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Category:    Home > Reviews > Rock Music > Surrealism > Books > Politics > WWII > Sex Scandal > She Said (2022/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Voodoo Macbeth (2021/Lightyear Blu-ray)

Cinematic Journeys: Two Films by Juleen Compton (Stranded (1965) + Plastic Dome Of Norma Jean (1966)/Flicker Alley Blu-ray)/Last Bookshop In The World (2022/IndiePix DVD)/Onoda: 10,000 Nights in The Jungle (2022/Dark Star Blu-ray)/She Said (2022/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Voodoo Macbeth (2021/Lightyear Blu-ray)

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

Now for a variety of dramas, new and old, as awards season is here...

We start with a double feature.
Cinematic Journeys: Two Films by Juleen Compton (Stranded (1965) + Plastic Dome Of Norma Jean (1966) offer two remarkable independent productions before such a cinema fully formed in the U.S., one set in Greece, the other somewhere in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. The films both have actors who became name stars and have their moments.

Stranded has Raina (played by the director) who is unhappy with her life while away and tries to kill herself (the scene oddly has a few similarities with the pre-title sequence (music, certain camera shots) with the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service) by drowning, but she is saved, for now? She has a decent boyfriend (an up and coming Gary Collins, who added talk show host to his acting credits decades later) but is not interested in marriage or being bored by domestic life (more radical then than now) so off to Greece it is.

Norma Jean (played by Sharon Henesy) apparently has the power to see the future and when her and her boyfriend (Robert Gentry) buy the title object, when she lays atop it and starts to think. Suddenly, a Rock Band (!!!) shows up (Antonioni's Blow-Up and Preminger's Bunny Lake Is Missing, both the same year, landed up with name bands as their unexpected focus) and even helps them put the dome together. Then they agree to play there!

As amazing, the band includes Sam Waterston, Marco St. John and Skip Tennant, a major lead actor and two longtime character actors in their first feature films. They will be the main attraction, but when that is not working out as expected, they turn to Norma Jean to show off her clairvoyant talents to make the money they need to break even and/or make a big profit. Instead, things go sadly wrong.

Needless to say Compton's heroines seem to be in more trouble than expected, but she is more interested in dealing with worst case scenarios than having a vibrant, bold, groundbreaking woman who conquers all, an often unrealistic situation, even if such a character were male. The films can be rough and uneven, but they are also bold, at least a bit ahead of their time and it is shocking they have hardly been seen. That we have small hit films that are orphan films in need of saving before it is too late is shocking, but these have hardly been screened since their release and are long overdue for reissue.

Fortunately, they have survived and great efforts that were successful to restore and preserve both films have brought them back. They sound good and look really good, reminding us how good monochrome film of the time could look, though it was being slowly eclipsed by color film stocks. The acting is not bad, if not stunning, though the actors have their moments in both films and seeing familiar faces in early roles is always fun.

Flicker Alley has backed yet another pair of key winners and I definitely recommend that you see them at least once to see how good a director Miss Compton is, how she had interesting ideas and knew what to do with new talent. This especially extends to future filmmakers, as there is much to be learned here for them too.

Extras include:

  • Audio Commentary for The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean by film historian and archivist Maya Montanez Smukler and filmmaker Allison Anders

  • Interview: A 2020 interview with filmmaker Juleen Compton, conducted by Maya Montanez Smukler

  • Image Gallery: Slideshow presentation featuring behind-the-scenes images from the productions of Stranded and The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean

  • and a Booklet Insert featuring introductory comments on the films by director Juleen Compton and an article by Richard Brody covering Compton's career as a filmmaker and her films Stranded and The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean.

Rax Rinnekangas' The Last Bookshop In The World (2022) is a somewhat comical, then intellectual exercise that might remind one of Godard as four book fans from Europe go, not to save the last bookstore around (things are not THAT bad... yet?) but to establish the last one beyond the reach of those who would destroy such a place.

They talk about books, ones they love, ones that changed them and more, making this a writerly film as well as one with a somewhat basic, readerly narrative. With all the recent retro-censorship of books going on, including in the U.S. since 2016, the film is as timely as ever, even if it features some things we have seen before. Unfortunately, we apparently need to see them again.

The director makes an impassioned point about why he made the film, citing Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (now 60 years old as we post this) and Truffaut's underrated 1966 film of the book, even in the digital age, getting uncut, unaltered, manipulated versions of any book is a concern, especially the likes of anything from Bradbury, or Orwell or so many others too long to list. A solid effort all around.

Long-form and official trailers are the only extras.

Arthur Harari's Onoda: 10,000 Nights in The Jungle (2022) is a new film based on the true story of a man (the title character, played by Yuya Endo young, then Kanju Tsuda when he is older) who was in the island jungle of Lubang in the Philippines, as the Japanese Imperialists are working with the Axis Powers to win WWII. They lose, but he and his fellow soldiers are not aware of this and land up holding out for decades until they are discovered.

The film does a good job of portraying this, but I was not always convinced in parts and visually, the eras are not distinct enough visually, which hurts the presentation. However, many such stories of many wars (including the U.S. Civil War, where Confederate Soldiers did not believe they lost long after it was all over and I am not talking about those in deep denial top the point they are mentally ill) so this is an extreme example of what happened in so many past wars.

Thus, it works more than not and if you are interested, you'll want to take a good look at it.

Extras are solid and include:

  • Conversation between the director and composers THE MUSIC (31 min)

  • Conversation between the director, writer and editor THE SCRIPT (37 min)

  • Casting: The Long Night with Tsuda and Suzuki (22 min)

  • Casting: Silent Solo Tsuda Kanji (8 min)

  • and Casting: Young Endo - Haiku "Conspiracy Theory" (9 min)

Maria Schrader's She Said (2022) is easily one of the year's best films, telling how two women (a terrific pairing of Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, two extremely underrated actresses, as real life New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, respectively) finding out that a major Hollywood film producer with huge critical and commercial success is a serial rapist and sexual harasser. It turns out to be the Harvey Weinstein case.

At first, it seems like it might be a small number of women and maybe not such a big name, but the information keeps taking twists and turns for them, they do not know what to think at first, nor do their editors at the paper (including Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher in great turns here) and as they get closer, they start to get threats, but they continue.

Ronan Farrow is also following some of the same story, while they are sworn to secrecy by people they are trying to help and protect at the same time, then it all gets darker before they get a chance to finally get their story out there. The screenplay suggests there are ways this all may have never been revealed and the editing, style and directing rightly suggest Pakula's All The President's Men (1976) and that this is a flipside to that horrific scandal.

Creepy is the person who manages to recreate Weinstein's voice and the stand-in that looks like him (when he was still physically well) in uncanny reenactments of the past. Though I knew generally what had happened, what was set in place to ruin the lives of the many female victims here and how much covering up and systematic sexism, et al, is more outrageous than you'd think and it is of serious, top concern to all mature adults.

This film is so strong, I am surprised it is not more of a front-runner during this wards season, that more critics did not get behind it and that it is not being talked about much more than it is. I want to strongly add that this is NOT a film with 'old news' you know everything about, but has much more to show and say than even I was expecting. I was impressed in a year that has had plenty of disappointments, duds and some of the worst releases I have ever encountered. She Said is a remarkable film and one everyone should put on their must-see list. Very impressive!

Extras include...

  • BREAKING THE STORY: An exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette with journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor that recounts what it took for them to break this incredible true story.


Last but not least, Voodoo Macbeth (2021, with ten directors!) recreating how Orson Welles (Jewell Wilson Bridges), John Houseman (Daniel Kuhlman) and actress Rose McClendon (Inger Tudor) team up to create an unlikely hit version of a Shakespeare classic in the Great Depression year of 1936, set in Haiti and when the U.S. Government had set up a program for the Arts that was well-funded and a success, despite its later repeal by Right-Wing forces not long after.

While we have had a few films about Welles behind-the-scenes, not counting documentaries, every such story is remarkable and they cannot be told enough, especially since in the face of all the bad things that happen, keep happening and even happen when grown adults should be smarter and know better, what he and his collaborators pulled off remains as remarkable as ever.

After COVID, it is nice to see live theater making a comeback, but this reminds us how vital and priceless the stage and the arts are to a free society and how ahead of his time Welles and Company were. The actors are very good here and the way the story is told is mostly very believable, with only a few minor false notes or slightly off moments. Otherwise, this one is worth a good look.

Extras include a Feature-Length Audio Commentary with actors Jewell Wilson Bridges and Inger Tudor, producers Miles Alva and Jason Phillips, writer Erica Sutherlin, and director Zoe Salnave

and actual 1936 (rough) footage of the original play, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers on the two Compton films might show the age of the materials used in slight ways in small spots, but they are scanned from the original 35mm camera negatives and other original materials to present them as clearly, with the best detail and gray scale you'll see on Blu-ray. They also look as good as any release here and the optical monophonic sound has been well restored in PCM 2.0 Mono, with few issues, though Stranded can sound a little off in parts.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Onoda can be on the soft side and not just because of any style choices, though color is good. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is on the quiet side with a soundfield that is not as rich as I would have liked it to be, but it is fine otherwise.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on She Said is the other really good-looking disc here, a nice shoot with a good look throughout, though I wished it were in 4K. It includes a DVD, here in anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image is passable and its lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also passable and no match for the lossless DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on the Blu-ray. The film is well-recorded and mixed, though the soundfield goes quiet at times.

The 1080p 2 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Voodoo Macbeth and its DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix are good, but a little soft and underwhelming. I hope they did not hold back because they were doing a period piece.

Lastly, the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Bookshop looks decent for a new digital production with its often outdoor shots, but the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo can be a bit weak at times, so be careful of high volume playback and volume switching.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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