Once more, the folks at Twilight Time have resurrected five photoplays from yesteryear - and this time, they're not holding back on the dramatics one bit. We begin our line-up with perhaps the most epic motion pictures of epic motion pictures ever; the fact that A Man for All Seasons features a supporting performance by the one and only Orson Welles himself doesn't even enter into it, believe it or not! Rather, Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons focuses on the charisma and talents of the late Paul Scofield, cast here as Sir Thomas More. Now, for my fellow Americans who somehow managed to both fail world history and miss an entire skit by Eddie Izzard, Sir Thomas More was the man who challenged the King of England in the 16th century by saying "No, I don't care if you are the King, you can't do that."
And said King in this case is none other than Robert Shaw (Jaws fans rejoice), who plays a formidable Henry VIII (he is, he is). Determined to break all laws of the land just because he wants to bed another woman (something U.S. President Clinton would figure out how to do centuries later, only to have the exact opposite scenario play out), Henry VIII wishes to request a divorce from the Pope. Alas, Pope Clement VII is nowhere near as cool as Pope Francis. Plus, Sir Thomas More refuses to help his King submit his request, as it not only violates his own morals, but those which have been set upon civilization by organized religion (also see: The Spanish Inquisition). Classic cinematic chaos (read: drama) ensues in Fred Zimmerman's film, which wound up becoming the fifth highest grossing movie of 1966.
Leo McKern, Susannah York, Nigel Davenport, and John Hurt are just some of the many familiar faces also seen in this classic that even the Vatican considers important. Twilight Time's glorious new HD transfer - straight from the Sony vaults - is accompanied by newer 5.1 mix, presented here in DTS-HD MA lossless sound. A theatrical trailer for the feature (made after the film's numerous Oscar wins), and a short historical featurette from the old Sony SD-DVD are also included here, as are two new items of interest: the movie's isolated score in DTS-HD MA 2.0, and an informative audio commentary by screenwriter Lem (not Lou) Dobbs, who is joined by Twilight Time's Nick Redman and his Paul Scofield-loving colleague, Julie Kirgo. The latter contributor also pens the disc's liner notes.
Staying within (or at least in the vicinity of) the realms of a land which the late Kenny Everett once controversially - and hysterically - stated "When Britain was an Empire we were ruled by an emperor, when we became a kingdom we were ruled by a king, and now we're a country we're ruled by Margaret Thatcher," we find ourselves migrating to the north a wee bit - Scotland, to be precise. It is here that we may hear not the sounds of the sea striking the legendary White Cliffs of Dover, but rather, Carla's Song. As dramatic as a drama hailing from the United Kingdom can be - which is saying a lot, kids - this 1996 semi-politically-motivated indie British offering from director Ken Loach, whose mere name incredibly ups the very dramatic aspect of this title even more than one could possibly conceive. Yes, this one's a pretty solemn tale, kids.
Here, Robert Carlyle - fresh from spotting trains and only a few months away from showing us all how well he could strip alongside Tom Wilkinson - stars as a bus driver in Glasgow, who is so nice to underprivileged old ladies, his bosses hate him for it. He even has a loving fiancee (Louise Goodall) to correspond with his steady job, it's just not enough for him. As if he was summoned by some higher power - like a screenwriter, maybe - to conveniently ignore all of the positive, happy things in his life, our hero soon meets, becomes transfixed upon, and subsequently develops a relationship with a young woman from Nicaragua (Oyanka Cabezas) who is currently in exile. Soon, the inexperienced bus driver finds himself in an inescapable class of hard knocks when he takes his newfound, uneasy mistress to see her family back in Nicaragua. Mind you, their little vacation happens right in the middle of a certain CIA-run rebellion against the Sandinista National Liberation Front (another bit of world history my fellow Americans probably missed out on, as well).
American actor Scott Glenn contributes to the fun (or lack thereof) as a hardened CIA man who was probably cast just to get the film into more than the usual staple of arthouse cinemas back in the '90s. Of course, it's still a Ken Loach film, which means Carla's Song didn't quite achieve that feat, but it's a pretty powerful picture either way. Like the other imported British oddities Twilight Time has picked up from Protagonist Pictures, Carla's Song features a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix with no subtitles, which can prove troublesome to Yanqui ears during some scenes. Ken Loach provides a commentary along with screenwriter Paul Laverty, and a third aural offering is presented in the form of an isolated score/effects track. A trailer and handful of deleted scenes are also on-hand here, as is another fine set of liner notes by Ms. Julie Kirgo. (Single dose prescription of Prozac for the feature film not included.)
And now we venture off to the New World. The land discovered by Vikings, Indians, and subsequently stolen by sadistic Spaniards and people who seemed to forget their very own origins. Yes, it's 'Murica, boys and girls, where certain groups of individuals with questionable views have been having a hard time accepting the fact that the South lost the Civil War 150 years later. Hell, they couldn't even get along well before that, as the story of 1967's Hombre is only too happy to state for its viewers. Here, the great Paul Newman - best known to today's generation as a guy who made popcorn - reunites with the director, producers, and screenwriters of his earlier hit, Hud, in an effort to make as many Paul Newman movies beginning with the letter "H" as possible in the 1960s (also see: The Hustler from 1961, Hud from 1963, and Harper from 1966).
Here, the New-man plays a white boy who was raised by Apaches before being adopted by a civilized man years later. Thus, he has an understanding and appreciation of the culture most white men (OK, all) do not possess. When his white father figure dies and leaves him a boardinghouse, the man nobody in the movie ever really calls Hombre decides to sell the joint for some horses, which places him in a stagecoach with a recently dismissed boardinghouse-keeper (Diane Cilento), a very unhappily married young couple, a seemingly happier older man (Frederic March) with a younger bride (Barbara Rush), and a mysterious stranger (Richard Boone). With a lineup like that, plus Martin Balsam as a Mexican, how can you go wrong? Well, toss in a few bandits and Cameron Mitchell as a disgruntled sheriff, and you can't go wrong. At all.
This fun (if loose) adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel from director Martin Ritt receives a new 1080p High-Definition presentation from the 20th Century Fox archives, which looks nothing short of breaktaking here. Accompanying the beautiful new transfer is rich DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack, which is also something to behold. Historian Lee Pfeiffer and filmmaker Paul Scrabo contribute to the feature film's audio commentary, and the usual isolated score track (also DTS-HD MA 2.0) most Twilight Time titles offer is also available here. The last special feature for the disc itself is the movie's original theatrical trailer, wherein the narrator really sells the whole "same actor/director/writer/producer team of Hud" thing. Julie Kirgo contributes another set of well-written liner notes for this contemporary American western from yesteryear with a much more solemn message than most movies of the time.
Said message was more alive than ever well over twenty years later when British filmmaker Alan Parker (Midnight Express, Fame, Pink Floyd - The Wall) gave us all an unforgettable look at Mississippi Burning (1988), based on actual events. Beginning with a grim opening shot, wherein three civil rights workers are murdered in cold blood by local Mississippi yokels, Parker gives us an ode to what Robert Burns (fitting) once described as "man's inhumanity to man." After the disappearance of the three activists gains national attention, the FBI sends in two agents to investigate. Willem Dafoe is the younger, more liberal-minded agent; Gene Hackman (who was truly good in just about anything he signed on for, Welcome to Mooseport naturally excluded) is the seasoned G-Man whose very roots were grown and voluntarily pulled from the Deep South itself.
Speaking of roots, all attempts the FBI men initiate in order to interview locals - regardless of which side of the ever-present racial conflict they lie upon (and I do mean lie, in some cases) - prove to be futile thanks to the finely ingrained presence of the Ku Klux Klan. And every time someone even so much as makes eye contact with the government fellers, well, what happens to them ain't pretty, I can tell you that. A pre-fame Frances McDormand co-stars as the unbiased housewife of abusive sheriff's deputy Brad Dourif (in one of his few mainstream movie roles ever); the late great Gailard Sartain is the epitome of evil Southern sheriff; character actor R. Lee Ermey is in the mix, naturally; and Michael Rooker plays a bad boy whose sadistic nature is on-par with that of his 1986 breakout performance in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer in this genuine American classic (from a British filmmaker).
One of the few films to keep the original Orion Pictures banner flying high before the company went kaput in the '90s, Mississippi Burning receives a lovely new, razor sharp life via the MGM/UA vaults' HD transfer. A well-mixed DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack is in accompaniment, which oh-so-beautifully delivers each synth music cue perfectly, which can be enjoyed to its fullest via Twilight Time's indigenous DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated score. The Alan Parker audio commentary from the older SD-DVD is included here, as is the movie's original theatrical trailer (there's just something special about Orion's old previews). Once more, the unburnable Julie Kirgo provides another round of enlightening and enjoyable liner notes, which two movie aficionados could endlessly talk about well into the wee hours of the night.
Speaking of endless talking, that leads us to our final moving picture venture in this roundup: the 1996 British/American collaboration, American Buffalo with Dennis Franz and Dustin Hoffman. Based on the long-running, award-winning play by David Mamet, and written for the big screen by Mamet himself, this film adaptation of the 1975 stage original is one of the few kinds of motion pictures I truly dread seeing: plays made as films, but which are clearly filmed plays. I have nothing against plays, mind you, other than the fact that my ADLD - Attention Deficit Lethargy Disorder, wherein I can sit in the same spot for hours on end and never truly focus on anyone single thing - kicks in and I start looking up at the rafters waiting for the Phantom of the Opera to run across them, snickering.
Sadly, this is one of many aspects about plays that do not translate to the screen all that well, leaving me to find previously undiscovered patterns in the stuccoed walls. For here, we witness a seemingly eternal tête-à-tête of an aurally aggressive nature, wherein actors Franz and Hoffman repeatedly, unashamedly state something, question their statement, confirm their statement, then bicker about it for a few more minutes before Mr. Hoffman finally says some sort of expletive, and they resume exactly what they were doing before only with a slightly rephrased vocabulary. Imagine two old ladies who have had one too many drinks during Happy Hour arguing over who should pay for how much of the salad because one of them took more bites than the other, never fully realizing that the salad has been comped by the management in the hopes that they'll just shut up about it and leave - only with more profanity - and you've pretty much got it.
Sadly, no filmed adaptation of the highly vexed, improbably cast 2008 Broadway revival troupe - Cedric the Entertainer, Haley Joel Osment, and John Leguizamo (in a production that miraculously made it to eight whole performances before being shut down by the Greater Department of Common Sense) - is known to exist. Instead, anyone who can't afford to go see the play has to settle for Dennis Franz doing his best to stand out from behind Dustin Hoffman's massive ego - the latter of whom always sounds like he's over-practiced. Thankfully, the included audio commentary by Twilight Time's Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo (who, as always, pens the liner notes) is a much nicer listen, and the fairly minimalistic score can drop all of the verbal wrangling via the on-hand isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 score. The film's theatrical trailer is also included here, which tries too hard to pass it off as one of the many movies made around the time that tried to capture the success of Pulp Fiction.