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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Politics > History > Crisis > Peace Process > Environment > Cold War > Food > Italy > Filmmaki > Human Factor (2019*)/Nuclear Nightmares (1979/Corinth DVD)/Truffle Hunters (2020/*both Sony Blu-ray)/This Is Francis X. Bushman (2021/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)

Human Factor (2019*)/Nuclear Nightmares (1979/Corinth DVD)/Truffle Hunters (2020/*both Sony Blu-ray)/This Is Francis X. Bushman (2021/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)

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

Here's a solid new group of documentaries you should know about...

Dror Moreh's The Human Factor (2019) reminds us of what a horrible thing conflict in the Middle East is, telling us how the on chance for peace in the early 1990s was wrecked by too many people on both sides too angry to forgive, work things out and how some people are making money and/or holding onto power on all sides to want the conflict to end. Told by U.S. negotiators under President Clinton, who really tired to make this work as President Carter before him, it is a sad-but necessary story to tell.

I may not always agree with a few fine points here, but Director Moreh (The Gatekeepers) takes the 106 minutes here and leaves no stone unturned. The result is a vital portrait of the last 25 years on this subject and how things have only grown worse and more distorted. Cheers to those who tried to make a difference and especially to some who lost their lives in the process. Well done!

A trailer is the only extra.

Peter Batty's Nuclear Nightmares (1979) is a remarkable documentary not seen enough today, hosted by the late, great Peter Ustinov, about how close we were to nuclear war at the end of the 1970s and how The Cold War between the U.S. and now-defunct U.S.S.R. (Russia currently possesses all the nuclear weapons from that fallen empire) despite the attempts at peace by President Carter. The technology (from deadly weapons to how they'll be delivered to now-dated computer technology, some of which has only recently been updated!!!) is something to see.

Running 90 minutes, Ustinov has some bold things to say that are as relevant as ever, holding nothing back, denying nothing about the endless danger this all poses to all of us and beyond. He and the cameras go places that they were lucky to go to, some of which you could not go to now, a few of which might be gone. Ustinov also has some very smart intellectual points that makes this more than a standard work.

Originally made for public television, the DVD case keeps saying this is from 1980, but that is wrong and finished before Reagan won the White House, the film actually ends on a note of stability months or even weeks before the potential of a mutually destructive war escalated thanks to Reagan pumping up the arms race and talking fantasy technology that still does not exist over 40 years later, sexing it up with the name 'star wars' (Lucas sued to stop this, but lost) so this is the vital final chapter of the pre-Reagan era on this subject. I highly recommend it and am glad to see it again after all these years.

There are sadly no extras, including any updates.

Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw's The Truffle Hunters (2020) is a mixed look at the men who look for rare, expensive white Alba truffles (a form of mushroom) down the generations and have especially trained dogs to help. It falls under a cycle of documentaries an dramas about food that tend to be laid back, but as the case art reminds us, it is also considered a dog movie. I think it qualifies for the latter loosely, but is a food program first.

Unfortunately, even a 84 minutes, I thought it dragged on a bit and despite the great scenery in Piedmont, Italy, this plays more like a mood piece and (pun intended) an acquired taste. Yes, they may lead a laid back lifestyle in real life, but do I have to be dragged into it? It is just too much. Its worth a look for those interested, but do not operate heavy machinery while viewing.

The Story of Truffle Hunters featurette is the only extra.

Finally, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, especially in the silent era, but beyond that is finally brought back to life in Lon Davis' terrific new documentary This Is Francis X. Bushman (2021) about one of the most critically and commercially successful names in all of Hollywood history. Though most of his early works are lost (though some have been found recently) and he was working until his death, he had his ups and down despite being a name that helped build that town.

Best known for co-starring with equally beloved and successful Ramon Navarro in the original 1925 Ben Hur, MGM's first big epic and a massive hit, Bushman was already a big name and was only challenged by Rudolph Valentino for silent star with the most screaming female fans throwing themselves at him. Yet, he was secretly married and was able to keep that a secret until a scandal. Working in pictures early on at smaller studios and in New York and Chicago before Hollywood became the capitol of U.S., then world filmmaking and production, his solid looks and fact that he was one of the rare, early bodybuilders made him a perfect early star.

Narrated by his his grandson Chris Bushman, an Oscar winner himself, he does a great job of explaining his long history of being in entertainment most of his life, even with some ups and downs. A nice amount of audio from his grandfather is here and this melds into a great viewing. I just wish it were longer, maybe with more clips or interviews from film scholars and current fans, but this is archival calibre all the way and a must-see for serious film fans. I always liked him when he showed up, proving himself as viable in sound films as silent ones, but actually seeing all his works like this will give you a whole new respect for his amazing run of work that not enough people know about today.

The best part is seeing big name stars form all over the industry embracing him after some of his lows. Go out of your way to see this one. Also, we get some great supplements too.

Extras include ''Why Francis X. Bushman?'' - Video introduction by Lon Davis discussing the forty-year journey of bringing Francis X. Bushman's story and legacy to fruition.

  • The Thirteenth Man (1913) (fragment) - A one-reel drama starring Francis X. Bushman, derived from existing 35mm materials. Musical score compiled and arranged by Frederick Hodges.

  • Dawn and Twilight (1914) - A complete one-reel Essanay drama featuring Francis X. Bushman, restored from a rare 8mm print, derived from 35mm materials. Musical score provided by Frederick Hodges and Richard Chon.

  • Two Men and a Girl (Love Conquers All) (1911) - One of the earliest uncovered films of Francis X. Bushman's career, from 16mm materials provided by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

  • The Marriage Clause (1926) (fragment) - Produced by Carl Laemmle and directed by Lois Weber, this backstage drama starring Francis X. Bushman and Billie Dove is presented from a surviving 16mm abridgment from the Library of Congress collection.

  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) Trailer - Original promotional trailer for the film Francis X. Bushman would become best known.

  • Suspense: ''The City That Was'' (1957) - A CBS radio drama about a murder set in old Hollywood (a good copy in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono), narrated by Francis X. Bushman.

  • and an Image Gallery - Slideshow presentation featuring seventy-two rare images of Francis X. Bushman, covering his entire life.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Factor looks good, but has a little too much low-def analog video throughout, but that's the format that was used to record so much of the history the film shows, so there are no higher-def alternatives. At least it is edited well and the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix fares better, even when it has it monophonic and simple stereo moments from the archive footage.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Bushman also looks good and even more often, even when some of the classic film footage (especially silent films) and classic TV footage shows its age. Otherwise, it is a pleasant viewing including some stills and film in remarkable shape. The PCM 2.0 Stereo lossless mix is surprisingly warm, clean, clear, balanced and strong, also sounding good in some surround modes. Cheers to whomever did the remixing and mastering here.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Hunters consists of mostly new footage, so it is smooth viewing throughout, while the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is also mostly new audio, so it is fine save slight limits of location audio.

The 1.33 X 1 image on the Nuclear DVD looks good for the format, all shot on what looks like 16mm color film, but slight flaws can be seen and the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sound is a little lower in volume than I would have liked. Be careful of high volume playback and volume switching. Otherwise, Ustinov is easy enough to hear.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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