Thursday, April 29, 2021

CONCRETE PLANS (2020) (Dark Sky Films DVD Review)


Label: Dark Sky Films
Region Code: 1
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.39:1) 
Director: William Jewell
Cast: Goran Bogdan, Kevin Guthrie, Chris Reilly, Amber Rose Revah, Charley Palmer Rothwell, Steve Spiers, William Thomas, James Lance

Seemingly well-off jerk Simon (Kevin Guthrie, Dunkirk) hires a disparate crew of desperate construction workers to renovate his countryside property, it's an off-the-books job paid under the table. Nice guy crew boss Bob (Steve Spiers, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) has assembled a small crew, perhaps to small for the scope of the project, that includes his shifty shit of a nephew Steve (Charlie Palmer Rothwell, Dunkirk),  a Ukrainian immigrant named Victor (Goran Bogdan, TV's Fargo), old-timer Dave (William Thomas, TV's Torchwood) and the hot-headed Jim (Chris Reily, Wrath of Man) to get the job done. 

Things start off tense from the get-go with Simon proving to be an inhospitable employer, sternly warning the workman to stay away from the main house on the property, and then housing them in a drafty barn with a leaky roof. On the other hand Simon's posh fiancé Amy (Amber Rose Revah, Netflix's The Punisher) is quite a nice lady, and her looks have not gone unnoticed by the workmen, especially when she can be seen in various states of undress through windows of the main house, which gave me a distinct Straw Dogs vibe.  

The inhospitable simmer soon begins to turn to a boil when rightful payment for their services seems to keep getting delayed by Simon, which pits the Bob in a bad place with his employees as her tries to balance the feelings of his employer with the steadily growing dissatisfaction of his crew. It turns out that Simon's inherited wealth is experiencing some of tax-law complication, which he keeps from the crew, and to smooth things over he attempts to bond with the blokes over a game of poker, but it ends when Simon loses a hand and storms off angry.

After that it does not take long for tension between the cash-strapped employer and increasingly disgruntled employees to rise to a fever pitch, especially after the men inadvertently discover that the pompous shit-heel is planning to flee the country without paying his dead. When they angrily confront him the hotter-heads on the crew snap and bloody violence erupts... and let me just say that fucking with disgruntled construction workers is just a bad idea on it's face, all they do is handle heavy-duty equipment all day, and their pretty good with a hammer, you know? 

Concrete Plans (2020) is a solid violent thriller but it does not quite sticks the landing. Its a bit muddled with cliché one dimensional characters, but I appreciated the set-up, the tension-filled build-up, the solid cast, and the explosion of violence and even the twisty finale. It's not a home run but a solid three-bagger thriller, and a heck of a debut film from director Will Jewell. 

Concrete Plans (2020) arrives on DVD from Dark Sky Films with an anamorphic widescreen presentation with Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1 with optional English subtitles. No extras on this one, just the movie. 

THE DEBUT (1977) (Cult Epics Blu-ray Review)

THE DEBUT (1977) 

Label: Cult Epics
Region: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 95 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Nouchka van Brakel
Cast: Marina de Graaf, Gerard Cox, Pleuni Touw, Kitty Courbois

Cult Epics release of the Dutch filmmaker Nouchka van Brakel's Dutch Lolita-esque film The Debut (1977) is part of a trilogy of the director's early works that the distributor has released, the others being A Woman Like Eve and The Cool Lakes of Death. This was van Brakel's debut feature film and is based on the controversial novel by Hester Albach. The taboo themes were assuredly controversial in it's time, and even still watching it today it was a bit shocking.

The Debut tells the taboo story of the forbidden love between fourteen year-old highschooler Carolien Sanders (Marina de Graaf) and middle-aged married Hugo (Gerard Cox), who is a friend of her fathers who is visiting during the Christmas holidays with his wife. The delicately explored relationship is seen through the eyes of the young girl as she comes of age and begins to explore her sexuality in an unconventional way.

Seeing the events unfold from the perspective of the teen girl is interesting, she initiates the romance during a moment of unexpected sexual tension that occurs while frolicking on the beach, and then both end up following through on it during a later nighttime walk around the city that sees them breaking into her highschool gymnasium for some illegal frisky business. Seeing the married man encourage the flirtation and follow through on his desires for the fourteen year old is absolutely cringe and creepy, but the way that Nouchka van Brakel explores the relationship through the girl's eyes tends to avoid the typical male fantasy exploitable elements of the situation, though the sensual eroticism of it is intact.

The film also thoughtfully explores Carolien's friendship with her teen bestie Susan (Wendy Ferwerda, Flesh and Blood), depicting the strain on their bond when Carolien confides in her that she has lost her virginity to an older, married man, which absolutely repulses her friend. Carolien also begins to feel jealousy towards Hugo's quite pleasant wife Rita (Pleuni Touw), jealousy being a new, overwhelming experience for the teen, which she does not handle well initially, resulting in an outburst at a family celebration. An interesting subplot is how her mother Anne (Kitty Courbois) deals with her daughter's blossoming sexuality and a request to be put on the contraceptive pill, as well as how her father Peter (Dolf de Vries), ironically a gynecologist by trade, fails to comprehend what is happening to his own daughter both before his very eyes with his best friend, and completely under his nose.

This was a terrific coming-of-age drama, it's well-acted, emotionally complex, and offers plenty of nudity courtesy of star Marina de Graaf who was 18 at the time the film was made. Coming from the teen's perspective and under the direction of Van Brackel the nudity manages to be less exploitive that it is a celebration of a young woman exploration of her sexuality.

The film is not lurid in a exploitation sort of way, though there is an offscreen sexual assault, but there's plenty of scenes of de Graaf nude as she explores the sensual relationship with the older man. A scene of a fully nude de Graafe in a bathing scene with her mother seemed odd at first blush, but also quite beautifulThat might be off-putting to contemporary American prude-values, but wouldn't the world be a better place if all mother and daughters experienced this sort of openness and closeness with each other? 

Also fascinating is the character of Hugo, the middle-aged man who certainly knows better but is seduced by the excitement of having an affair with the much younger, not legal, and exciting young girl. Its all rather unsettling to be honest, and seeing him lose control of himself, so completely obsessed, but also occasionally annoyed by her youthful, naïve, and totally appropriate teen behaviors. Eventually he becomes overbearing and near violent when she begins to pull away from him as she begins to recognize the disparity of the affair.

The scene that affected me the most comes at the very end, there's a moment of emotional recognition between mother and daughter that seriously tugged at my heart, its a powerful scene that says so much without actually verbalizing it. It's a powerful moment that I as a father of three daughters  recognize as something that seems completely out of reach to me as a father. There's will always that connection between a mother and her daughter that will always be just out of reach, and this film nails it with an emotionally raw, tear-filled embrace.

Audio/Video: Nouchka van Brakel’s The Debut (1977) makes it's North American Blu-ray debut courtesy of distributor Cult Epics with a new high-definition transfer sourced from an archival 35mm print of the film. The 1080p HD image framed in 1.66:1 widescreen looks quite good, grain can be a bit course in spots but colors appear accurate and well-saturated. Black levels are deep but shadow detail can be a bit murky, and skin tons are warm and inviting.

Audio comes by way of original both Dutch LPCM 2.0 Mono or a newly created Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono option, both with optional English subtitles. The tracks are clean and well-balanced, dialogue is strong, and the score from first-time and only time composer Robert Westerberg sounds quite good. I toggled back and forth during my viewing and was hard-pressed to favor one over the other. 

Extras on the disc are in short supply, we get the 2-min Polygoon Journal Newsreel, an archival black and white new broadcast from 1977 covering the making of the film, a 2-min Poster & Photo Gallery, plus a trailer for the film and other Cult Epics titles.

The single-disc release arrives in a clear keepcae with an attractive reversible sleeve of artwork featuring the original illustrated theatrical movie poster and a newly designed option that offers uniformity of the Nouchka van Brakel trilogy of films being released by Cult Epics. The disc itself features an image from the film. 

Special Features: 
- New HD Transfer (from original 35mm print)
- Original LPCM Dutch 2.0 Mono Audio
- New Dutch DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono Audio 
- Polygoon Journal Newsreel (1977, HD) (2 min)
- Poster & Photo Gallery (2 min)
- Theatrical Trailers
- Limited Edition Packaging featuring Original & Newly Designed Art 

Cult Epics' recent spate of titles from Nouchka van Brakel has opened my eyes to a director I likely would never had heard of otherwise, and that's always an exciting prospect. I was only lukewarm on A Woman Like Eve but after seeing this I went back to revisit it and it resonated a bit more on second watch, which has me excited to catch-up with The Cool Lakes of Death. If you crave risqué, Lolita-esque coming-of-age stories this taboo yet touching drama comes highly regarded. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

DEEP BLOOD (1990) (Severin Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Severin Films
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 91 Minutes 
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.33:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono, Italian DTS-HD MA Mono with optional English Subtitles
Director: Joe D'Amato
Cast: Frank Baroni. Allen Cort, Keith Kelsch, James Camp, Tody Bernard, 
Margareth Hanks

Italian schlock-maker Joe D'Amato's (Sex and Black Magic) bottom-of-the-chum-bucket teen drama/shark flick begins with four young boys roasting weenies on a stretch of isolated Florida beach, where they're approached by a native American shaman (Van Jensens), who spins them the tale of the malevolent water-spirit known as "Wakan", that can take the form of a sea creature. In the past his tribe's warriors were tasked with battling the mythical beast, and apparently looking to shirk that supernatural responsibility the shabby-shaman gives the kids a carved wooden talisman, an ornate arrow box, and tells them that someday they must wage battle against the Wakan. To that end the boys make a blood pact, literally slicing open their wrists with pocket knives and intermingling their bloodlines, and afterward bury the talisman in a hole on the beach along with personal totems, their trusty pocket knives, vowing to reunite to defeat the evil of the Wakan one future day. The opening gives this shark flick a bit of twist, starting off as a weird coming-of-age story that seems a bit out of place, but its an interesting opening at least, and smacks a bit of Stephen King's It

Ten years later the kids, Miki (Frank Baroni), John (John K. Brune), Ben (Keith Kelsch) and Alan (Court McCowan, Can't Buy Me Love), are now twenty-something "teenagers" who have reunited in their beach community for some much needed summer fun, sun and relaxation. Each seems to be struggling with personal issues, and some service is paid to their drama. We learn how one yearns tore- connect with his father who has been distant since his younger brother's ambiguous death some years earlier, and then we have the son of the town's Mayor who has enlisted in an officer training school and is unhappy about it, or the one who wants to be a pro-golfer against his father's wishes... that last one might be the same one who craves his father's attention, but I'll be damned if I am gonna re-watch this today to clarify it. Its all fairly rote pseudo-dramatic stuff that to be honest does not matter in the long-run, its pure dramatic padding in a film that is heavy with padding. 

The four friend's reunion turns tragic when the  prophecy as foretold by the shabby-shaman seems to comes to fruition with one of them being eaten by a black-finned shark while spearfishing. The shark then begins to terrorize the beach community, with the surviving trio digging up the totem and pledging to avenge their shark-bait pal. They team-up with Ben's father, the shabby Quint of the story, who owns an fishing boat, plus a former teen adversary turned friend named Jason (James Camp), who joins the inept quest to destroy the black-finned shark, who may of may not be a native American embodiment of evil. Armed with teen abandon and a disregard for bodily harm thy teens set sail with a shitload of dynamite out for the shark's blood. 

As with most Jaws rip-offs worth their blood-stained brine the flick borrows scenes and plot elements from Spielberg's mega-blockbuster, but much, much shittier. We get the standard-issue tropes like community leaders turning a blind eye to the immanent threat, with Chief Cody (see what they did there?and the town's Mayor, refusing to publicly acknowledge the the shark until a woman is eaten by a shark as her toddler son and poodle watch from the shore. This particular kill was a goofy,  poorly shot, reversal of the Kintner boy's death in Jaws. 

The cheesy shark flick is stuffed with weird, awkward dialogue and plenty of sunny beach community scenery, but sadly very little in the way of actual shark carnage.
Apparently the kindred Italian schlockster Bruno Mattei  stole a few scene from this for his only marginally superior late-era sharksploitation entry Cruel Jaws, and God help me I don't remember which scene he stole, so I'm might have to re-watch that, but not today! The shark attacks themselves are painfully shoddy, easily the worst I've seen in any sharksploitation dud, there's no gaping wounds or shredded flesh, nothing. What we do get are sloppily edited montages of poor quality, mismatched stock footage of actual sharks mixed with a cornball scenes of the victims flailing about in the pink-stained water, as well as some bathtub miniature work that speaks to the film's total lack of even trying. The haphazardly edited footage spastically toggles back and forth between the clear blue Florida ocean, murky brown Mississippi River water, and shots that were clearly filmed at an aquarium and a swimming pool, complete with visible pool tile! Its a real shit-show as far as the shark action goes, so lower those already low expectations before diving into this one. The film even steals scenes from director Enzo G. Castellari's notorious Jaws knock-off The Last Shark (1981). ON a side note I would love to see The Last shark a.k.a Great White get a Blu-ray - make it happen Severin, you're on a shitty shark movie spree, go for it! Also be on the lookout for the ‘60s comedy team of Charlie Brill & Mitzi McCall (War of the Satellites) as Ben's patents and an uncredited Laura Gemser (Violence in a Women's Prison) as a lab assistant only seen from the backside in a lab coat! 

Sure, it's a bad, poorly made Italian Jaws knock-off, but it is an almost-entertaining, trashy sharksploitation entry in that is so utterly shit it's sort of fascinating. It's made by Italians but largely shot in the U.S. with American amateur actors who fumble over the awkwardly written Italian to English dialogue, which gives it a bit of a Troll 2 vibe, but do not too excited, it's not on that level of so-bad-it's-good. If you're a fan of bad-acting there's no shortage of it, the best being teen Ben who begs his father to take him fishing, like they did when he was a kid, but watching the actor fumble with the rod and reel makes it quite clear he's never held a fishing pole his entire life up to that point. 

While I do think that there's some interesting coming-of-age and native American mysticism elements they're completely wasted in the hands of an uninspired D'Amato who overstuffs the goofy, near-sharkless genre mash-up with boring, mundane dramatic fluff, it's a real snoozer that doesn't even spice things up with a bit of nudity. 

Audio/Video: Deep Blood (1990) arrives on Blu-ray from Severin in 1080p HD framed in the original1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, sourced from a new 2K scan the original camera. The source is in fantastic shape, there's some minor white speckling but precious few other blemishes aside from the mismatched stock footage crammed into itThere's some decent depth and clarity to the image, though it's a bit soft in spots, and its not the most stylishly lensed film either, but it looks solid in HD. I am not sure if this was made for TV or shot for direct-to-video market, but either might explain the non-widescreen framing. I'd say it's an open-matte presentation but the frame is already cramped and clearly not intended to be matted for widescreen. 

Audio comes by way on uncompressed English and Italian DTS-HD MA mono with optional English subtitles. Even though the cast are American the English dialogue has a dubbed quality to it because the Italian films tended to add dialogue in post. I preferred the English track over the dubbed-Italian, it definitely had more depth and punch to it. The score from Carlo Maria Cordio (Aenigma) sounds good, possibly recycling his synth score from his myriad of Italian horror films, though I could not put a finger on any one in particular. 

The sole extra is a 2-min trailer which is a bummer, I would have enjoyed a featurette or commentary for this one. The film has a bit of a storied history, with D'Amato hiring a English coach he used on several films to direct it, only for him to step-down after directing the opening scenes. D'Amato is also quite a stories director and I am sure there are plenty of film historians/authors who could have offered a robust commentary or featurette, The single-disc release arrives in a spiffy black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork that in true exploitation,, Italian knock-off fashion, advertises a much better film - that poster truly is the best thing about the film.

Special Features:
- Trailer (3 min) 

Deep Blood (1990) is a shit slice of sharksploitation, its got some weird mystical and coming-of-age elements, but all that goes right out the window and what we end up with is an uninspired slap-dash Jaws knock-off that I'd be hard-pressed to recommend to anyone unless they're a died-in-the-wool cinema-masochists' who loves a shit Italian knock-offs, or is a total Joe D'Amato completest, which is basically the same thing.  Poor opinion of the film aside that is no knock against Severin's release which looks as good as it possibly can on home video. I wish we had a few extras or a commentary to go along with it, but just having this turd on Blu-ray is pretty special all by it's self. I commend Severin for their continuing dedication preserving very fine crap movies in all their cruddy glory. 

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: