timeline in the paperboard sleeve front cover are the only extras.

Finally we have Matt Sobel's Take Me To The River (2015), Logan Miller is a young gay man who is ready to 'come out' and tell the world about himself when his mother (Robin Weigert) decides to drag him and his dad (Richard Schiff again) to meet he 'rural' family in Nebraska. Needless to say the mother is trying to make a family reunion out of this work, but in vein as her son already is seen as different when he arrives dressing less conservatively than you might on a farm. Things get really bad when he is hanging around with a young female cousin of his, she panics, he did nothing to cause it, but he is considered the reason for the upset.

This is made worse by hateful vandalism against them and the toxic, dysfunctional conflict instantly becomes unsuppressed. Should they leave? Mom thinks they should stay and resolve this, but ti also seems she knew there would be trouble, yet insisted on going no matter what. He semi-negligent thinking is as bad as the lacking behavior of most 'adults' here and that makes for predictable and even stereotypical behavior throughout. I like the cast (Josh Hamilton is the little gals dad), but I just did not buy this as realistic. See it for yourself, but expect a mixed time.

Extras include on camera Cast Interviews and a feature length audio commentary track by Director Sobel and co-stars Logan Miller and Robin Weigert.

All three Blu-rays have solid performance with the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Way a consistent HD shoot that is stylized and convincing, but the 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Warriors looks really good from 35mm materials that have few flaws and look like a new HD upgrade more than worthy of the old 12-inch Criterion LaserDisc (which looked really good for that format) and gives us some depth, detail and color the other Blu-rays do not.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 AVC @ 25 MBPS digital High Definition on the Simpson episodes look just fine, but they get a little shaky at times and we get a little motion blur, yet it is still very watchable otherwise if not as natural-looking as I would have liked.

As for the DVDs, the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Great is a little uneven, but it was shot with 70mm blow-up prints in mind from a real 35mm anamorphic Panavision shoot. The MetroColor is inconsistent and the image can be soft, but when the image looks good, it looks really good because the film was lensed by the cinematography genius Alex Thompson, B.S.C., who could deliver big screen images like no other. Color and lighting can really impress here and the Director of Photography delivers images that hold up today against later similar films like Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. That is enough alone to see this one. The DVD releases of the remaining 3 newer feature film releases have the same aspect ratio presentation, but are all HD shoots. I like how they all look, including Genius, which has a consistent style of the past that works. However, it is oddly the softest presentation here and I doubt it is this soft in HD or if a film print was struck. We'll see down the line if I am correct or not.

All three Blu-ray releases offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, with the TV programs sounding the best, if not particularly spectacular or exceptional. They are professional and competent in a good way and that's fine, while including Warriors was originally issued in theatrical 35mm prints with Dolby's older A-type analog sound, but was upgraded to 5.1 a while ago for DVD and finally, this sounds better than the Criterion's PCM 2.0 Stereo with Pro Logic surrounds mix. If anything, it is a pleasant surprise just how clean, clear and even detailed this mix is for its age and the limits of the film's budget.

As for the DVDs, Alfred is here in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that is not bad for its age and even surprising, but not as much when you consider this is a mixdown from the 6-track magnetic soundmaster with traveling dialogue and sound effects featured on the 70mm blow-up prints. Hope the film gets a restored treatment, because the sound design is interesting.

The remaining DVDs have both lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 and lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (save Genius, only offering the 5.1 option) and they all sound equally good for the format, but the fact that Alfred can compete with them says something about how imaginative that one was.

To order the Alfred The Great Warner Archive DVD, go to this link for it and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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