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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Comedy > Slice Of Life > Autobiography > War > Politics > Korea > Fashion > Wealth > Murder > Melodram > Miller's Crossing (1990/20th/Criterion Blu-ray)

Belfast (*)/Dogs Of War (1980/United Artists/MGM**)/Escape From Mogadishu (2021/Well Go Blu-ray)/House Of Gucci (MGM/**both 2021/Universal Blu-rays)/Liar's Moon (1981/*both MVD Blu-rays)/Miller's Crossing (1990/20th/Criterion Blu-ray)

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

Now for more dramas for awards season, et al....

Kenneth Branagh's Belfast (2021) is an autobiographical look at his childhood, albeit a bit stylized at times, growing up ion the title locale with religious and socio-economic prejudices, plus other troubles and crime. Jude Hill is his alter ego in the later 1960s, exposed to things no child should have to be exposed to, his parents have a sometimes rough relationship. That he has to travel far to work does not help. Mostly in black and white, the film can capture the era and its feel well enough.

On the other hand, there is a bit of predictability (in part because of how things go bad under such circumstances) and the better flow of the screenplay is eventually overtaken by too many pop culture moments and way too much Van Morrison music. He also wrote a new song for this film that fits and its too bad they did not stop there.

Helping make the film better is the great cast that includes Jamie Dornan, Judy Dench, Ciaran Hinds, Caitriona Balfe and Colin Morgan with other actors I hope we see more of. Branagh is on a roll with this film and his two well done 70mm Agatha Christie films, so I hope that continues to hold. Belfast is definitely worth a look, no matter its few flaws and limits.

Extras include Digital Code, while the disc (per the press release) adds an Alternate Ending featuring Kenneth Branagh adding Commentary with Writer/Director Kenneth Branagh, Deleted Scenes adding Commentary with Writer/Director Kenneth Branagh, A City of Stories: The Making of BELFAST: Go behind the scenes of BELFAST with cast and crew to learn more about the characters, filming location and Kenneth's childhood in Ireland, Everyone's Inner Child: Kenneth Branagh, Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciaran Hinds, and Judi Dench reminisce about their childhoods and a Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Kenneth Branagh.

A few years ago, John Irvin's The Dogs Of War (1980) was issued in a limited edition Blu-ray now out of print by Twilight Time, which you can read more about here:


Now it is back in a new general Blu-ray release. Christopher Walken stars as a mercenary for hire Jamie Shannon, to go into West African to recon the a corrupt dictatorship and to replace it with a more 'friendlier' leadership with for British trade for natural resources. Upon arrival Jamie is brutally treated and beaten, and now Jamie wants payback, he hand picks and organizes his own private army to help 'liberate' the country.

Jamie is a soldier of fortune for hire, no matter the mission he always comes back. He gets hired by the British organization to see if a puppet government can be installed in West Africa. However, what he discovers is a corrupt leadership, a dictator using the military to rule the people. While he doesn't invade the countries around him, the dictator makes the citizens and country suffer while playing god with his soldiers. After being abused and beaten, Jamie is deported in disgrace, he finds his old war buddies and begins a plan to assault the dictator's military compound. With unlimited funds he easily purchases guns, weapons and the man power needed to have his own private army. But in the end Jamie must decide what is he really doing? Trading one dictatorship for another, and for what cause ...money? How was he any different?

This was an older movie and a blast from the past, you get to see Christopher Walken as a young man. Before Rambo, before Chuck Norris, there was Christopher Walken, at least this one time. You also get to see what actions movies were like before special effects and all the CGI, back when things were old school and things actually exploded on the movie set. Extras include international version of the movie, interviews with cast, co-stars, co-writer and assistant director, production and costume designer and trailers.

The picture and sounds transfers are the same as the older Blu-ray and though I agree with the audio criticism and rating of the older review, I think the film looks much rougher, older and not as easy to watch. Maybe you'll find it gritty and more realistic, but I was not as impressed.

Ryoo Seung-Wan's Escape From Mogadishu (2021) is not unlike Dogs Of War where it is a drama, but becomes too much like an action film at times and that does not help it work. Instead, the sad real-life historical incident becomes a background for a stuck-in-a film despite the makers taking the material seriously, then it becomes more of an action film than it should. We have had several such 'sudden crisis' dramas in recent years and others have either gone this route or worked.

Still, it is ambitious and at least a little different than the usual Hollywood projects to some extent, being South Korean filmmaking is coming from somewhat of a different direction. Running just over two hours, I had hoped this would change course and pick up, but that never happens. For the most curious only.

Extras include Production clips, a Making Of featurette and trailers.

Ridley Scott's House Of Gucci (2021) is one of the year's best films and judging from its lack of awards nominations too often and even a strange Razzie nomination, maybe too dangerous for what's left of the critical establishment at large. Based on the true story of the inner-conflict and troubles of the famous family that led to all kinds of wild toxic behavior, dysfunctionality and eventual murder, et al, the amazing Lady Gaga plays the daughter of a shady 'transportation' company head who meets a son of one of the Guccis (Adam Driver) and slowly goes after him.

They eventually fall in love despite suspicions of his family and especially his father (Jeremy Irons) who is not well these days, but the actual clothing empire is being run from New York City, et al, but another family head (the incomparable Al Pacino) who has to deal with his eccentric, loner son (Jared Leto in one of the years' most underrated and misunderstood performances) and as the business gets into trouble, Patrizia (Gaga, who really does give a tour de force performance here) wants her husband to get more involved, get more control and take advantage of his new role at running the company.

However, he has some issued himself and can he handle it? Can she really help or will she push him over the edge? Who else is involved or will want to be?

I like the inside look at the empire, their wealthy lives and the period accuracy of the film. Save one George Michael song, the choice of hit records is great and the combination of locations, great clothes, sets, great writing and great directing make this Scott's best film since All The Money In The World. The editing, look and pacing are all a plus too.

Now for a few other items. Many have complained about what they call fake accents, but they are not that bad and it is not as if the cast was going to speak all of their lines in actual Italian, so that over-general critique has its limits. As for bashing Leto, he is actually 100% on the money portraying the kind of Italian guys I have run into over the decades and it is a bold, thankless role he dared to take on. One of our best actors, remember the Razzies also gave a Worst Director nod to Stanley Kubrick for The Shining (1980) showing they are not always as smart and all knowing as one might think. Leto transforms into this sad person without one false note and will be vindicated down the line, reminding me of people bashing Kevin Costner's portrayal of Robin Hood for the same reason and not knowing what they were talking about either.

The bottom line is that this is a great film, sometimes a howler for all the right reasons and that Ridley Scott can still be as wild and cutting edge as any filmmaker alive now is an extraordinary testament to his powers as a pure filmmaker. When he gets material this great, he knows exactly what to do with it. If you have not seen this film, do so immediately!

Extras include Digital Code, while the disc (per the press release) adds The Rise of the House of Gucci: Go behind the scenes to discover how Ridley Scott's vision of this astonishing story fell into place, The Lady of the House: An up-close look at Lady Gaga's performance as Patrizia Reggiani and how her powerhouse charisma and unwavering dedication breathe life into this complex character and Styling House of Gucci: A deep dive into the visual delights of the film, from aesthetics to attitude. In this case, I wished there were even more!

David Fisher's Liar's Moon (1981) was originally released by Crown International Pictures, usually known for their horror and teen sex exploitation B-movies, but this drama is a little different from their usual fare and was also part of a cycle of early films that made Matt Dillon a teen cinema icon in stories that were usually raw and took risks. This one is the most controversial of all.

He plays a young man from a family limited means when he falls for a young gal (Cindy Fisher) who comes from a local family with more money. At first, it may not work out, but they start to like each other, yet their parents are not going for it. His mother and her father are especially against it, but we start to discover something even more secret is going on. You might figure some of it out from the opening flashback sequence, but I will end there.

For its limited budget, it recaptures it older period time well and the cast is solid, including supporting turns by Hoyt Axton, Yvonne DeCarlo, Broderick Crawford, Christopher Connelly, Maggie Blye and Susan Tyrell. This is not for children despite its pre-PG-13 PG rating. It is a film that needed to be on Blu-ray and anyone interested should definitely give it a look.

Extras include a mini-poster of the film and reversible cover, while the disc adds an Original Theatrical Trailer in HD, Alternate Ending and two new interview featurettes (multi-camera from on-line recordings) Making Of and Music Of programs.

The Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing (1990) is one of my favorite films, whether by the Coens or not, arriving in the last great pre-Sopranos year of Gangster genre films, yet like Scorsese's GoodFellas, exceeding the genre in all kinds of ways. You can read more about the film as reviewed on DVD a good while ago in the early years of this site at this link:


The film works on so many levels that it must have been too much for those who raved about their breakthrough hit Raising Arizona (1987) then suddenly did not show up for this or the equally amazing Barton Fink (1991, both reviewed elsewhere on this site) and both remain an early peak for two of the most prolific filmmakers of the last 40+ years. On top of being a great classic gangster tale, it is also a 1920s period piece, an festival if Irishness as good as any in recent memory, has one of the most witty, dialogue-intense screenplays of all time, brilliant timing, cinematography, acting and juggles this all with grace rarely seen in cinema history.

That it feels like an early sound film is also remarkable and when all was said and done, I knew then that an important force in filmmaking had arrived in full force and I have rarely been disappointed since. I'm thrilled to see the film getting such respect here and definitely think this is one of the best back catalog releases of the year already. Outside of a mint-condition film print, this is now the best way to see the film and it is highly recommended.

Extras include a high quality paper pullout with tech info and an essay by film critic Glenn Kenny, while the disc adds a new conversation between author Megan Abbott and the Coens about film noir and hard-boiled crime fiction, new interviews with Sonnenfeld, composer Carter Burwell, music editor Todd Kasow, and production designer Dennis Gassner and new and archival interviews with actors Gabriel Byrne, Marcia Gay Harden, Jon Polito, and John Turturro. Nice to finally have some serious coverage of such a great film.

Now for playback performance on the rest of the films besides Dogs. The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Belfast is mostly in black and white with some color moments and it is not bad, though some obvious CGI visuals are also here and they take away from the authentic look of the film otherwise.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Escape is an all-HD shoot and has some good shots, but again, phony CGI is constantly distracting. Composition is also not always great, but passable.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Gucci is also an all-HD shoot, but it is the best-looking release here with great composition, color and the great costumes, locales and production design are always further enhanced throughout as a result. The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the included DVD is soft and barely passable at best.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Moon is a solid 35mm period piece shoot, but the transfer cannot totally hide the age of the film. Color is still on the consistent side.

Then we have Miller's Crossing, here in 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition from a new 2K scan form the original 35mm camera negative by then Director of Photography Barry Sonnenfeld, making it look as good as it ever has on home video, yet it is not a 4K scan and there is some softness here in unexpected ways. At its best, it looks great, but it should be added that it is also one of those rare films like Kubrick's The Shining or Silence Of The Lambs that was hot in 'soft matte' knowing it would be shown in a 1.85 X 1 frame, but using the entire 1.33 X 1 frame anyhow.

These are films that look great widescreen, but I also very much like seeing them in the old block style square, but that frame is not available in any Blu-ray or 4K edition of those films so far. Still, you can see the details and hard work that went into Crossing and it is very impressive.

As for sound, Belfast and Gucci are here in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mixes, so we have to hope their 12-track soundmasters will pop up on any 4K versions that eventually get issued. These mixdowns are just fine, though the lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the Gucci DVD is very trying at times. Mogadishu and Crossing are here in DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes, with the former a bit weak and the latter an upgrade from its original Dolby analog SR (Spectral Recording, their most advanced analog noise reduction system) theatrical release, this is the best the film will likely ever sound, though some purists might still have wanted the 2.0 PCM Stereo (or a DTS equivalent) included here like the old 12-inch analog video LaserDisc. Carter Burwell's great score benefits nicely in the new 5.1 mix, too.

The PCM 2.0 Stereo on Moon is not bad, but shows the age and low budget of the film, yet I doubt this will ever sound better than it does here either.

- Nicholas Sheffo and Ricky Chiang (War)


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