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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Biography > Filmmaking > Industry > King Cohen (2017/La La Land Blu-ray w/CD)

King Cohen (2017/La La Land Blu-ray w/CD)

Picture: B Sound: C+ (CD: B) Extras: B Documentary: B

There have been many great and important writers, producers, directors and filmmakers over the years, decades and now, centuries, so you would think if you had a commercially and critically successful individual whose career ran 60 years and counting, you'd know him by name. One who always had something to say, show or always came up with a hook or concept that was daring, different and promised to be interesting. However, since the 1980s, flash and style have overtaken substance, so unless you have a filmmaker who is distinct and well-known as a celebrity and whose films you can usually recognize as soon as you start watching (i.e., an auteur), you get lost in the shuffle.

It is a problem that has made very important filmmakers like John Cassavettes, Sidney Lumet, Sydney Pollack, Richard Fleischer, Buzz Kulik, Peter Yates, John Moxey, Arthur Hiller, Arthur Penn, John Guillerman, Hal Ashby, John Frankenheimer, John Schlesinger and Peter Bogdanovich become lost (despite some possibly being auteurs) in a shuffle in the face of Scorsese, Spielberg, Kubrick, Cronenberg, Lynch, De Palma, George Romero and Hitchcock, though the directors first noted have directed hits, big hits, blockbuster and even classics. So lost in the middle of all those names too often has been a very strong pier: Larry Cohen.

Here's a man who created several hit TV shows (The Invaders (1967) is a classic, even if it only last ed two seasons and he was not allowed to stay on, thus its shorter life), a bunch of interesting telefilms (a few intended as pilots for TV shows), wrote several hit feature films (Phone Booth, Guilty As Sin, Maniac Cop, Uncle Sam, the Able Ferrera Body Snatchers remake that needs a director's cut and did not do the business it deserved) a key TV mini-series (Return To Salem's Lot is often considered closer to Stephen King's books than most feature film adaptations) and wrote for several hit TV shows (Columbo, The Fugitive, NYPD Blue, Rat Patrol), all with some of the best work in all those cases and that's without counting the films he wrote and directed himself. Steve Mitchell's new documentary King Cohen (2017) tries to rectify that situation as well as possible.

Though it runs a tight 107 minutes (they had to know they had enough material for a longer film or documentary mini-series), the film is still very tight with film clips, vintage footage, posters, stills and new interviews with some very big names in the business (like Scorsese and J.J. Abrams among the filmmakers here), name acting talent (Michael Moriarty, Yaphet Kotto, Fred Williamson) and other behind the scenes talent (like make-up master Rick Baker) that shows how very popular, loved and respected he is for the bold, innovative, daring, smart, clever filmmaker he is and though some of the work above is covered, the feature films he directed are here he excelled the most and that says something.

Films singled out here include his indie debut Bone, the It's Alive Trilogy (the most underrated horror trilogy in cinema history, led off by his one huge hit film), Black Caesar (with music by James Brown!) and Hell Up In Harlem (both falling somewhere between the Blaxploitation cycle and something more in a serious look at criminality and society, like his Private File Of J. Edgar Hoover film also discussed here), God Told Me To (aka Demon, his most terrifying horror film ever), Q: The Winged Serpent (his giant monster movie that more than holds its own against the multi-million dollar cycle of them being produced today), The Stuff (his send-up of consumerism gone insane) and several other indie thrillers he helmed in the 1980s and 1990s when the studios got regressive and wanted to make nothing but mall-safe, happy cineplex fare.

Of course, Cohen himself is interviewed and has excellent stories to tell throughout, including how he always made his films as cheaply as possible without letting them look bad or cheap, his common sense approach to things that gave him his rare career as an outsider who survived and even thrived and shows us how he never sold out.

In all this, I also want to make sure I want to make sure that you know Cohen is a man of great humor, a fascinating life, interesting stories and is very personable. His interview clips more than demonstrate that throughout, while in his films, Bone was not meant to be comical (we agree), then any humor to about the late 1970s was incidental or contextual. Obviously, he made films with satire (you may realize this from the sampling above) and also always took interesting risks, which is why some films might not get the respect they deserve. Either way, King Cohen is a must-see documentary for all serious film lovers, filmmakers and anyone who is serious about the work of a man who is one of cinema's most ignored artists.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of certain materials used, as we get a very good combination of private film and video, great clips of his past works and newly shot HD of all the interviewees, et al.

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on the Blu-ray is often mostly talking, or some silence, plus many of the film clips are mono or simple stereo, as are most TV clips, so only expect so much sonically. Otherwise, it is fine for this kind of program. Thus, it is nice that a CD soundtrack was included of the music for this release in nice, clean and clear PCM 2.0 16/44.1 Stereo. No surprise either since La La Land is a soundtrack music label, but a great idea just the same.

Other extras besides the bonus CD include a paper insert of the tracks on that CD, while the Blu-ray adds featurettes An Audience With The King, More Stories From The King's Court, Monsters On The Table, and Hello, World!, plus an Original Theatrical Trailer.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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