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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Celebrity > Football > Crime > Cable TV > Horror > Italy > Cars > Mystery > Detective > Murder > Ballers: The Complete Third Season (2017/HBO Blu-ray Set)/The Church (1989/Icarus/Scorpion Blu-ray)/Dirt (2017/Warner DVD)/Harper (1966) + The Drowning Pool (1975) + Fritz Lang films: While The City S

Ballers: The Complete Third Season (2017/HBO Blu-ray Set)/The Church (1989/Icarus/Scorpion Blu-ray)/Dirt (2017/Warner DVD)/Harper (1966) + The Drowning Pool (1975) + Fritz Lang films: While The City Sleeps + Beyond A Reasonable Doubt (both 1956/RKO/Warner Archive Blu-rays)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Harper, Drowning Pool, While The City Sleeps and Beyond A Reasonable Doubt Blu-rays now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

Here's our latest set of thrillers with action and suspense...

Ballers: The Complete Third Season (2017) is back with its protagonist Spencer Strasmore (Dwayne Johnson) now wanting to bring a NFL team to play in the heart of Las Vegas. He needs a team willing to move, the city to build a stadium and not to mention they have no money, but things aren't so easy, he not only has to find sponsors, but convince the football league to agree, but also for the city's mayor (and various people) to give them the land and money that with successful sports management that they can make millions of dollars.

Strasmore is a former ex-football player turned into financial manager/adviser, and has the a big idea of turning Las Vegas into successful pro-football city, but he and his team have some tough obstacles to overcome including they are millions of dollars in debt, they need to find sponsors and deal with greedy CEOs and their various toadies. Also, he has to deal with all the players' various drug problems and 'questionable' activities, and not to mention they want to be worshiped like gods.

This was a sports drama oriented series, it paints CEOs as greedy bastards, sports superstars as druggie wannabes and women as manager prostitutes, the only character the audience can relate to is Dwayne Johnson's character, a good looking man with the charm and the only one who is trying to make things work and show their dreams isn't a pipe dream.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on each show looks fine for the style chosen and that's fine, but the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes on the same shows are sometimes not good; a problem previous coverage has noted. there are no extras.

Episodes this time are...

Seeds of Expansion - Spencer wonders if he is infertile. He must get a tycoon to help endorse football to Las Vegas.

Bull Rush - The players get caught on social media promoting weed. Ricky losses $2 Million gambling. Spencer must convince the Las Vegas socialites to accept football into their city.

In the Teeth - Spencer faces the resistance to his Las Vegas football team idea. The manger has a problem current coach and gets him fired.

Ride and Die - Spencer and Joe must desperately make it to an appointment with Wayne and get his blessing for a football team in Vegas.

Make Believe - Spencer must convince billionaire Wayne Hastings to write a 100 million dollar check to help get things rolling.

I Hate New York - Bret must deal with his brother to be a sponsor whom he hates ...and he decides rather sell his company than asks his brother for money.

Ricky-Leaks - Ricky's disgrace is leaked on to internet and Spencer must get spin control on the media coverage.

Alley-oops - Spencer's company finds out that their company is being sold ...and they aren't happy with him.

Crackback - With everything on the line, Spencer tries buying the Raiders ...but finds out someone else is trying to out bid him.

Yay Area - Spencer finds their land, their sponsors, his ideas has been stolen from him ...so they turn to the only one left who can help them ...Bret's brother.

Another Dario Argento production to add to the collection from Scorpion Releasing. This year, they've been on fire releasing Argento's masterpiece Opera and another film he produced called The Sect (reviewed elsewhere on this site), and are closing it out with Michele (Stage Fright) Soavi's The Church (1989). Originally intended to be the third installment in Argento's Demons series, The Church became it's own thing when it didn't quite fit that mold.

The Church stars Tomas Arana, Feodor Chaliapin Jr., (a very young) Asia Argento, Hugh Quarshie, Barbara Cupisti, and Antonella Vitale. The film is also made with the help of Lamberto Bava, who was the man responsible for Demons.

Opening with a vicious medieval sequence where possessed corpses are left behind, a creepy church is built on top of the death site. Lying dormant for hundreds of years and fast forwarding to the present, a librarian awakens the ancient evil by accident. With innocents trapped inside and soon possessed, the church becomes a hell on earth that soon spreads.

Presented on 1080p Blu-ray with its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and an English DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 lossless track, the film looks and sounds solid on the Blu-ray format. Released here for the first time in high def, the film hasn't shown too much age and is likely the best the film has looked since its original release.

Special Features include...

New Video Interview with Asia Argento

New Video Interview with director Michele Soavi

Original theatrical trailers

Hopefully, Scorpion will get a few more Argento titles in their library soon as these past three releases have been fantastic, though a little light on extras.

Get down and dirty with the new car movie Dirt (2018), which tells the story of an off road truck driver named Rick Radden (Dillian) and troubled but promising teenager/carjacker Dez Truss (Horton) who become unexpected allies in the race to end all races. Whilst following a familiar narrative for this kind of film, it skates on by for a comfortable 90 minutes and works fine for a direct to digital/home video release but is nothing groundbreaking.

Kevin Dillian, DeRon Horton, and Christina Moore star in Dirt, a Motorsport Films production.

Presented in standard definition on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen aspect ratio and a lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix, the presentation looks fine for the format. Shot on digital there are obvious moments of compression which wouldn't be evident on Blu-ray.

Special Features include...

An Off Road Film

Gag Reel

If you like films like Ron Howard's Rush and other car movies of the like, then you'll probably dig this adventure. Don't expect anything you necessarily haven't seen before though.

Finally, we'll look at these last two pairs of films in one section that cross cover several genres and sometimes with each other. First we take on the detective film and the idea of near-franchises with two of Paul Newman's more commercial films, the two where he plays a detective based on the Ross MacDonald Archer novels. Jack Smight's Harper (1966) and Stuart Rosenberg's The Drowning Pool (1975) have Newman as Lew Harper, a detective taking quick money cases to survive and get along, but sometimes running into more than he bargained for. Neither are Film Noir or neo-Noir films, yet their violence and situations would not be possible without that 1941 to 1958 period.

Long before the Noir period started, sound on film ushered in several great series of detective movie series where the lead was usually a bright crime solver, but the gumshoe, gritty detective was not far behind and Noir kicked in just in time for that kind of investigator as the classical detectives (Charlie Cahn, Mr. Moto, Sherlock Holmes, The Thin Man) were on a roll that even defied studio expectations. To get away from the idea of gritty low-budget Noir or any B-movie sense (and because the spy films from James bond on down were making so much money), Warner and Newman went the big time Hollywood route with an all-star cast for the first Harper film including Lauren Bacall, Shelley Winters, Julie Harris, Arthur Hill, Janet Leigh, Pamela Tiffin, Robert Wagner, Strother Martin and made it a point it was Hollywood getting gritty on its own big time terms.

Written by William Goldman, the film has Harper sorting out kidnapping, murder and possibly more murder in a widescreen Technicolor production that turned out to be the final years of the studio-bound productions (like Newman's other thriller that year, Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, reviewed elsewhere on this site) where most scenes are indoors or on sets and even the nice location shooting has rear projection in the car chases. Despite this, the cast is great, the film has a fine pace (Smight was always a good journeyman) and the film holds up just well enough that it is still enjoyable and helped start a new era of detective films, but they would soon run into neo-Noir deconstruction (Chinatown, The Long Goodbye) and and American New Wave soon arriving with Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde, a huge influence on Newman's soon-to-be-megahit Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid.

The film was a hit, but not enough to start a series, though many times at this point, a character would show up, just think at the time of Nero Wolfe, Bulldog Drummond or Miss Jane Marple) and only two or three films would get made. In addition, the mystery still holds up pretty well here, so no matter how old the mystery film, can its puzzle still puzzle? This one does.

By the mid-1970s, Hollywood had its its next big mature peak since the Noir era with many classics, a few blockbusters and a detective book had hit the big screen and small screen (Columbo, et al), Newman returned to Harper one more time via First Artists, a great production co-venture he set up at Warner with other major actor/filmmakers of the time and the result was an even better film with The Drowning Pool, sending Harper to New Orleans (a great place for filmmaking, Roger Moore made his James Bond debut a hit with Live & Let Die (1973) taking place there in part) and getting involved in an even more dangerous, violent situation where the cops see him as an invader, his new employer (Joanne Woodward in great form, as usual) to help with a blackmail situation that turns out to be more tricky and complex than it first seems, the film could be more sadistic and violent (a hard PG that would probably be PG-13 today if it was any rougher) than TV detective shows could be (namely Mannix, still edgy to this day) and without obvious sets or now-obsolete rear projection, it is a much more intense film and has some great moments.

Rosenberg was reuniting with Newman years after making one of the best films either of them ever made, Cool Hand Luke, so they were able to recapture the chemistry and edge that made that film so great. A young Melanie Griffith, Murray Hamilton (the same year he was in Spielberg's Jaws), Tony Franciosa, Coral Browne, Andy Robinson and Linda Haynes help ratchet up the tension and keep you wondering what craziness will happen next, especially as Harper is not in familiar territory. Too bad Newman was so critically and commercially successful that he took too many risks all the time to continue doing these films, but it shows how savvy he could be and if he really wanted to, I could imagine a series that landed up delivering five to seven films, but it was not to be.

Now to go back a few decades to the last years of the great RKO Studios, they were lucky enough to have the great Fritz Lang working there, the man who pioneered international filmmaking, helped create German Expressionism, Horror films, Spy Films, Science Fiction films and Film Noir, It is in Noir that he made what would be his two final films in the United States at the studio and they have a slightly similar path to the Harper films, though they arrived the same year of 1956.

While The City Sleeps is a thriller about a murder that a local news outlet (they have a newspaper and TV network!) gets sensational about and decides to dub 'The Lipstick Killer' that the police need to find before the next woman is killed. In the midst of this, a reporter (Dana Andrews) is trying to get the story, but is also getting romantically involved with a gal in the office, but his boss (the owner of the empire) dies as they talk watching TV and his son (Vincent Price, just before becoming a Horror genre icon) takes over as various reporters try to get promotions at the others expense. So much for camaraderie.

The melodrama between the people in the office rivals the actual murders, which is where the film starts to become too unintentionally funny and when you add the media angle, this is more campy than expected. It also runs a bit too long, but the supporting cast that also includes Noir icon Ida Lupino, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Howard Duff, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forest, James Craig and even John Barrymore, Jr. makes this one to watch just the same. If not great, it is at least entertaining.

To get back to some kind of grittiness, Lang also made Beyond A Reasonable Doubt that year with far less star power and the gimmick that a book writer (Dana Andrews again) is so serious about showing up a pro-death penalty D.A. that he frames himself as a mysterious killer of a nightclub performer, but has a lawyer friend make notes and take black-and-white instant Polaroids (no negatives to those stills either) to show he is innocent when circumstantial evidence will show him guilty. Yes, this is a stupid as Flatliners (both versions) where people say they can die for more seconds than the other (Name That Tune for nitwits) but that is the gimmick we get here.

It is interesting, but is unintentionally funny and the film only gets more comical when his girlfriend (Joan Fontaine) is left out of the secret plot and is mad he is calling off their engagement. The campiness gets more hilarious when he starts talking to the gals at the nightclub and so many other funny things (usually unintentionally) every few minutes that you would almost think this was a comedy if an upcoming scene did not get the film serious again. This only runs 80 minutes, but that was more than enough and it is worth a look, but expect a very strange film that shows why Noir was wrapping up as a film form and Lang was ready to leave Hollywood.

Additionally strange, the underrated Peter Hyams, who did such a great job remaking Narrow Margin in 1990 with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer remade this film with Michael Douglas in the later afterwards and actually came up with a less memorable film that was worse, forgettable and not even funny.

All four films here are widescreen, something that separates them from their older counterparts and the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on both Newman films rarely show the age of the materials used, plus even give us a good idea of how good the films must have looked in real 35mm, dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor ts (though Pool was only available that way outside of the U.S. in places like the U.K.) and they are shot to be big on a big screen so cheers to Warner for such fine restoration efforts.

As for Lang, he shot both films 1.33 X 1 black style, but they are presented here in 1080p 2.00 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers because RKO was jumping into the widescreen fray without using squeeze lenses, so they would optically print widescreen by simply cutting out the very top and bottom parts of the frame in a practice we would now call 'soft matte' so the information was not lost on either half. Lang was no fan of widescreen, but RKO did this to other productions (including 10 new Technicolor films they made) dubbing the process Superscope or RKO Scope, a forerunner of Super 35. The presentations both look fine and have some nice detail and depth, but I've seen both at 1.33 x 1 a good while ago and they both worked a bit better that way. Too bad Warner Archive did not include the films in both aspect ratios, but they still work well enough this way.

All four films were issued in optical theatrical monophonic sound and the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mixes capture that sound the best it can in all four cases, but they are all unfortunately sonically limited and so they only perform so well. I gather this is best they'll likely ever sound, though isolated music scores would have been interesting to include for comparison.

Extras on all four films on Blu-ray include their respective Original Theatrical Trailers, while Harper adds a usually feature length audio commentary track by writer William Goldman who has much to say (but might have talked more and said more had someone who loved film joined him) and Pool adds a vintage Making Of featurette: Harper Days Are Here Again.

To order any of the four Warner Archive Blu-rays, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo, Ricky Chiang (Ballers) and James Lockhart (Church, Dirt)



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