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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Holocaust > WWII > Surrealism > New Wave > Czechoslovakia > Comedy > Greed > Oil > Law > Biopic > Discri > Diamonds Of The Night (1964/Criterion Blu-ray)/Oklahoma Crude (1973/Sony/Columbia*)/On The Basis Of Sex (2018/Universal Blu-ray)/Snake Pit (1948/Fox/*both Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/Vice

Diamonds Of The Night (1964/Criterion Blu-ray)/Oklahoma Crude (1973/Sony/Columbia*)/On The Basis Of Sex (2018/Universal Blu-ray)/Snake Pit (1948/Fox/*both Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/Vice (2018/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD)



Picture: B (DVD: C+) Sound: B-/B-/B/C+/B & C+ Extras: B/B/C/B/C+ Films: B-/B-/B/B-/B+



PLEASE NOTE: The Oklahoma Crude and The Snake Pit Blu-rays are now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, are limited to only 3,000 copies each and can be ordered from the links below.



This great set of films involve important, mature, socially conscious subject matter and are all more than worth your time, especially the latest two, two of the best films of 2018.



We start with the shortest film, but one that is key to the Czech New Wave, Jan Nemec's Diamonds Of The Night (1964) tells the story of two young men (Ladislav Jansky, Antonin Kumbera) running for their lives from what seems to be a group of older, determined men trying to shoot and kill them. The scene looks like they have escaped a Nazi Concentration Camp, but we soon learn though that is true, it is even more stark and complex than that in this tale of lost youth, genocide and older generations killing the young.


From there, we see the young men bounce between several scenarios, we get flashbacks of the past (and near past) where they might have been able to escape the cycle (figuratively and literally) of the jeopardy they are in and challenges the viewer to both think and feel about what they are seeing in a more complex way than one usually saw then and still does not see enough now.


The ending has been controversial because of its ambiguity and also suggesting several possibilities (plus viewers and critics adding their own because they are not paying full attention) though I have an idea of what it adds up to, I cannot reveal it here without ruing the movie or its challenges. On its 55th Anniversary, this great restoration has been issued on Criterion Blu-ray and though maybe some parts of the film could work better and maybe it could have been a little longer, it is as important as it is ambitious (the influences of Resnais, Eisenstein and Bunuel as obvious as ever) and deserving of rediscovery. Any serious film fan should see this new extras-loaded restoration ASAP!



Stanley Kramer's Oklahoma Crude (1973) is the director's last major film of note and deals with greed, hate, poverty and big oil money during the pre-WWI oil boom happening across the U.S. after oil was discovered in Western Pennsylvania. Faye Dunaway is a woman trying to find oil on her land with the help of her aging father (John Mills) when a violent rep for a big oil interest (Jack Palance) shows up to try to steal it all, but she has recently met a man (George C. Scott) who may be able to help defend her and get her money for her reserves if they are as huge as they may potentially be.


From there, the film (with some comedy of the time) takes some twists and turns, but also is very brutal in accurately portraying the lives and time of people of this period where the country was still recovering from The Civil War and still build itself up against many odds. The Industrial Revolution was picking up at this time too, but the script settles on the characters and is able to deal well with class division in an honest way.


As has been the case since I first saw the film, it tends to have a few down moments and its comedy and wallowing in a few parts holds it back from greatness, but it has aged well enough and that makes it worth your time to see. Note this is a limited edition Blu-ray version, so serious film fans will want to grab a copy quickly.



Mimi Leder's On The Basis Of Sex (2018) could have been a phony biopic about one of the most important individual legal forces in the history of law, but the underappreciated Leder pulls off a solid portrait of (now Justice) Ruth Bader Ginsberg (brilliantly played by Felicity Jones) without making her a saint or having one false moment of phoniness. Instead, we get a character study with energy and some humor with this woman who had to face all kinds of sexism and other fake limits to get to where she is now, not knowing where things would take her. By the time she has a chance to become a lawyer in an environment where women were discouraged by everything, the counterculture has arrived and she takes a case that has her defending a man, but could help her and her husband Martin (Armie Hammer, rightly cast here) know could help women in the long run.


At first, I did not know if the film would work or drone on in predictability, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how this slowly builds up and the cast has such great chemistry, while the film is always period-convincing. In most hands, this might have landed up a TV movie disaster, but instead, we get one of 2018s very best films. Sam Waterston, Kathy Bates, Justin Theroux and Jack Reynor also star.



Anatole Litvak's Snake Pit (1948) is over 80 years old, but some of what it is saying about mental illness is as relevant now (unfortunately) as it was when it first arrived in movie theaters, with Olivia de Havilland delivering one of her most important performances. We originally reviewed the DVD version many years ago at this link...


http://www.fulvuedrive-in.com/review/1476/Snake+Pit


Though some things about the film have dated and a few things do not work, the re-stigmatization of depression and other aspects of mental illness (several separate essays) make the more important parts of this film as important as ever, especially when such things are used to hurt, oppress and even destroy lives that need help and support instead. The conditions of mental hospitals and the care available has been getting slowly sabotaged and slowly eroded despite breakthroughs since the 1980s. Bad HMOs and bad politicians are two of the biggest reasons, but that's for another movie. Though this is a limited edition, its arrival on Blu-ray could never be soon enough.



Finally we have Adam McKay's Vice (2018) whose ad campaign has confused some people and despite many award nominations, did not do as well initially as it should have in movie theaters. Now it is on home video and this Fox Blu-ray/DVD edition is the best way to see it for now. Maybe it was held back a bit by Disney's purchase of Fox, but it turns out to be pretty much the best film of 2018 and one everybody should see.


Christian Bale, in one of his greatest performances (and that says something) plays Dick Cheney, the controversial political and business figure who came out of his drunken, dead-end past to become one of the most powerful Republican politicians of all time (we find out more than he should have) as he becomes part of a small pool of members of the party who start trying to rebuild the party after the double disasters that were and always will be Vietnam and Watergate.


Those in the political know will feel there is name-dropping off the bat, but it is even smarter and more complex than that as simple ideas even the inner circle feels might not work starts to work. Of course, this means breaking the law constantly going for broke and not caring about the country or what anyone thinks starting with The Iran-Contra Affair and many a stolen election.


However, we have to also see Cheney the drunk, his wife (Amy Adams, so good in all eras of Lynn Cheney) tells him to shape up or else. He does, unfortunately for the nation, and takes advantage of anything he can, any opportunity and slowly, builds into a behemoth that no one expected and amazingly, not enough understand or realize. He eventually works for the infamous resources company Halliburton and that will help carry him into his peak of work.


Strangely, the film is also a comedy with some satire, different and maybe awkward to many who are not used to comedy in such serious matters or in a new configuration as the script attempts. Maybe it could have been more effective and worked even better if some different choices were made, but it still works well enough to make what it is saying and telling us effective and vitally important enough for us to understand what has happened and to be honest, is still happening.


The late Robert Philip Kolker, author of A Cinema Of Loneliness (reviewed elsewhere on this site) sited Arthur Penn as one of American Cinema's most important filmmakers and one as concerned with the truth about the country as any of them, then added Oliver Stone to the Penn chapter as picking up where Penn left off. Between U-Turn, some commercial ventures and other non-political or unsuccessfully political releases (the Wall Street sequel comes to mind), Stone's position telling those stories has eroded or he just become bored or ran out of things to say (his W movie about George W. Bush the rare exception) so it is fair to say McCay has taken over that space in his own way with this and The Big Short. It will be up to McCay to continue making these kinds of films or not, so we'll see, but he does them well.


Of course, some films (like W) have already been made about the same people, so the cast of this film is all the more remarkable with Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, Steve Carell as Donald Rumsfeld, Eddie Marsan as Paul Wolfowitz, LisaGay Hamilton as Condoleezza Rice, Tyler Perry as Colin Powell and Joseph Beck as Karl Rove. The film always has surprises that makes it even more watchable and its boldness to always tell the truth about what happened and how it ruined the country (especially after 9/11) and twisted it to where we are now is amazing. Bale's Cheney is outright terrifying in the end, so close to life and makes this film way ahead of its time.


I hope the audience catches up with it ASAP because the sooner they do, the better, e3specially because this just may be a classic!



Now for the great playback news. All the films look great, as good as they possibly can in the regular Blu-ray format with the older films in terrific shape and the new ones looking great along with them. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Diamonds can show the age of the materials used, but the restoration is intended to not 'over-clean' the image and keep its character, derived from the original 35mm negative in a solid 4K scan. It has rich video black and true video white that still remains stark and effective. The PCM 2.0 Mono is off of the original analog 35mm optical negative soundmaster and sounds as good as it can for a production of its age and budget, so the combination is as authentic as it is effective.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Crude also looks fine, shot in real 35mm anamorphic Panavision by Robert Surtees, A.S.C. (Ben Hur, The Last Picture Show, The Graduate) who manages to give us great wide vistas at the same time we get claustrophobic shots that show how trapped by poverty, greed and trouble the characters are. The lab work was does by both MetroColor and Technicolor, but Metro apparently issued all the U.S. 35mm prints, though maybe Technicolor made U.K. prints? Either way, the work holds up and this is very, very well restored. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless sound mix shows its age with some distortion in small places, but is as good as it can be here otherwise.


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Basis was shot on Arri Alexa HD cameras and is easily one last year's very best HD shoots with fine color, period grading that is convincing and effective and a smoothness we usually only see in photochemical film productions. Lighting is more complex than it looks and you will be impressed too. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is well recorded and mixed, complementing the image well.


The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Snake Pit can also show the age of the materials used, but it looked better than many similar films on DVD years ago and though we can see more small flaws in the film, there are more demo shots and overall improvements in detail and depth that it outdoes its long-ago DVD counterpart with no problem in being like a new film print. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 lossless mix is the same simple stereo upgrade from the DVD, but better and better than the DTS-MA Mono also here by a small margin.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 30.5 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer can on Vice is shot on several photochemical formats in Kodak's ever-amazing Vision3 series color negative film stocks, in 35mm, 16mm (Super 16mm) and 8mm (including Super 8) making it 0one of the most compelling and visually complex films of 2018. I love that the underrated Todd-AO 35mm anamorphic lenses were used as well with Super 35 format. Cheers to Director of Photography Grieg Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Killing Them Softly, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) proves once again that he is easily one of the best DPs around and now one of the most underrated. The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the DVD can barely reveal how good and effective this all is, so I can only wait for a 4K edition. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless soundmix is also more complex than it would seem on the Blu-ray. (The DVD's lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 version loses too much of the fine detail for me, but that's what its got). Anyone with a serious home theater set-up will be pleasantly surprised.


Extras include the Movies Anywhere digital copy on Basis and Vice, while Crude and Snake Pit have nicely illustrated booklet on their respective films including informative text and yet more excellent, underrated essays by the great film scholar Julie Kirgo, while the Blu-rays add Isolated Music Scores. Crude also offers an excellent feature length audio commentary track by film scholars Lee Pfeiffer and Paul Scrabo, while Snake Pit repeats the many DVD extras including four Movietone News segments, one of which is silent, trailers for this and other Fox Classics on DVD, a stills gallery and an outstanding audio commentary by well-read and researched film historian and writer Aubrey Solomon that everyone should hear.


Basis adds three featurettes (A Supreme Team: Making On The Basis Of Sex, Legacy of Justice and Martin and Ruth: A Loving Partnership), while Vice adds Gaming The System: The Making Of Vice, The Music of Power, a Stills Gallery and Deleted Scenes.


Diamonds includes a quality paper foldout on the film with informative text and an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson, while the Blu-ray disc adds an interview from 2009 with director Jan Nemec, A Loaf of Bread: Nemec's 1960 student thesis film, based on a short story by Arnost Lustig in a nice HD transfer, Arnost Lustig Through the Eyes of Jan Nemec, a short documentary on Lustig from 1993, a new interview with film programmer Irena Kovarova and a new video essay on the film's stylistic influences by scholar James Quandt.



You can order the Oklahoma Crude and The Snake Pit limited edition Blu-rays, buy them while supplies last at these links:


www.screenarchives.com


and


http://www.twilighttimemovies.com/



- Nicholas Sheffo


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