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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Cold War > Nuclear Holocaust > Civil Rights > Slavery > Genocide > Biopic > Surrealism > Literatur > Fail Safe (1964/Sony/Columbia/Criterion Blu-ray)/Harriet (2019/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Lighthouse (2019/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Melvin and Howard (1980/Uni/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Pain and

Fail Safe (1964/Sony/Columbia/Criterion Blu-ray)/Harriet (2019/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Lighthouse (2019/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Melvin and Howard (1980/Uni/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Pain and Glory (2019/Sony Blu-ray)/Piranhas (2019/Music Box Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Melvin and Howard Blu-ray is now only available from our friends at Twilight Time and can be ordered from the links below.

As awards season continues, we look at some impressive new films and a few near-classics...

Sidney Lumet's Fail Safe (1964) remains a great thriller that asks questions as relevant then as now, so though some of the technology in the film is dated, the questions asked applies to the ever-expanding tech world that challenges us to think if we are allowing too much mindless surrender to said technology. In it, U.S. bombers near the now-defunct Soviet Union (aka USSR; Russia still has all these nuclear weapons) is armed with nuclear missiles and accidentally gets an order to bomb Moscow, the country's capitol, with them. Since the system the U.S. has is supposed to have so many things built into it that this could never happen accidentally, everything should be fine. Thus the title of the film.

However, turns out the system may have more flaws than anyone expected and that leaves the President (Henry Fonda) scrambling for the worst. As the film begins with a nightmare, we know we are in for trouble, then comes the intellectual discussions led by an expert (Walter Matthau) at a high class party and the script weaves its many vital questions and ideas into the climax from there.

Often referenced and imitated (from Colossus: The Forbin Project and (to a much lesser extent) War Games) along with another Columbia Picture made at the same time that they chose to promote more strongly, Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece Dr. Strangelove (also reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) the saddest part is you can have to great films like this arrive at the same time, but the actual problem of the planet being annihilated by nuclear weapons remains and especially lately, much worse than ever.

The supporting cast (you'll recognize more than a few of these great actors, despite how young many of them they are here) is incredible, Lumet is in great early form here helming the film as it builds more and more tension and though it may not go all the way the way Strangelove does on the subject, it has to NOT do that in order for it to work so well in its own way. They are vital flipsides to each other and are the kinds of films that transformed Columbia into a major studio permanently. Its great we have such an incredible new edition of the film. If you have never seen it or want to see it again, this Blu-ray is the way to go!

Extras includes a paper foldout (poster style) with tech info and an essay by critic Bilge Ebiri, while the Blu-ray disc adds an excellent audio commentary from 2000 featuring director Sidney Lumet, new interview with film critic J. Hoberman on 1960s nuclear paranoia and Cold War films and "Fail-Safe" Revisited, a short documentary from 2000 including interviews with Lumet, screenwriter Walter Bernstein, and the amazing actor Dan O'Herlihy (Robocop, Robinson Crusoe).

Kasi Lemmon's Harriet (2019) is a long-overdue big screen telling of how Civil Rights legend Harriet Tubman went from a slave to creating an underground railroad to takes slaves from the South of the U.S. to the North and even Canada before the Civil War took place. Cynthia Erivo is remarkable in the title role, playing her most convincingly over several decades of history, sick of broken promises, her family broken up, people abused, mutilated & worse and the nightmare the United States is.

Instead of a formula biopic, this film is bolder, more honest and more convincing and the fact that you have a female co-writer/director, female producers and lead that can more than carry the film, it also manages to escape some of the conventions of telling a slavery story with exceptional character development and a female discourse we rarely see in telling such stories. One of the year's most underrated films along with After The Wedding, Harriet is a must-see and another rare surprise this year. The film also stars Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Vondie Curtis Hall, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Janelle Monea.

Extras include Digital Copy, while the discs add a solid feature length audio commentary track by director Lemmons, Deleted Scenes and two Making Of featurettes: Her Story and Becoming Harriet.

Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse (2019) takes place in the 1890s with the title locale somewhere in New England as an older keeper (Willem Dafoe) brings along a young man (Robert Pattinson) to help him out and keep the place going so ships will not wreck and people will not get killed. However, the old man can be a jerk and worse, while his new assistant is not prepared for the isolationism and other things it takes to keep things in top shape.

Try to reference classic art and poetry, plus some classic photography and cinematography, the film has some impressive moments, but also gets too self-indulgent and even a bit goofy in not being able to concentrate on full character development or making a larger statement it never gets to make. Cheers to the actors for all their hard work, but the director cannot get over his horror genre past (The VVitch was not favorite recent such film) and that holds back an otherwise interesting film worth at least5 a look.

Extras include Digital Copy, while the disc adds a feature length audio commentary track by Eggers, Deleted Scenes and Making Of featurette The Lighthouse: A Dark & Stormy Tale.

A film from the late director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), Melvin and Howard (1980) is an unusual tale of a young struggling man who ends up helping out a stranger in the desert one night... who just so happens to be the eccentric billionaire, Howard Hughes. Amidst the man's problems with his crazy wife (a very young Mary Steenburgen in an unusual role for her), and trying to raise his kids, he later inherits a fortunate from Hughes as a payment for his kind deed. Will he get any money? Can he find more happiness?

The film stars Paul Le Mat, Jason Robards, Pamela Reed, Dabney Coleman, Michael J. Pollard, Gloria Grahame, Jack Kehoe, Charles Napier, and John Glover.

Special Features:

Isolated Music & Effects Track

Audio Commentary with Director Jonathan Demme and Production Designer Toby Rafelson

Original Theatrical Trailer

and a Collectible Insert Booklet with an essay by film scholar Julie Kirgo

I enjoyed Melvin and Howard for its off beat sense of humor and some of its believe or not weirdness. Plus the performances and direction all around are pretty solid.

Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory (2019) tells the story of a filmmaker (Antonio Banderas in a fine performance) who is suffering from multiple physical healthy issues and some emotional ones as a big film of his that was also a bad experience has suddenly been restored and saved, then is making the rounds of various film festivals as some kind of classic. This includes making peace with someone he made the film with, but we get plenty of flashbacks to his childhood and they are of mixed experiences (Penelope Cruz plays his mother in these sequences) showing a childhood that was somewhat problematic.

Shades of Fellini, it also deals with his sexuality at a young age, not realizing he might be gay while being oppressed by his local Catholic church, choir and school. Apparently, Almodovar has made an at least semi-autobiographical film that is open about homosexuality if not fixated on it. The film is not bad, but nothing shocking or surprising either, or one that works very well on the whole, yet he is an artist with something to always say, so it has its moments.

Extras include a Q&A with Director Almodovar, Banderas, Composer Albert Iglesias and Producer Agustin Almodovar, an Original Theatrical Trailer and featurette Pedro Almodovar: In His Own Words.

And finally, we have Claudio Giovannesi's Piranhas (2019) about a group of 15-year-olds in Naples' Santia neighborhood wanting to get into making big money quick and the only way is to become criminals themselves, but it will not be that easy by a longshot and their romanticizing of the pop culture equivalent of being a gangster, et al makes them al the more naïve. Thus, things will not go as they hope or we expect.

Unfortunately, this is more predictable than I expected still and the film has ambitions of being the next Gomorrah (see our Criterion Blu-ray coverage elsewhere on this site), but despite the energy, good cast and ambition, it cannot even come close because it has nothing much new to add and too many scenes I simply did not buy. With that said, the Gangster genre has been wearing thin for a while anyhow, so unless you're thinking Sopranos or Scorsese, you can see how most such films (and TV shows for that matter, Gomorrah was turned in to a TV show too) fall behind with little new room to move in and even less ground to break. That leaves it a curio you might like, but most will be disappointed.

Extras include a press conference with the cast and crew at Berlinale, a Making Of featurette and on-camera interview with Writer Roberto Saviano.

As for playback performance, everything here looks as good as it could in the Blu-ray format, starting with a 1080p 1.85 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer of Fail Safe that is a new 4K transfer that only shows the age of the materials used in expected ways. Lumet used negative footage versions of all the stock footage used throughout, a brilliant move. This is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and worthy of the best clips and 35mm print I saw of the film years ago. Sony scanned the film from its original 35mm camera negative that still survives and the PCM lossless Mono here comes from the original optical mono master, so expect a presentation closer to Dr. Strangelove (also on Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) than ever before, including demo shots to rival anything covered here.

Harriet is presented in 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer from its excellent HD shoot lensed by the genius Director of Photography John Toll, A.S.C., known for hits like Legends Of The Fall, Braveheart, Almost Famous, The Thin Red Line, The Last Samurai and Gone Baby Gone in some of his best work in years. Though some of the cameras were 6K, the film was finished in 2K for some reason, yet it is one of the most naturalistic HD shoots of the last few years and is consistently so. Issued in theaters in 12-track Dolby Atmos, we get a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mixdown that is fine, but I could imagine a few details we might be missing. The anamorphically enhanced .2.35 X 1 image on the included DVD is much softer than I would have liked and the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 is passable, but too far away from the original soundmaster to be taken too seriously.

The Lighthouse is here in a 1080p 1.20 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer that is supposed to look much older than a brand new film. If you've seen the opening of the first Daniel Craig/James Bond film Casino Royale (see the 4K version elsewhere on this site), then you will remember it too was in black and white, show on Kodak's ever-great Double-X 35mm negative with great grey scale and detail. To make that same film stock look old, besides shooting in a silent-film shaped frame, the makers used old lenses from about 100 years ago on the camera while shooting the panchromatic film, but then, they took one more step and added a filter that cut off the film's range, making it look more like limited Orthochromatic film. It takes much light to get the film to register like some David Lynch films, but they succeeded, thus, receiving an Academy Award nomination for best cinematography. Jarin Blaschke is the Director of Photography here.

Looking as good as anything here just about, Melvin and Howard is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray with a 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio and an English 1.0 DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless mix, both of which are presented nicely here. The film hasn't aged very much and Twilight Time (via Universal) has done a nice job with the color timing and have created an overall clean HD look here.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Pain & Glory is handled by Director of Photography Jose Luis Alcaine, A.E.C., delivering solid color, depth and character in this HD shoot that works just fine and has some character. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is dialogue-based with some music and a good soundfield overall.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Piranhas also gets into the locales of the film with some good camera work in this HD shoot, but we get a few cliches because it is trying (too?) hard to be a genre film too. I'll be curious to see more work from Director of Photography Daniel Cipri to compare.

To order the Melvin and Howard limited edition Blu-rays, buy it and other great exclusives while supplies last at these links:




- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (Melvin)



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