May 22, 2015

Blu-ray Review: "Bunny Lake is Missing" from Twilight Time

Blu-ray specifications
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080p high definition
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 widescreenAudio: DTS-HDMA 1.0 (mono)
Feature Running Time: 107 minutes
Blu-ray street date: 11/11/2014
srp: $29.95
Limited Edition of 3000 copies, still available as of 5/22/15 exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment
Source: Reviewer purchased copy

"Bunny Lake is Missing", 1965, produced and directed by Otto Preminger, written by John Mortimer and Penelope Mortimer, based on the novel by Evelyn Piper, theatrically released by Columbia Pictures, black & white, 2.35:1 Panavision widescreen, 107 min., starring: Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley, Keir Dullea, Noel Coward, Martita Hunt, Finlay Currie, The Zombies

Bunny Lake is Missing Blu-ray
Studio package synopsis: Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) offers us director Otto Preminger’s dark view of a London less swinging than it is sinister; the script by John and Penelope Mortimer presents a dodgy kind of thriller, in which the central damsel in distress (Carol Lynley)—a mother who claims that her child has been snatched from school—may be mad, joining the ranks of eccentrics who surround her. Also starring Keir Dullea and Laurence Olivier as a steady-on police inspector, giving one of the more sneakily larcenous performances of his illustrious career.

Producer/director Otto Preminger was just coming off of several big productions - Exodus, The Cardinal, In Harm's Way - when he went to England to shoot Bunny Lake is Missing. In many ways it's a reversion to his earlier days when he was making stylish film noir thrillers such as Laura and The Fallen Angel. The central mystery in Bunny Lake (which, for obvious reasons, can't really be discussed here) is fascinating and just a little creepy. In fact the whole movie is creepy starting with the detached performance of Keir Dullea to the behavior of the worst neighbor of all time: Noel Coward's Wilson - a man with big touchy hands and threatening words. But probably the best example is a scene towards the climax set in a Doll Hospital (apparently a real place in London) where a kindly old man (Finlay Currie, from Ben-Hur and many other pictures) presides over a crowded shop full of disembodied and amputated dolls under repair. Skin-crawling stuff from Preminger and his writers.

May 20, 2015

"Houston, we've got a problem"

Video Streaming Review: Warner Archive Instant

WAI screen
Warner Archive Instant website home page
Review note: I have been a paying subscriber to this service since 2013

In this post I'll be taking a critical look at the Warner Archive Instant Streaming Video-on-Demand service . For those of you who like to flip to the end of the book first I'll save you the trouble: this is the essential streaming service for classic film fans.

OK, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. Perhaps I should take the time to explain just what it's all about.

WHAT IS IT? A monthly subscription video streaming service - similar to Netflix, but featuring only titles from the Warner Archive library. The biggest difference between Warner Archive Instant (I'll refer to it as WAI from here on) and other streaming services is that it focuses exclusively on classic titles from the 1920s through the 1980s that are part of the Warner library. You won't find "Harry Potter" here but you will find "Home from the Hill," "Dark of the Sun," "Night Nurse," "The Unholy Three," "The Bad and the Beautiful" and many more.

Roku box
Roku Streaming Box
HOW DO I GET IT? WAI costs $9.99 a month (even less if you sign up for 6 or 12 months) and has over 500 movie and TV titles available for streaming at any one time. You need a Roku streaming box (which start at around $50) to connect to your high-speed internet service and your HDTV. You can also watch via the WAI app for an Apple iPad (and if you also have an Apple TV, you can then use Apple's AirPlay to send it to your HDTV). Viewing on your computer is also available, though that is in standard definition only.

WHY DO I NEED IT? Like to watch classic movies from the Warner stable of studios (Warner, MGM, RKO, Allied Artists, and many more)? Like to watch High Definition films that aren't available on Blu-ray? Want a choice of viewing over 500 different titles at any one time? Then you want Warner Archive Instant.

Now it's time for some further details, so please continue reading after the jump.

May 15, 2015

Blu-ray review: X - The Man with the X-ray Eyes

Blu-ray specifications
Distributed By: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Video Resolution: 1080p high definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 widescreen (theatrical 1.85)
Audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0 (mono)
Feature Running Time: 79 minutes
Blu-ray street date: 05/12/2015
srp: $29.95
Source: Reviewer purchased copy

("X" - The Man with the X-ray Eyes, 1963, directed by Roger Corman, written by Robert Dillon and Ray Russell, based on a story by Ray Russell, produced by Samuel Z. Arkoff & James H. Nicholson, theatrically released by American International Pictures)

X Blu-ray
Studio package synopsis: Dare To Look Into The Eyes Of Madness! Fantastic tale of heart-pounding suspense, this harrowing and terrifying sci-fi shocker will fascinate horror film fans. Starring Ray Milland, it charts the startling transformation of a doctor so blinded by ambition that he dares to glimpse eternity! When the brilliant Dr. Xavier (Milland) concocts a serum to improve human sight, he stumbles upon a formula for x-ray vision. Inspired by its awesome medical potential, but shunned by his short-sighted colleagues, the doctor tests the potion on himself, only to discover that his ability to see through walls, clothing and flesh is slowly eclipsed by and insatiable desire to look still further - even if it means seeing more than any mortal can bear!

Well, there's certainly a lot of exclamations in that description.

Something strange happened on the way to the making of this film. The usually exploitative Roger Corman (director of films as diverse as "Attack of the Crab Monsters" and "Swamp Women") became far more ambitious around 1960 when he started working with more literate scripts (by such luminaries as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont) for his series of films adapted from the works of Edgar Allan Poe, most starring Vincent Price. In the middle of all this Price and Poe, Corman found himself directing what would turn out to be a superior science fiction film, one that's nearly profound in its implications. While Corman's abilities as a filmmaker are generally strong he wasn't always known as a director with intellectual intentions but in the case of "X" he had a strong science fiction concept to visualize. 

Running a tight 79 minutes, "X" benefits from a fully committed performance by Ray Milland (Academy Award winner for "The Lost Weekend" in 1945) as the doomed Dr. James Xavier. Other than the party scene where Xavier realizes he can see through everyone's clothing, the picture is generally free from comedy. It even achieves a certain melancholy feel in the final third, in particular the sequences set in the seedy carnival pier and when Xavier sets himself up in the slums to become a "healer" to the poor. While the special visual effects that are used to convey Xavier's new "sight" are not exactly state of the art, they are perfectly serviceable for the film and also contain few elements that certainly could have been influenced by the psychedelic drugs of the day. Corman regular Les Baxter is on-hand to contribute a strong music score. Note: the official on-screen title is "X" - the subtitle was only on the advertising and marketing.

Minted from a newly created (in 2014) HD transfer from MGM, Kino's Blu-ray of "X" is terrific. The picture quality (reproducing the original widescreen 1.85  theatrical ratio correctly) is solid, with only a few minor instances of dirt and debris cropping up - mostly in the optical effects and scene transitions - but never enough to detract from the film. Film grain appears to be well rendered with no visible artifacts that would indicate that overzealous digital processing was used. The two channel mono sound is flagged correctly to make capable audio processors automatically decode and route it properly to a single center channel speaker. Frequency extremes are somewhat limited, which is to be expected given the low budget nature of the film, and there is a trace of sound distortion in the early going that clears up. Overall, the transfer compares favorably to the excellent 35mm print I ran of this film back in 2013, so MGM must have quality elements on hand and did an excellent job preparing this master for Kino.

The Blu-ray has decent supply of extras on-hand: the theatrical trailer (and just what does "Filmed in Spectarama" mean, anyway?), a "Trailers from Hell" segment with Mick Garris, a spoiler-laden introduction from Joe Dante (to Kino's credit, there's a text screen warning the uninitiated to not watch it until after seeing the film), and two optional audio commentaries: one by Roger Corman (from MGM's DVD release in 2001) and a newly-recorded one by writer/publisher Tim Lucas. Also included is the rarely seen 5 minute prologue that was added to the initial TV prints to pad the short running time. Contrary to what's been in written in some reviews, the prologue was only for the television viewings and was not shown theatrically.

This Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is Highly Recommended.

May 12, 2015

Blu-ray review: "Sharky's Machine"

(1981, directed by Burt Reynolds, written by Gerald Di Pego, based on the novel by William Diehl, Rated R)

Warner Home Video, Blu-ray release date 4/7/2015, $14.99 srp

Specs: 1.78 widescreen, DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio.

(Quick take review)
Excellent long-awaited Blu-ray from Warner of this action film favorite from 1981 that has been treated poorly in the past on video with non-widescreen releases and indifferent audio. This Blu-ray has a near-perfect picture (some excessive film grain is noted in some shots but is likely on the source) and a big, wide, booming surround audio track that bring this gritty story to life. Reynolds directs (arguably his best effort behind the camera) and stars (also his best hairpiece) and acquits himself well. Some unfortunate and forced comedy bits intrude a little (and did Burt direct Charles Durning by simply telling him to yell through every scene?) but are redeemed by a terrific jazz score and a great location shooting (in Atlanta and surrounding areas). Rachel Ward is beautiful and memorable as Dominoe and Henry Silva and Vittorio Gassman are properly sleazy villains; great supporting cast includes Bernie Casey, Brian Keith, Richard Libertini, and Earl Holliman. Highly recommended on Blu-ray, avoid the old DVD at all costs.

Source: Reviewer purchased copy. Portions of this review previously published on Amazon.

Back from the Dead

OK, it's time to bring this thing back from the dead. Watch for some mini Blu-ray movie and equipment reviews over the next week or two.

September 10, 2013

Declaration of Principles

Thanks for tuning in to the new Big Screen Classics blog.

Why should you read this blog in additon to all of the others that are out there? Good question...I'm not sure of the answer. But what I can promise you is that any topic discussed here will be done honestly and without prejudice. My opinions are just that: opinions. But I hope after reading for a while that you will consider them to be informed opinions. Unless otherwise noted, all items reviewed are from the author's own collection and have not been provided gratis. All theatre admissions are similarly non-compensated.

So where do you, the reader, fit in? I hope that you'll join in the comments section on every post. If I'm wrong - call me out. If you disagree - post and say why. The comments section will not be moderated other than to edit patently offensive or wildly off topic posts. I assume most of you are adults and have heard adult language, but let's all work to expand our vocabularies. Have a topic for discussion? Shoot me an e-mail at bigscreenclassics (at) and let's discuss.

A lot of the talk on this blog may veer towards the technical as that's one of the areas that has always interested me. But, for me, it's technology in service of art. The tech should be invisible, whether you are watching at home or your local multiplex. I can also be notiously thrifty (cheap), but try not to skimp on the quality of my own gear. I've always loved a bargain, so never had any qualms about buying used gear, open-box and refurbshed specials, or a lower-priced model in a manufacturer's lineup. Performance is what matters. Look for an upcoming post describing my setup at home, so you'll have a reference point.

Here's some information on me so you'll get where I'm coming from. I've spent over 33 years in and out of movie theatres, mostly in the projection booth, so my background is film-based presentations. I've also spent considerable time in the home video industry, both in retail and wholesale and currently employed at an independent DVD label as Director of Marketing. Most recently was the Director of Repertory Film Programming for the Lafayette Theatre, which is where the Big Screen Classics name started. In addition to the Saturday morning classic film shows, we also presented numerous special weekend film events: "3 Days of 3-D," "Science Fiction Spectacular," "The Sounds of Silents," "Salute to the Great Musicals," "The Film Preservation Weekend," and, of course, the annual "Horror-Thon".

So while this isn't exactly Mr. Kane's Declaration of Principles, it should give you an idea of what to expect on Big Screen Classics.

Thanks for reading.