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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Psychological > Murder > Mystery > Crime > Identity > Gangster > Science Fiction > Police > Detec > The Assignment (2016/Lionsgate Blu-ray w/DVD)/Decoy: The Complete 39 Episode Series (1957 - 1959/Film Chest DVD Set)/Ex Machina (2015/A24/Lionsgate 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)/Mine (2016/Well Go Bl

The Assignment (2016/Lionsgate Blu-ray w/DVD)/Decoy: The Complete 39 Episode Series (1957 - 1959/Film Chest DVD Set)/Ex Machina (2015/A24/Lionsgate 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)/Mine (2016/Well Go Blu-ray w/DVD)/My Gun Is Quick (1957/MGM Limited Edition Collection DVD)/Obsessions (1969/Cult Epics Blu-ray w/DVD)/Starlight (2017/Cleopatra/MVD Visual Blu-ray)

4K Ultra HD Picture: B+ Picture: B & C/C+/B/B & C+/C/B & C+/B Sound: B & C+/C/B+/B- & C+/C/C/C+ Extras: C-/C/C+/C+/D/C+/D Main Programs: C+/B-/C+/C+/C+/C+/C

PLEASE NOTE: The My Gun Is Quick DVD is now only available online and can be ordered from our friends at Movie Zyng via the order button atop this review or on top of our right hand sidebar.

Here is a new group of genre films that include gems from the past, including some unexpected, plus recent productions....

Walter Hill's The Assignment (2016) is one of several films here that strangely deals with the idea of identity, here with Michele Rodriguez playing a man involved in gangster violence who eventually is transformed into a woman surgically by a mad female scientist played by a scene-stealing Sigourney Weaver. Essentially trying to reference thrillers like Seconds and Suture, the film is saying only things it knows its saying and the plot is pedestrian, leaving us to be impressed (or not) by the visual effects and make up to turn Rodriguez into a lanky street guy, Weaver as creepy as anything and support by Tony Shalhoub and Anthony LaPaglia helping add some much needed grit to the proceedings.

Originally filmed under the title Tomboy, Hill can direct, but as he proved with Johnny Handsome with Mickey Rourke, tech puts him out of his safe zone a bit and he loses control of his work, all despite being a co-producer of the original Alien films. This is still worth a look for the actors (I like them all) and that Hill always has a few good moments in anything he helms, but I was disappointed overall as the gimmickry gets in the way of even the creepiness. Weaver proves once again she is never to be underestimated.

Decoy: The Complete 39 Episode Series (1957 - 1959) is a remarkable lost police drama shot on location in New York City (the first and one of a handful of such shows like Car 54, Where Are You?) that had a special look and feel like no other that has never been duplicated since such productions ceased. Beverly Garland (on her way to becoming one of the most successful character actresses in all of TV history and still squeezed in a few feature films) is Casey Jones, out title character who goes undercover to solve crimes and other mysteries for the New York Police Department. A few decades ahead of Angie Dickinson's Police Woman (reviewed elsewhere on this site), the show is very well-written, well acted, well shot, has its Noir moments and a few episodes are surprisingly violent and brutal for the time.

The other remarkable thing is the parade of some of the best actors in the business, especially before they became known, showing up when they were young and just starting. They are reason alone to see the show, let alone how amazing Garland actually is here. Those actors, some of whom show up playing more than one part across these shows, include Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker), Frank Sutton (Gomer Pyle), Suzanne Pleshette (Bob Newhart Show), Frank Campanella (in a recurring Lieutenant role), Joseph Campanella, Peter Falk, Martin E. Brooks (Bionic Woman, Six Million Dollar Man), Arch Johnson, Barbara Barrie (Barney Miller, appropriately), Lois Nettleton, Joanne Linville, Martin Balsam, Joshua Shelley, Michael Tolan, Albert Dekker, Ruth McDevitt (Pistols & Petticoats, Kolchak: The Night Stalker), Richard Davalos, Mason Adams, Lonny Chapman, Frank Silvera, Edith Atwater, Ellen Parker, Al Lewis (brutal here), Larry Hagman, Bert Freed, John Cassavetes, Ed Asner, Norman Rose, Henry Beckman, Colleen Dewhurst, Clifton James, Vincent Gardenia, Diane Ladd and so many more.

A great acting showcase, it also had as a producer and sometimes director Stuart Rosenberg, who did much TV as well has major feature films like Cool Hand Luke, Murder, Inc., The April Fools, WUSA, The Drowning Pool, The Laughing Policeman, Voyage Of The Damned, Brubaker, The Pope Of Greenwich Village and the original Amityville Horror. Needless to say this is a show where so much talent was just getting warmed up and it is worth seeing every episode to see them all in action.

This is Film Chest's DVD version, so it is the only one to consider of this minor TV classic I hope everyone gets to catch up with.

Alex Garland's Ex Machina (2015) has been reissued in an upgraded 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray by Lionsgate. Though it includes the original 1080 Blu-ray we previously reviewed at this link...


Since then, my option remains the same on the film, it has some good moments, but is not as well-rounded or great as some have said because it does not go far enough in what the material deals with. However, it looks better here in the new 4K version and thus, works better and is more watchable. If you can see it that way, that's the way to go. More info on this set follows below.

Fabio Guaglione & Fabio Resinaro's Mine (2016) has the underrated Armie Hammer as a soldier who sees his fellow soldier getting blown up by a mine and then steps on one, but it does not go off. It will when he removes his foot, so what can he do? Wait 56 hours until help arrives? Too bad he is in the middle of the hot desert. Thus, the Fabios (as they are sometimes called, or Fabio & Fabio) have made a stuck-in-a film that is not as obnoxious or obvious as the usual for that cycle of mostly tired releases. However, this one is not half-bad, though its pushing it at 107 minutes.

There is also the side of this that can feel like War Porn (war is easy, war is fun, war is simple, war is a permanent state, war is natural, war cannot always hurt you, etc.), but there is not too much war here, os the film sidesteps this just enough with its substance. It may not be for everyone, but it is worth a look for what does work.

George A. White & Phil Victor's My Gun Is Quick (1957) is the Mike Hammer film that dared to follow Robert Aldrich's brilliant Kiss Me Deadly (1955, reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and yet, Hammer creator Mickey Spillane did not like that film, so he got this one made. Robert Bray is a brutal, short-tempered and not-too-memorable Hammer trying to find out why a woman he just met was killed. It looks good, is watchable and has some good moments, but is not very memorable or effective overall. By this time, Darren McGavin would play Hammer on TV and have a big hit with it, whether Spillane was a fan or not.

MGM has issued this curio as part of their Limited Edition Collection DVD series and it should be in print since all detective films and Noir films (this is a very late Noir) should always be available. I just did not like this one and it is worth a look once, if that. Now you can see for yourself.

Pim de la Parra's Obsessions (1969) is a thriller that has been out of circulation for a while, with the added intrigue of having Martin Scorsese as a co-writer and a music score by no less than Bernard Herrmann. Dieter Geissler plays a college student who discovers a strange peephole in his wall when a comical painting of Vincent van Gogh (the self-portrait has a steel shaver near his one ear) falls to the ground. He starts looking, discovering some very odd, bizarre things are going on next door and he gets his fiancee involved (Alexandra Stewart, looking great here). However, whatever odd things he is witnessing, there is worse to come.

This first English-language Dutch film has some interesting moments and unintentionally amusing ones, but it does hold together as a thriller that well, though it still has its moments. It reminded me of De Palma's early thriller work in a good way, but some of it is just too predictable and a few things too obvious. Still, any serious film fan should see this one for who is involved and what does work. It has been a very long time since I saw it, so only so much of it stuck with me. Still, they do some things here most filmmakers would not do today and that's a good thing.

Cult Epics has delivered a solid Blu-ray w/DVD set the film deserves.

Sophie Blondy's Starlight (2017) takes place in a circus in the outskirts of town and deals initially with the relationships of the performers, then it gets surreal with dream-like appearances by Iggy Pop as a sort of spiritual figure. Denis Levant is the main protagonist, but the film gets to tied up in its surrealism and melodrama to do anything more than what you eventually expect after the first 10 minutes or so of it. Pop is here almost as if Blondy has Wender's overrated Wings Of Desire in mind, but we don't get much more.

Of course, you'll think of other circus films, including (intentionally?) Fellini's 8 1/2, but I did not buy the love story or much more of this. It's not awful, but it is trying at times almost seeming repetitive. Thus, it is not for everyone, only the most curious.

The 2160p HEVC/H.265, HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced 2.35 X 1 Ultra High Definition image on the new 4K UHD Blu-ray of Ex Machina is easily the best performer here, passing its 1080p digital High Definition regular Blu-ray image transfer in Video White, most Video Black, depth and detail, but there are other limits (the Academy Award visual effects show their limits, for instance) so the 4K version is about as good as this is ever going to look.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Assignment offers nothing special visually, but it is at least a solid, professional, consistent digital HD shoot, though the anamorphically enhanced DVD is softer and weaker than it should be. The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Mine is also a digital shoot that has obviously been over-enhanced visually to make the desert (shot on location to their credit) look hotter and brighter than it was, which gets a little annoying. However, it works for what it is and the anamorphically enhanced DVD looks better than expected considering the blown-out Video White.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image is centered in a 1.78 X 1 frame, on Obsessions has a slightly brown color throughout that makes the film look a little aged, but there is still good color throughout and it is an interesting shoot. The anamorphically enhanced DVD is not bad for the format, but the Blu-ray has more detail and depth.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Starlight is an HD shoot that is not bad, but can have some sloppy editing and mixed cuts in its bid to be surreal. Otherwise, this looks just fine and can more than compete with the other HD shoots here.

The 1.33 X 1 black and white image on the episodes of Decoy can look really good from episode to episode, but there are many instances of damage, flaws and dirt that you can expect for a lost show. Otherwise, I like the shows late Noir look and those who look at it will be surprised how good it holds up.

The anamorphically enhanced black and white 1.66 X 1 image on Gun is from a nice, clean print, but the actual transfer is softer than expected, so once again the older transfer holds back what could and would be impressive performance. Guess we'll have to wait for the Blu-ray to fix that.

As for sound, Ex Machina was the first Blu-ray ever to feature a DTS: X 11.1 lossless track, which is repeated on the 4K Blu-ray disc, sounding as articulate as before and easily the sonic champ here. Systems without DTS: X will get a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 mixdown.

Assignment and Mine offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, but Mine has some mixing and recording issues, so it ranks third place behind the competent-if-unremarkable Assignment. The DVDs of both offer lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but Mine sounds better on DVD than Assignment. Obsessions (2.0 Mono on both Blu-ray and DVD) and Starlight (5.1) have lossy Dolby Digital that is not as good as these releases could sound, but they sound good enough. Dubbing on Obsessions can be trying, though.

Decoy and Gun also offer lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, but they are also on the weak side with flaws and low volume from episode to episode on Decoy, then a lower-than-usual volume on Gun that sounds like its from a good source that was not transferred properly.

Gun and Starlight have no extras, while Ex Machina repeats its Blu-ray extras of Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and iTunes capable devices, while the Blu-ray itself adds 8 promo vignettes on the film, a 5-part Making Of featurette Through The Looking Glass: Creating Ex Machina and a SXSW Q&A with Cast & Crew featurette where the director starts talking about the dangerous unchecked power tech companies have in creating such things or in our lives, but the film practically never goes there.

Decoy comes with a booklet that has notes, an episode guide and some nice stills.

Extras on Assignment also offers Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the discs offer a Filmmaking Portraits featurette that shows the film being made without comment. Mine adds a Making Of featurette, Deleted Scenes, Original Theatrical Trailer and VFX & Storyboard piece worth checking out after seeing the film.

That leaves Obsessions adding an original Dutch Theatrical Trailer, text interview with Martin Scorsese, script of the film with Scorsese's personal notes, an HD Photo Video Gallery, a clip on Scorpio Films and separate intros to the film and separate interviews by Director Parra and lead actor Dieter Geissler.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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