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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Crime > Gangster > Murder > Religion > Domestic Terrorism > Literature > Nature > Large Frame Form > At Close Range (1986/Orion)/The Chocolate War (1988/both MGM/MVD Blu-ray)/Dersu Uzala (1975*)/Harem (1985*)/Lolita (1997 remake/Pathe*)/Storm Center (1956/Sony/Columbia/*all Imprint/Via Vision Import

At Close Range (1986/Orion)/The Chocolate War (1988/both MGM/MVD Blu-ray)/Dersu Uzala (1975*)/Harem (1985*)/Lolita (1997 remake/Pathe*)/Storm Center (1956/Sony/Columbia/*all Imprint/Via Vision Import Blu-ray)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The Dersu Uzala, Harem, Lolita and Storm Center Import Blu-rays now only available from our friends at ViaVision Entertainment in Australia, can play on all 4K & Blu-ray players and can be ordered from the links below.

Here is a solid group of dramas you should know about....

We start with the crime drama based on a true story, James Foley's At Close Range (1986,) now back on Blu-ray after a Twilight Time Limited Edition version went out of print a few years ago. This is the link to our coverage of that film with slight updates...


Unlike many titles licensed by the company, this one actually retains its Isolated Music Score track, but of course, loses its booklet with illustrations and essay, in this case by the amazing Julie Kirgo. The lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo for the film and the music score are replicated here in PCM 2.0 Stereo and its just fine, the same as the sound on the last disc along with the same exact 1080p transfer. The only poor thing is that the sound can we warped and/or distorted in parts, including for Madonna's hit end theme ''Live To Tell''.

Finally, it has the rest of the same extras, but MVD have added a mini-poster where the booklet was and a reversible cover. If you missed the film before, here's a new chance to get it.

Keith Gordon's The Chocolate War (1988) has previously been issued on MGM DVD with the same full length Keith Gordon audio commentary, vintage Gordon interview and Original Theatrical Trailer, but MVD adds a mini-poster. Based on the highly censored book by Robert Cormier (one of several, apparently, but this one the most of all) about a young Jerry (Iian Michael-Smith of the ever-goofy Weird Science) starts going to a Catholic school and meeting all who are there. When a charity sale of boxed chocolates to support the school is launched, he is not certain he wants to participate. This sets of a backlash from Brother Leon (John Glover, often playing such roles, including in the Bill Murray Scrooged) and most of the students.

The resulting bullying, physical assaults, psychological terrorism and more that ensue was shocking at the time from the book and this movie, which also apparently was targeted and censored just a few years before the many successful lawsuits against the Church and its many school for high organized child molestation and worse were finally discovered in massive amounts in court cases still going on as you read this. Now we know how much of the truth both were telling about the Church and other such unquestioned institutions. So how does the film hold up in the face of all that revealed?

Extremely well, especially because there are always people still being targeted, attacked and more with no help or assistance from anyone, so it tells the story of one individual against corruption that is clearly illegal, but about how those in power who think they can get away with it go do such things, even sometimes after they are exposed. The screenplay, even with some changes from the book, is very strong and only focuses on those already there destroying Jerry (a case in Johnstown was so bad, the actual police department was helping the local church target molestation victims and the federal government had to use the federal RICO Act used for organized crime to charge the guilty there, but this film is not that story) and asks so many questions as relevant now as it ever was.

The acting is impressive, the mood palpable, the look dense and the truths the film speaks makes it at least a minor classic overdue for rediscovery. This is likely Gordon's best film and the supporting cast is a plus, including Adam Baldwin (My Bodyguard, Full Metal Jacket), Wallace Langham (Ford Vs. Ferrari), Doug Hutchinson (The X-Files, The Green Mile), Jerry Wright (St. Elmo's Fire) and Bud Cort (Harold and Maude). Coming at the very end of a great cycle of films about being a teenager (My Bodyguard, Little Darlings, most early Matt Dillon films, Coppola's adaptations of teen fiction and some B-movies of the 1970s included) deserves to be seen and know as well as any of them, making this a must-see for any serious film fan.

Gordon is a solid actor who became a director (see De Palma's Dressed To Kill, now out in 4K to go with its Criterion version) and has been very successful that way since, plus is also a successful producer on shows like The Walking Dead. With all that said, this is some of his very best work.

Finally, the music is solid and licensed songs by the likes of Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Joan Armatrading, and Yaz (aka Yazoo) with the Bush song being used recently on the brilliant TV series Stranger Things in a way that happens to eerily connect with this film in its own way, but we don't do spoilers here, so we'll leave it at that. The film was remade in Canada in 2012 as The Assignment.

Akira Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala (1975) is one of the director's few full color films and the only one in a large-frame format, 65mm color negative, albeit the infamous Svema USSR/Soviet color negative film known for its flaws (as was the case on Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace (1967) now on Criterion Blu-ray, reviewed elsewhere on this site) but still can deliver solid detail and definition while usually having good color. The result was a critical and commercial comeback for one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, who had not had a hit for a few years, saw several projects fall through and was suffering personal pain (his brother self-destructed and he considered doing the same,) but here was this project he had been working on for years and it happened and from Mosfilm of all studios.

Oddly, no Japanese studio or production company wanted to make it despite his huge international status, his biggest fans in the industry had yet to get into a position where they could produce films with him (that soon changed, led by Francis Ford Coppola) and

Maksim Munzuk is the title character, a local Mongolian hunter in Siberia who makes friends with a Russian Solider named Arsenev (Yuriy Solomin) who is there as part of a Russian Army expedition to the area. At first, Arsensev and company thinks the man is amusing and gets him to be their guide in the area, but when things start to get rough, they realize they have severely underestimated him and it becomes a mutual learning experience none of them will ever forget.

I like the look of the film, the feel of the film that is like Kurosawa's work, yet has a different feel because he is using the largest canvas of his career and there are plenty of profound, even existential moments and the film has more than a few moments of no dialogue as the visuals and situations more than speak for themselves. That this has not always been available to see is tragic and when originally issued by U.S. distributor New World Pictures, it was only issued in 35mm reduction prints with monophonic sound. Flaws notwithstanding (they were on all those prints too,) this is as good a presentation as any in the states and likely more than a few other countries. It is the kind of film to watch and just sit back and let it happen to you, The result is very rewarding and ironic, when Russian Soldiers were not considered an unfortunate force in the world since the Ukraine Invasion. It is also a must-see for serious film fans, so be prepared to be impressed!

The extras are many and include (per the press release) NEW New Audio Commentary by film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, aided by biologist Jonathan C. Slaght, Russian/USSR historian Sergey Glebov, and Roger Corman-New World Pictures attorney Barbara Boyle

  • NEW Mapping Kurosawa: A History of Dersu Uzala with film writer and historian Michael Brooke

  • NEW Sound of the Taiga: video essay by music historian David Schecter on the score

  • Actor Yuri Solomin on writer Vladimir Arseniev

  • Actor Yuri Solomin on director Akira Kurosawa

  • Actor Yuri Solomin discusses the film

  • Making the Film: short documentary

  • Archive footage of the real Vladimir Arseniev

  • and Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork

Arthur Joffe's Harem (1985) is a mixed film where Nastassja Kinski plays a woman from the business world of Wall street who lands up in the title arrangement under the auspices of an Arabian Prince (Ben Kingsley) when she gets kidnapped. That sounded a bit preposterous to some when the film came out, especially since Miss Kinski was taking many such roles that took risks and had many questioning if she was being exploited or letting herself be so, but that was always an oversimplification in the long run.

Still, the film has other issues like an uneven script, some borderline stereotypes that been twisted and turned by world events in the 37+ years since the films release, some dullness and more than a little predictability along with lack of suspense. There are only so many outcomes here and to some extent, it plays like a cheap 'stuck in a' movie where the main character(s) are trapped in a place they cannot escape from or have to be at for a while. The actors try to make this work, but I was never convinced then or now.

No doubt Kinski looks great as usual, but it was almost like she was running out of such films to do and too this to see what would happen. It might be trying to make a statement about being stuck in rapid fire and over-technologized Western society (and maybe capitalism?) but to go from one 'trap' to another is no breakthrough. This might also have an issue or two that are controversial, problematic and not convincing, but that would lead to spoilers, so I'll skip those and let you see it if you are curious enough. At least it is now available in a quality copy.

Extras are better than expected and include (per the press release) a NEW Audio commentary by author Scott Harrison

  • NEW Lost Girl: The 70s and 80s Cinema of Nastassja Kinski - video essay by author/critic Kat Ellinger

  • German Teaser Trailer

  • and Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork

Adrien Lyne's Lolita (1997 remake) is a big budget remake of the ever-censored Vladimir Nabokov book and Stanley Kubrick film about an older man named Humbert Humbert (now played by Jeremy Irons) who goes looking for an apartment to rent and lands up being instantly sexually attracted to the landlady's underaged daughter (Dominique Swain) of the title. Having Irons playing it more serious and straight forward than James Mason and Melanie Griffith taking over the naive mother role held by Shelley Winters is Lyne essentially saying Kubrick was either too comical or possibly expressionistic.

The alternative is that it is quieter and the female casting is two actresses who would be considered 'sexier' (though Winters looked that good earlier in the long career) playing into 'looksism' stereotypes. It also runs what Kubrick cleverly avoided; making any of Hubert's pedophilic desires acceptable and/or palatable. Swain is or seems a few years older than sue Lyon in the original film, yet I did not think she worked in the role as well. Lyne and the other makers (including big budget movie producer Mario Kassar; this film somehow had a $40 Million budget in 1997 money, so adjust that if you wish) can say that the book was not as shocking over three decades since Kubrick's hit version, so maybe they thought this approach would work.

The result is a film that drags on for me too often during its long 138 minutes and wears out its welcome, even if I had never seen the Kubrick version. The result was a film that lost money (again, where did they spend that budget?) and may have some fans (the reasons have been somewhat reasonable, but won't change my mind) and likely will not be the last adaption of the book. It is just that Lyne finally was doing Kubrick his way explicitly as he had been taking from him in smaller ways in all his previous films, much like Spielberg directly dealing with the kinds of characters he was only hinting at or intertextually referencing before he made Hook. With more work or a different approach, this could have even been a better film and the Kubrick film is not my favorite of his films or one of his best, but it deals more honestly with the material, which is the same as saying maybe Lyne was not being as honest with himself as he could have been here.

Now you can see it for yourself. Frank Langella also stars and is a plus for the film that needed more.

Extras are many and include (per the press release) a NEW Feature-Length Audio Commentary by film critic Josh Nelson

  • Audio commentary by director Adrian Lyne

  • NEW An Exhausting Film: interview with cinematographer Howard Atherton

  • NEW The Seduction of Humbert Humbert: Adrian Lyne's American Beauty Lolita - video essay by author/critic Kat Ellinger

  • Casting Session with actor Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain

  • On the Set vintage featurette

  • and Limited Edition slipcase on the first 1500 copies with unique artwork

Last but not least, Daniel Taradash's Storm Center (1956) is the successful writers' only directorial effort, but it s a really good one with no less than Bette Davis as a longtime, hometown librarian who is a major asset to the community and all around her, including the children who have intellectual curiosity. That in itself makes the film a tribute to all the great unsung heroes of education in the analog era and beyond that can be proud to be librarians, plus all of us who believe you should read books instead of burning them.

She also wants to get a children's branch built next to the building she works in to serve more children, but the people running the town have been apathetic to the idea for way too long. That is until they want something and it is not good. They want a book called 'The Communist Dream' removed from the shelves since some strange new political groups are targeting it to be removed. Should she agree? She actually bought the book for the library despite not being a communist or agreeing with it so people could see what they are about and realize it is a system that will not really work.

Even if she did think it would work, why censor this book? At first, she thinks nothing of it, but then reconsiders, re-shelves it and the nightmare for her and the community begins as she gets fired and the ripple effect is something else. Though the film shows its age in being a little melodramatic and having an emphasis on children in the script comes from a time when child acting was a mixed bag affects the film a bit. However, Taradash, who did writing on the screenplays for hit classics like Golden Boy, Knock On Any Door, From Here To Eternity, Knock On Any Door and Picnic among others knew what he wanted to say and express and the ideas he strives to express most are successfully revealed in a film that turns out to be a little more ahead of its time than many might have considered at the time. It is the kind of thing that intelligent people say could not happen today until it does happen and you realize how immature even grown adults can be and unfortunately, always were and will be.

Sadly, it was not a big hit in its time and Davis thought it was a failure, but time has been kinder to the film than anyone could have expected at the time and it is more relevant than ever and more than the makers could have ever imagined at the time. The time is now for its rediscovery.

There are sadly no extras.

Now for the playback performance of the new Blu-rays, as At Close Range is the same transfer we already covered a few years ago and it is an HD master that holds up and most of these titles look really good here. Because it was shot on 65mm color negative in the Sovscope 70 format, the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Dersu Uzala should the the runaway visual champ and it has enough great shots to just surpass the rest fo the releases here, but this is likely a reduction 35mm print and it has the many flaws USSR/Soviet Svema-brand color film had at the time. That company later folded sadly, but I am happy to report they eventually mastered color film and it was really impressive in the end. Too bad it was not as good when this film was made and then the company was gone!

Kurosawa and his three Directors of Photography create a dense visual experience that is hard to stop watching. Part of the image issue is color bleeding into other color or flaws in the film stock you would not get with Kodak, Agfa or Fuji, with some of the flaws permanently there. Still, if they could get more money and a new round of serious restoration, at least some of the errors could be corrected. Otherwise, it has more flaws than War and Peace (1967,) but even that cannot get much in the way of Kurosawa's vision and it is long overdue for this one to be discovered.

The film was originally issued in 6-track magnetic stereo in the original 70mm print run and that means most of the tracks were behind the screen, so you get traveling dialogue and sound effects with the Russian DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix. That plays well here, as does the fine music score by Isaak Shvarts (aka Issac Schwarts) only enhances the complements both the visuals and the narrative.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Chocolate War rarely shows the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film including the decent-for-the-time MGM DVD. I like how this film uses darkness in subtle ways and the DVD could not delver that. Add the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix or even the PCM 2.0 Mono mix and its mood intents are far more complete, brilliant New Wave music and all.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Harem was shot in real anamorphic 35mm Panavision and is from a recent 2K scan, but it can look a little older than the rest fo the releases here and the 35mm materials have some slight flaws at times. Otherwise, it looks good and the way I have always seen it in stills and other released images. The PCM 2.0 Stereo is also fine for its age and was issued in Dolby's older A-type analog noise reduction system with monophonic surrounds, so this soundtrack has Pro Logic surrounds and if you have a home theater system, you can try several modes until you get the sound you like the most. Just know fidelity is a little dated.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Lolita does not show much age to it and there are more than a few stylized scenes, with soft focus, but the film could afford great visuals and Lyne was always enamored with them. The sound also holds up well as presented here in both DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and PCM 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes. Both are good, but I liked the 5.1 a bit more.

Finally, the 1080p 1.78 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Storm Center looks very good for being the oldest film here with a 2K scan, offering thick-enough Video Black and a PCM 2.0 Mono mix that is the oldest sound here and sounds like it, but this is a dialogue-based production and is just fine as a result.

You can order any of the four Imprint Blu-ray titles at these links:

Dersu Uzala




Lolita (1997)


Storm Center


- Nicholas Sheffo


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