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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Crime > School > Cable Telefilm > WWII > Comedy > Relationships > Romance > Abuse > British TV Mini- > Toni (1935/Gaumont/Criterion Blu-ray)

Bad Education (2020/HBO/Warner DVD)/Flying Leathernecks (1951/RKO*)/Gold Digger (2019/Acorn DVD Set)/Pride and Prejudice (1940/MGM/*both Warner Archive Blu-ray)/Shanghai Triad (1995/Film Movement Blu-ray)/Toni (1935/Gaumont/Criterion Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Flying Leathernecks and Pride and Prejudice Blu-rays and now only available from Warner Bros. through their Warner Archive series and can be ordered from the link below.

This new group of dramas are wide-ranging and have their share of surprises....

We start with Cory Finley's Bad Education (2020) with Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney as part of the staff of the Roslyn High School where it looks like they are helping everyone out, but in reality, skimming money from the budgets. Based on a true story, they landed up steal over $21 Million before they got caught. The cable telefilm is not badly shot or directed, cheeky at times with its teleplay and has its moments.

Jackman plays Frank Tassone, who is more manipulative and clever than it first seems, which is how he managed to keep the fraud going for so long, but Janney's Pam Gluckin is also formidable and they are friends and partners in this. A sad story when you think about it, we have seen a few too many such scandal films in recent years, but this one does not seem to pull any punches. Look for Ray Romano in one of his unrecognizable turns too.

Extras include two promo clips HBO used to promote the film and a Virtual Conversation with Jackman and Janney.

Nicolas Ray's Flying Leathernecks (1951) is one of the more commercial turns for the rough and tumble director as we are told the WWII story on how the Marines and their aerial unit (pre-Air Force) took on Japanese Kamikaze fighters. Robert Ryan plays the leader of the squad, but they discover in the first scene that a new leader played by John Wayne is taking over, which will lead to personal conflict, but hopefully not enough to stop them from winning the war.

The film has some good moments and looks good for its age, but it is ultimately still a formula genre film, even if it is a bit better than the usual fair for the time when the genre was not yet played out. Don Taylor and Jay C. Flippen are among the solid supporting cast and it moves with decent energy for its 102 minutes runtime. For fans only and some others who may be curious.

Despite the popularity of the film among Wayne fans, an Original Theatrical Trailer, re-issue version, is the only extra.

Next, Gold Digger (2019) is a drama that is a bit of a thriller, but takes on more serious themes as the underrated Julia Ormond (Smilla's Sense Of Snow) as an older woman who finds love at 60 a bad husband and children who are not exactly the most supportive. She meets a new man who is very young (Ben Barnes) and starts to feel better about her life. Too bad there is a lack of support and their accusations that he is after her money, et al.

I am always happy to see Ormond and it has been a while, but she is still great and she steals all her scenes, but the other actors are not bad. The problem is that the writing is mixed and the results of the story told is uneven. It is serious, but it could have done a bit of a better job dealing with the most serious aspects of the issues presented. At least it is mature and ambitious, but its better than much of the bad TV we have suffered through of late. Julia McKenzie is among the rest of the cast.

A Behind The Scenes featurette (21 minutes) is the only extra.

No doubt the most abused classic author in film and TV for the last 20 years has been poor Jane Austen. Why do most productions have to be pretentious and pseudo-supportive of any female audience. Fortunately, there are exceptions and Robert Z. Leonard's 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice easily remains one of the best adaptations of any of her books, ever. MGM knew what it was doing by casting Greer Garson, Laurence Oliver, Edna May Oliver, Maureen O'Sullivan, Mary Boland, Ann Rutherford and a cast that always seems as of the time as the production itself. The sets and costumes still hold up too.

Of course, this also has one other very, very noteworthy participant going for it. The screenplay was co-written by none other than Aldous Huxley, the author of one of the most important books ever made, Brave New World. He of all people would not let the screenplay turn into fluff, formula or anything idiotic or condescending. With Jane Murfin, they deliver a screenplay that is on the money from beginning to end. Now totally restored, you can appreciate the film and instantly, you'll see why most later adaptations of this and other Austen works are just awful.

Extras include the Crime Does Not Pay short Eyes Of The Navy, MGM animated cartoon The Fishing Bear and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

Zhang Yi-Mou's film Shanghai Triad (1995) gets a stunning HD restoration from film movement that cinephiles won't want to miss. The gorgeously photographed film centers on the Shanghai crime syndicates of the 1930s.

In the film, a young boy comes to know a beautiful woman named Xiao (Gong Li). Aside from being a stage performer, she was bought by a Godfather at a tender young age, and is now the centerpiece between a feud between two rival gangs. This award winning film is definitely worth checking out if you like foreign cinema with great cinematography.

The film stars Li Bao-Tian, Li Xue-Jian, Sun Chun, and Wang Xiao-Xiao.

Special Features:

Full color booklet with essays by critic and lecturer John Berra

Trouble in Shanghai video essay by John Berra

Trailers and previews for other Film Movement releases

Finally, we have a restoration of Jean Renoir's drama Toni (1935) which has the all-time filmmaking giant going on location (much rarer at the time) to industrial Southern France to tell the tale of the title character (Charles Blavette) arriving from Italy when France was low on local workers, hoping to at least make a living for himself. Unfortunately, he has some character flaws, including juggling two women (Celia Montalvan, Jenny Helia) and not always handling the stress or trauma of his situation.

Renoir was also intending to be political by simply showing this underside of life with people who have limited money, resources, education, means or hope and how their lives might turn out. The points he makes are often as valid now as they were nearly 85+ years ago when the film was released and some aspects are as relevant as ever. Class division and prejudice included, Renoir pulls no punches and makes as honest a film as he could, including the early innovation of not using professional actors, something that would be a hallmark of post-WWII Italian Cinema when Neo-realism arrived. A remarkable film for its time that keeps on giving, even when it shows its age in parts.

Extras include an illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and a vintage essay by Renoir himself and an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, while the disc adds a feature-length audio commentary from 2006 featuring critics Kent Jones and Phillip Lopate, on-camera introduction by director Jean Renoir from 1961, Episode of Cineastes de notre temps from 1967 on Renoir, directed by Jacques Rivette and featuring a conversation with actor Charles Blavette about the film and NEW video essay about the making of Toni by film scholar Christopher Faulkner.

Now for playback performance. The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on Bad was actually shot on film, but this is much softer than it should be, even for this old format and I expect would make for a fine Blu-ray. It has a good use of the scope frame and color is at least consistent. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has plenty of talk, but some good music and choices of songs. Made me want a lossless version.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Leathernecks rarely shows the age of the materials used, is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and considering the concern of how poor RKO films might look due to the neglect of the catalog over earlier decades, this is impressive. Howard Hughes owned the studio by then and famously created his own scope format so he did not have to pay for CinemaScope, but never had a problem paying for the expense of dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor on his biggest productions. Though you get plenty of stock footage (some of which is probably 16mm Kodachrome) and the like, this looks really good for a war genre film and holds up incredibly well. I was even surprised by the depth and detail in some shots. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless sound is also as good as this film will ever sound, but the audio shows its age a bit. Goes to show you how many bad copies of this have been circulating.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the Gold episodes are well-shot in HD and the darkness might not always be convincing, but at least the look is consistent and the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is just fine for a dialogue-based production.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Pride very rarely shows the film's age, has some great demo shots and the money MGM put out for their glossy monochrome film really pays off here. It is arguable that it remains one of the best-looking versions of this book or any Austen live-action production, especially most of the awful ones we have seen in the last 15 to 20 years. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless sound is also as good as this film will ever sound, except this sounds much better and clearer than expected, so don't be surprised at the clarity if you get this disc.

Shanghai Triad is presented in 1080p high definition on Blu-ray disc in a MPEG-4 AVC (36.99 Mbps) codec and a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and a nice sounding audio mix in Mandarin LPCM 2.0 Stereo, from the original audio master. This was issued in Dolby old A-type analog Dolby System noise reduction format and sounds good for tis age. Use Pro Logic or similar decoding when viewing. The film has been remastered for this release and looks great for the format. Much like Yi-Mou's other films, there are several interesting color schemes here with red and blue being constant recurring colors. The image is pretty sharp for Blu-ray but could be improved even further on 4K UHD disc.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Toni is the oldest film here and a lower-budget film than Pride, so it more so shows the age of the materials used, which are the original 35mm camera negative and a 35mm fine-grain positive to fix, repair and fill in sections that might not be in prime shape from the negative. The results are impressive under the circumstances and it is the best the film has looked in decades. The PCM 2.0 French Mono lossless sound is not going to be brilliant, especially for it being so dialogue-based, but it is good for the most part, though this is from the original optical nitrate sound negative and shows its age throughout. It is amazing it survived but it has and one of the reasons it holds up is that Renoir's nephew Claude Renoir photographed it. It was the beginning of a great collaboration that lasted several films, including The River (see the Criterion Blu-ray elsewhere on this site) and even after as Claude's final work was on the classic 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, a big hit and fan favorite.

To order either of the Warner Archive Blu-rays, The Flying Leathernecks and Pride and Prejudice, go to this link for them and many more great web-exclusive releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo and James Lockhart (Triad)



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