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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Dark Comedy > Crime > Literature > Melodrama > Black Experience > Independent Cinema > Alternati > Big White (2005/MVD Blu-ray)/Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man & The Sea (1990/MVD/S'More DVD)/Losing Ground (1982/Milestone Blu-ray Set)/Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 (

Big White (2005/MVD Blu-ray)/Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man & The Sea (1990/MVD/S'More DVD)/Losing Ground (1982/Milestone Blu-ray Set)/Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 (Flicker Alley Blu-ray w/DVD)/Story Of Temple Drake (1933/Criterion Blu-ray)

Picture: B+/C-/B/B- & C+/B Sound: B+/B-/B-/B- & C+/C+ Extras: B/C-/A/B/B- Films: B/B/B/A/B-

This is a unique group of dramas and alternate filmmaking for you to check out...

The late, great Robin Williams stars in The Big White (2005), a dark comedy that features many familiar faces and a ton of drama, but is also full of laughs.

In the film, Williams plays Paul Barnell, a travel agent in snowy Alaska that wants to start a new life with his mentally challenged wife (Hunter), and help treat her many conditions. He soon hatches a plan to cash in on his long lost brother's life insurance policy and inherit one million dollars. Soon after, Paul happens to come across a dead body in a trash dumpster and stages a elaborate crime scene to make the body appear to be his brother. As the life insurance company becomes skeptical, one particular agent (played by Giovanni Ribisi) stops at nothing to expose him. Soon, the actual killers of this discarded body come to surface and get wise to Paul's scheme. In turn, they kidnap his wife and set a whole new zany plan into motion...

The film also stars Holly Hunter (The Hateful Eight, Copycat), Woody Harrelson (Zombieland), Tim Blake Nelson (HBO's Watchmen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and the highly underrated Alison Lohman (Drag Me To Hell), under the direction of Mark Mylod (Game of Thrones) and writer Colin Frieson (Schitt's Creek).

The Big White is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc with a 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and audio mixes in Dolby Digital 5.1 and English LPCM 2.0 mix that come across fine on disc considering the nature of the film. Inspired by such films as The Coen Brothers' Fargo, Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag, and perhaps even Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, The Big White is nicely photographed and similar in terms of visual style.

Special Features include:

Behind the Scenes Featurette

Photo Gallery

and an Original Theatrical Trailer

Great performances all around, this dark comedy is a fun watch and is captured nicely in this new release from MVD. The film was previously released on disc from Echo Bridge in 2005 with similar audio and visual specs, but lacks the supplemental content included in this release.

Jud Taylor's TV movie adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea (1990) lands on standard definition DVD. The story centers around a Cuban fisherman (played eloquently by Anthony Quinn in one of his last screen performances) who ends up with a shark at the other end of his line after being told time and time again that he is too old and tired to be a fisherman any longer by his peers and family.

The film also stars Patricia Clarkson, Gary Cole, Joe Santos, Valentina Quinn, and Francesco Quinn to name a few.

The Old Man and the Sea is presented on standard definition DVD with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and a lossy 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo mix. Unfortunately, when viewing on an HDTV, the transfer here is pretty rough with lots of pixelation and compression evident. I'm not sure of the original source of this production, but it would likely look much cleaner in a HD presentation.

The only extra is text only and highlights cast and crew biographies.

This isn't a bad adaptation of the original source material, but feels more like a play than a movie with way too much inner monologue. It could be an interesting remake if made into a big budget film with some of the technology available today and a good filmmaker at the helm.

Depending on who you ask, anywhere between 75-90 percent of films made during the silent era have been lost. Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation estimates roughly half of all American films made before 1950 have been lost. That's just a way of saying a lot of films have been made, and far too many of them will never be seen again. And given the shrinking size and increased availability of cameras and equipment between 1950 and the digital era, it's a safe bet that there were a lot of films made in the last half of the 20th century by independent filmmakers or those without access to wide distribution - especially those made by non-white and non-male artists - that are likewise lost or missing, generations' worth of storytelling and experience lost to time and neglect.

Kathleen Collins' Losing Ground was nearly counted as gone forever. It's inconceivable that a film made in 1982, that screened on the festival circuit, that was shown on PBS, and was one of the first - if not the first - feature directed by an African American woman would vanish. But that was nearly the fate of Collins' only feature (she died of cancer, at 46, in 1988), until the negative was rescued by Collins' daughter Nina, restored, and given the release and distribution, courtesy of the indispensable Milestone Film & Video, that eluded it for decades.

A Civil Rights ally (she was arrested helping black voters register in the south), playwright (In the Midnight Hour, The Brothers), writer, and professor, Collins drew on all of it for her 86-minute exploration of the artistic, intellectual, and romantic experience of early-'80s Black America. Sara Rogers (Seret Scott), a university professor pursuing an examination of ''ecstasy,'' and her husband, Victor (Bill Gunn), an extroverted painter who just sold a piece to a major museum, find themselves and their relationship tested by demands and expectations, conflicting desires, and each other. Victor rents a place in upstate New York to work for the summer and begins an affair with young woman he paints; Sara splits her time between the country and city, stifled by the town's limited library and acting in one of a thesis film made by one of her students, which brings her into contact with the student's uncle, Duke (Duane Jones), a worldly and notably more sartorial man who listens and respects her.

The plot is quiet - making the volcanic outbursts that much more powerful - and it can feel slight at points, the way the dialogue is both acutely natural yet can veer too far into academia. Similarly, the dynamic between Sara and Victor can feel disingenuous at times - why would this headstrong, intelligent woman keep rolling over for this cad who values his paintings and pseudo-hedonism more than her? - but Scott and Gunn are so well cast, and so good together, that Losing Ground treads often in that uncomfortable territory of intruding on highly private moments, a voyeurism that recalls films like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Scenes from a Marriage.

Scott is Losing Ground's second great what-if. She radiates off the screen as an intelligent, independent, sexy woman whose outer confidence is a shell for inner doubt. Sometimes that internal life bubbles to the surface, and it's in those scenes (which tend to include Jones; the pair also share incredible chemistry) where her full talent is on display: her eyes, her intonation, her bearing all a testament to the crossroads and difficult choices facing her. If she comes off stilted in moments, it's important to remember it's only her second role and first one as the lead. (Her previous credit came in Louis Malle's 1978 Pretty Baby.) But she's so good and so adept at creating a connection with the viewer that she inspires every sympathy and benefit of the doubt - no easy task when she's in scenes with Gunn and Jones, also dominating forces.

Losing Ground should have been Scott's star-marking role. Instead, after the film was never released, she never acted in another film. What came next was roles in seven episodes of television - including 'Plainclothed Cop' in a 1993 episode of Tribeca - the last coming in 2000. How different American acting could have been. (She did have a career on stage that predated and continued after starring in Losing Ground.)

Scott's performance and the tonal tightrope the film walks accentuates the dual overarching tragedies with Losing Ground: first, the loss of Collins as a filmmaker and cultural voice, and the direction it could have pushed moviemaking. Watching it now, you can see tendrils of ideas that would reach other American independent filmmakers. (Spike Lee's first film, She's Gotta Have It, feels particularly indebted to Losing Ground). But it's impossible to comprehend the impact Collins and her film would have had on American cinema had it been released in its day. In the 1980s, Claudia Weill (Girlfriends), Susan Seidelman (Smithereens), and Joan Micklin Silver (Crossing Delancey) established that women filmmakers deserved to be seen and heard. But they are white, and the stories they told were windows into worlds that looked familiar, at least racially. But Collins and her film represented something else, something sorely lacking in the American film industry: invitations into new communities that could have fostered something like understanding at a cultural moment that sorely needed it, especially along racial and socioeconomic lines.

That need still exists - in fact it has only increased – and Losing Ground is a film that proves it can speak across the years. Not every rediscovered film feels vital and potent decades after its original release. This one does, and it does it with style, grace, wit, charm, and intelligence.

Milestone's two-disc deluxe Blu-ray release of Losing Ground is the home video release the film deserves. Besides the film, it includes a commentary by professors Lamonda Horton Stallings and Terri Francis; lengthy, substantive video interviews with Scott, cinematographer and co-producer Ronald K. Gray, and Nine Lorez Collins; a 22-minute interview with Kathleen Collins from 1982, from the Indiana University Black Film Archive; the 2015 theatrical trailer; and, perhaps best of all, two more films by Collins. The first is the 7-minute Transmagnifican Dambamuality, her 1976 'lost' student film. The second is the 50-minute The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy, Collins and Gay's first film. These films are vital to the discussion of Collins' cinematic work, and when placed alongside Losing Ground they make for a set that could easily be called The Complete Kathleen Collins.

The presentation of the main feature is as good as we might hope, given its history as both an early-'80s independent film and one that was almost lost. The transfer is solid, if a bit grainy in spots, and the audio can be a bit low and (maybe?) slightly out of sync. But why quibble, when we have the film in such great shape, considering what it has been through - and, frankly, that we simply still have the film?

If Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970, Flicker Alley's four-disc (two Blu-Rays, two DVDs) survey of exactly what the title says, only contained Manhatta (1921, Charles Sheeler and Jim Strand), Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, Maya Deren and A. Hackenschmied), and In the Street (1948/1952, Helen Levitt, Janice Loeb, and James Agee), it would deserve a serious look.

Those three films, which run about 42 minutes combined, are distinct and yet part of an evolving continuum. Manhatta is built on documentary-style footage, familiar in style to the early actualities made by the Lumiere brothers and Thomas Edison's studio, shot by a photographer (Strand) and artist (Sheeler) from upper-floor windows and the streets of a bustling, rising New York City to create dizzying, plotless, unscripted portrait of the delirious metropolis. Meshes, made more than 20 years later by dancer/poet/author/photographer Deren and her filmmaker husband, is a waking dream-nightmare-dream where Deren encounters doubles and loops of action and surreal moments an analyst could spend a lifetime interpreting. And Street goes back to New York to create a portrait of postwar urban American life, in all its drama and mundanity and endlessness, a task perfect for Levitt, one of the most empathetic, important American photographers, and Agee, author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and A Death in the Family and one of the nation's most humane writers.

Manhatta, Meshes of the Afternoon, and In the Street are among the most vital building blocks of the American avant-garde and cinema verite filmmaking. They were made by non-professionals using cheap equipment to tell a story far outside the definition of narrative moviemaking, and their legacy pulses across the decades, from the work of the Maysles Brothers (Salesman, Gimme Shelter) to the films of John Cassavetes (Shadows), Shirley Clarke (The Connection), David Lynch (Eraserhead), and generations of independent filmmakers. Masterworks gives us a 2K restoration of Manhatta; a 'previously unavailable' silent version of Meshes, with three additional scenes; and a 'slightly different' edit of Street, and to have them on disc feels long overdue.

But it's what surrounds those three films - 34 others from an illustrious group of filmmakers spanning five decades of work and experimentation and boundary-pushing - that earns Flicker Alley's set a place in every cinephile's collection. Across its 418 minutes are films by Marcel Duchamp (Anemic cinema, 1926) and Joseph Cornell (Thimble Theater, 1938/1968); Rudy Burckhardt (The Pursuit of Happiness, 1940) and Kenneth Anger (Eaux d'artifice, 1953); Marie Menken (Hurry, Hurry!, 1957) and Jonas Mekas (excerpt from Walden: Diaries, Notes and Sketches, 1969). It's a staggering grouping, if sometimes questionable. I'm guessing Anger's Eaux d'artifice is here instead of his more important and vital Scorpio Rising because of rights issues. And the lack of any material from Stan Brakhage's fertile 1960s period (Mothlight, Dog Star Man) - again a likely victim of legal red tape - disqualifies this set as a canon builder. Seasons..., from 2002, was created by Phil Solomon using 2-5-second loops of hand-scratched and painted film created by Brakhage. It's included as a bonus feature - it is well outside the timeline scope of the set - and not fully a Brakhage piece, which disqualifies it as part of the story Masterworks aims to tell.

Still, the set represents an important primer on an aspect of filmmaking far too many ignore or bypass. Experimental/avant-garde/underground film has a reputation of being difficult or exclusive, which are lobbed at the work by critics who'd rather watch a tentpole blockbuster or read trashy historical fiction or drink Coors Light and call themselves smart about culture. What these films are is challenging, which is quite different. They expand our understanding of the medium - what can be done with a camera, with the actual film, with a place, with sound, with special effects - and our definition of storytelling. We're conditioned to believe that a three-act structure built around A- and B-stories and quantifiable character arcs is how a film should be made. But what of the narrative of nature? Or the stories of a city? Or the arc of a relative nobody or an animal or a place?

Cinema is bigger than Hollywood's biggest tentpole, and what exists beyond the barricades of that walled-off city - the films included on this set, for starters - can be weird and wild and head-scratching. But it leaves the viewer who is open to the experience more open to new ideas, more critical of the same-old-same-old, and more able to see, not just movies but everything. Of course the establishment tries with all its might to keep these kinds of films and filmmakers marginalized. Watching them, discussing them, sharing them, then, becomes an act of defiance. And when cinematic storytelling is controlled by a Ma Bell of movie studios, such rebellion is not only crucial but necessary.

Besides the films that make up its main program, Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 includes four more as bonus features: the aforementioned Seasons...., Sappho and Jerry, Parts 1-3 (1977-78, Bruce Posner), Ch'an (1983, Francis Lee), and a version of Manhatta with new music composed and performed by Henry Wolfe and Phil Carluzzo. (Besides Meshes and Streets, there are previously unavailable versions of three other films: N.Y., N.Y. (1958, Francis Thompson), Castro Street (1966, Bruce Baillie), and Film That Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (1968, Owen Land formerly George Landow.) There's also a 28-page booklet cataloging the films included, with liner notes and director bios, as well as an essay by Posner, a film historian and curator along with being a filmmaker. It's a scant lineup of extras, but it's difficult to imagine what else could have been included: many of the filmmakers are gone, many of the original film elements have been lost, and there's only so many academics and historians you can stomach. I suppose having filmmakers who have been influenced by the work would have been a way to go, but Flicker Alley isn't the Criterion Collection and anyway there's something to be said for allowing the films to stand on their own.

When it comes to the audio/visual presentation, it's a mixed bag primarily because the films themselves are a mixed bag when it comes to quality. There are two 2K restorations here: Manhatta and the sensational Dadaist work Ballet Mecanique (1924, Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy). They both look spectacular. The other films are visually and aurally only as good as the elements available. Cinephiles likely won't care - most, if not all, are legible and listenable - and the Blu-ray presentation goes some ways to helping matters out. (It can also accentuate a rough print.) Still, it's worth noting that this isn't a soup-to-nuts restoration effort.

Finally, a pre-Hollywood code film getting the kind of release it deserves. Stephen Roberts' The Story Of Temple Drake (1933) is based on the controversial William Faulkner novel about the title character (Miriam Hopkins more than holding her own) as a high society flirt who gets into a series of crazinesses and trouble when she leaves a party with a drunken friend and goes driving, only for them to speed their way into a car crash that leaves them stranded in at a country house that turns out to have gangster guests drinking alcohol during the Prohibition Era.

Suddenly, just about every man wants to force themselves on her, a very persistent gangster named Trigger (Jack La Rue) goes to far, then takes her to a brothel! She happens to be the daughter of a local judge and class division is very prominent in this film and its script, but despite its age, it still tends to be pretty shocking for any time being made with few bounds and limited censorship. It helped make the case for censorship that would kick in in 1934 and last until about 1968.

It also packs in plenty of drama and melodrama for its short 71 minutes, not wasting time on anything, but it still has a few off points that have dated it in ways that are played-out cliches or just waste a little time. I will not call these few moments filler, but they are there. Otherwise, the rest of the cast is fine, this is very well shot by Director of Photography Karl Struss and is one of the most important pre-Hollywood Code films ever made, even if they did not know that at the time. Criterion delivers again.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer can show the age of the materials used a bit, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film coming from a 35mm Internegative (the original film was shot on 35mm nitrate, so the grain comes from the new source) and it looks really fine throughout. Lighting is interesting and the Video Black is solid. The PCM 2.0 Mono comes from its original optical monophonic soundtrack and has been fixed and cleaned up as much as possible without adding compression or other flaws or distortions, but even that cannot prevent it from showing its age. Still, for 1933, this is good.

Extras include another quality, illustrated paper fold out on the film including several poster and advertisements, plus an essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien, while the disc adds new programs featuring a conversation between cinematographer John Bailey and Matt Severson, director of the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, about the film's visual style, along with archival materials relating to its production, critic Imogen Sara Smith about the complexity of the film and its central performance by Miriam Hopkins and new interview with critic Mick LaSalle about the film, censorship, and the Production Code. All are excellent!

- Nicholas Sheffo (Temple), Dante A. Ciampaglia (Avant, Ground) and James Lockhart



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