Tag: DVD review

DVD Review: Dick Tracy (1990)

Dick Tracy is a comic strip movie starring Warren Beatty as the famous detective Dick Tracy, as he tries to take down the criminal organization of Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) while avoiding the designs of Breathless Mahoney (Madonna.)

This film won three technical Oscars and deserved it. The world created for this movie is visually appealing with some stunning use of color and art deco touches as well. The make-up and costume design are top notch. In addition, Danny Elfman turns in a typically good score.

The story is decent if not spectacular. The final the twist at the end is good. The plot points related to Junior are taken right out of the comic and feel right in place. There are also some great actors in relatively minor roles including Dick Van Dyke, Dustin Hofffman, and James Caan. In addition, in a nod to classic detective movies, Mike Mazurki shows up.

There are three problems with the film. First, I don’t care much for Beatty’s performance as Tracy. He was going for strait-laced and upright but instead comes off as stiff. Al Pacino, on the other hand, gives a performance that is way over the top. I’ll never understand how he got nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and a Saturn Award. For me, it was a grating, scenery-chewing performance that was more annoying than funny.

Second, there’s too much of Madonna singing in this film. One or two musical numbers, I can see. But she has five numbers in this film. They’re all well-written, but the only one that worked was, “Back in Business.”

Third, the film’s tone is inconsistent. It’s a movie that doesn’t know who its marketing itself to. I remember seeing happy meal toys for this movie and the bright colors and character of Junior would appeal to kids. On the other hand, some of the violence was too extreme for children and Breathless Mahoney is an over-sexualized character in keeping with Madonna’s 1990s brand. On the other hand, much of the plot, story, and characters doesn’t appeal to adults. The tonal differences means that sometimes, it feels like the characters are in different movies.

They were trying to imitate Chester Gould, who made Dick Tracy, the type of comic strip the whole family wanted to read by mixing elements that appeal to kids and adults to satisfy everyone. In the film, they seem to have succeeded in not fully satisfying many people at all.

That said, there are worse attempts to adapt a classic property. A lot does work about the film. Something Val Kilmer would prove six years later in The Saint. The film looks classy and has a great sense of style, with a lot of homages to its source material. If you’re a Madonna fan and/or you liked Al Pacino’s performance in this, you’re going to like it more than I did. For me, it’s a film that had a lot of potential but never fully lived up to it.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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DVD Review: Television’s Lost Classics, Volume 2:Rare Pilots

This DVD collects four unaired pilots of 1950s television shows.

The first is a pilot for Racket Squad starring Reed Hadley as Captain Braddock. In general, if you’ve seen an episode of Racket Squad, then you have a good idea of what this episode is like as it shows how con men set up a clever scheme to rip off the mark. If there’s any difference between this episode and the series proper, it’s that Captain Braddock is a little harsher to the victim, greeting him with, “Hello, sucker.” Still, it’s an entertaining half-hour of television.

Second is Cool and Lam. After the success of Perry Mason, network officials decided to give another Erle Stanley Gardener detective a chance and so they adapted the story of detective team Bertha Cool (Benay Vanuta) and Donald Lam (Bill Pearson). I enjoyed this one. There’s good humor and a decent mystery. This a series I wish had been picked up.

A bit of an oddball in this collection featuring crime dramas is the 1948 pilot for The Life of Riley. The series had been a successful radio program starring William Bendix. However, due to Bendix’s movie contract, he wasn’t able to reprise the role over television. We get to see the first choice to play Riley over television instead–horror movie legend Lon Chaney, Jr.

The pilot is historically significant. It was a taped program back in 1948 when live Kinescopes would dominate early television for the better part of five years. However, the big problem was Lon Chaney playing Riley. He  wasn’t cut out for the part. The TV script was based on a radio script and Chaney tried to play it like Bendix did and it just doesn’t work.

His delivery is flat and uninspired. When Jackie Gleason became the first TV Riley in 1949, he gave it his own spin. I’m not a huge fan of his approach, but at least he realized he couldn’t be Bendix.

Note we get to see John Brown as Digger O’Dell, the undertaker, often heard on the radio program. I have mixed feelings on this because Digger is such a broad character. I imagine him walking around with a black mustache and black coat and being tall. However, John Brown just looks like an ordinary guy in an ordinary suit. So that was a bit jarring.

The final pilot is 1959’s Nero Wolfe starring Kurt Kazner as Wolfe and William Shatner as Archie Goodwin. Shatner is a great choice for Archie, bringing great charisma to the role. Kaszner is an interesting choice for Wolfe. Kaszner was Austrian born. Having a European play Wolfe is closer to the book than most other portrayals of Wolfe which ignore the fact that he was from the Eastern Europe country Montenegro. William Shatner brings that swagger that’s a requirement to play Archie Goodwin and is pretty fun to watch. The plot was decent. Wolfe solved this case mostly from reading the newspaper and that was clever. Though the episode wasn’t based on the Wolfe stories by Rex Stout, it captured the spirit of them nicely.

On the other hand, this was a series that would have needed to be an hour rather than the pilot’s half-hour length. The episode was a bit bare-bones and lacked the style I associate with a Wolfe story or any of Wolfe’s and Archie’s supporting cast. Kaszner wasn’t quite big enough to play Wolfe which the wardrobe seemed to try to make up for by putting him in clothes that were a bit too big, which doesn’t work. Also, Wolfe has a cold in the pilot and is stuck in bed, which is a weird thing for a pilot to do as its establishing what a normal episode is like.

The bonus feature with this set is a not-for-air blooper reel that was sent out by CBS to managers of its affiliates, featuring many bloopers and flubbed lines. The programs featured are mostly Westerns, but with the Twilight Zone and The Red Skelton Show. I will warn that this is not really for kids. The unscripted bad language is not censored, so it’s PG-13 stuff.

Overall, for those interested in classic television, this set does offer some fun rarities. While this wasn’t the best the 1950s had to offer in television, it’s a mostly entertaining look at what might have been.

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DVD Review: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 1

The Murdoch Mysteries series is based on characters in novels by Maureen Jennings. The series stars Yannick Bisson as Detective William Murdoch. In early twentieth century Toronto, the detective’s innovative methods solve baffling crimes.
 
The first season featured thirteen episodes. The series features robust mysteries that don’t feature obvious solutions. Instead, the mysteries are complex with plenty of twists along the way. The first season features historical figures from the era. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Geraint Wyn Davies) appears as does Nicola Tesla. (Dmitri Chepovetsky)
 
The strong principal cast gels together in Season 1. Helene Joy plays pathologist Doctor Julie Ogden. Thomas Craig is Inspector Thomas Brackenridge. Finally, Johnny Harris is Constable George Crabtree. The Constable is wet behind the ears but enthusiastic.
 
The series includes many neat historical details that add credibility to the series. The gorgeous design and cinematography bring home the feel of the era.
 
The first season isn’t without its flaws. A couple times, modern sensibilities intrude into an era where they didn’t exist. This takes viewers out of the story. The show should’ve stuck to issues raised in the era. For example, the suffragettes, temperance, and freed American slaves. The series did best when exploring those sort of situations.
 
The series establishes Murdoch as a Catholic in the first episode. In the second, it establishes, at the time, he couldn’t get promoted because of his faith. From there, the series creates many situations to challenge Murdoch’s faith. Doing this once could be interesting and is fair game. Doing this repeatedly during the first season was repetitive. Further, the writers strained to give Murdoch personal stakes his cases. A ridiculous number of cases involve people Murdoch knows or his personal issues.
 
Overall, the Murdoch Mysteries first season got off to a promising start. It has good action, great production values, and well-crafted mysteries. Intrusive modern issues and a couple overdone plot lines did hamper the series. Still, if you can stomach those flaws, and you’re a Victorian-era mysteries fan, it’s worth watching.
 
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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DVD Review: The Last Detective Series 2

Police Constable “Dangerous” Davies (Peter Davison) returns for four more mysteries.

Overall, the series improved both in the quality of the writing and the quality of the cases given to Davies. His professional life is on the upswing as he does seem to be gaining some grudging respect from his boss.

At the same time, his personal life takes a hit. He has to temporarily vacate his rooming house and move in with his friend Mod (Sean Hughes). This creates tension in a relationship that’s mainly been supportive in Series 1. In addition, his estranged wife continues to be horrid. They’re separated, yet she calls him over to complete household repairs and to take the family dog at her convenience. She dates other men and tells him about it. She ignores him when he puts up clear hints that this is hurtful. She gets annoyed when he doesn’t want to hear details about the man she’s going to Paris with for the Easter Holiday.

Despite his griefs, at work Dangerous gets his killer in four separate cases:

Christine: Davies investigates the unexplained death of a lottery winner. The lottery winner had a trophy wife and a mentally challenged Haitian boy as his ward. This one is a good case. The character of Christine, the dead man’s wife, is fascinating. She’s dishonest and evasive, but why? We slowly come to understand her as the episode goes on. It’s a great character story and a good mystery to boot. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Long Bank Holiday: Davies has plans for the long Easter Holiday weekend while trying to help a local pharmacist, called a chemist in this show from Britain. Davies comes across numerous humans remains on the chemist’s property. Most of the department is busy processing the crime scene. This leaves him to solve several cases all on his own. Several of them interlink.

This one leaves me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I can appreciate the cleverness of the story. On the other hand, this is almost too clever. The story is far too busy and has way too many plotlines for a 70 minute TV show. A nice show, but it’s a bloated story. Rating: 3/5

Benefit to Mankind: Dangerous goes in for assertiveness training. On anyone else, it would lead to the character going too far and becoming a jerk. Davies is so non-assertive, it just helps him to show a healthy degree of assertiveness that’s required for the job and his personal life. In one case, he demands his wife give him his turn with the family dog. She typically only lets him have the dog when she doesn’t want it. The mystery will require the assertiveness as Davies investigates the apparent suicide of a researcher. Davies is stonewalled at every turn by the owners of the research firm. This episode is fun. The only dumb part is Mod’s awkward attempt to attract the attention of the woman teaching the assertiveness class. Rating: 4/5

Dangerous and the Lonely Hearts: Davies is called in to investigate when a young girl refuses to speak and can’t be identified. He discovers that she’s a refugee and locates the girl’s mother only to find her murdered. The best clue Davies has is the mother’s involvement in a lonely hearts club. He discovers one of the men she’d dated was his boss. The mystery is good and the story also features Davies trying to express his feelings to his wife in a beautifully acted scene by Peter Davison. The one big problem with the episode is that a character attempts suicide. This serves as a red herring but it’s never adequately explained. Rating: 4/5

Overall, this series isn’t perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed these episodes and they’re definitely worth a watch.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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DVD Review: Father Dowling Season Three


After a TV movie and two partial seasons, ABC gave the Father Dowling Mysteries a regular season of 22 episodes in 1990-91.

The same cast of regulars from Season 2 returned with Father Frank Dowling (Tom Boswell), Sister Steve (Tracy Nelson) investigating mysteries and Father Prestwick (James Stephens) and housekeeper Marie (Mary Wickes) providing comic relief.

The series maintained a pleasant, family friendly voice tone with likable characters. Steve does a lot of undercover work and handles most tasks well, but you don’t get the impression she’s unrealistically super competent in everything like during Season One.

Some of the past seasons had episodes that could more rightly be called “adventures”  than “mysteries,” but these are true mysteries. The plots are thought-out but never too intricate.

The one thing I did miss from Season Two was the little touches that made Father Dowling and Sister Steve seem more like a real Catholic priest and nun. Except as discussed below, they don’t do anything to cut against that idea other than the fact that the two can always run off to investigate a mystery.

My favorite episodes of this season is, “The Christmas Mystery.” It’s a nice mystery with a few suspect twists, but it’s a fun Christmas treat and there aren’t enough good Christmas mysteries out there. In, “The Moving Target Mystery,” a contract killer comes into Father Dowling’s confessional and confesses he was hired to kill him. He is backing out because he won’t kill a priest but somebody else will. It’s a good set up for a story.

The “Fugitive Priest Mystery,” finds Father Dowling on the run thanks to his evil twin Blaine, and he has to clear his name and find out what Blaine’s up to. “The Hard-Boiled Mystery,” is my favorite episode of the season. Father Dowling goes to have words with a writer who decided to write a story based on Father Dowling. It’s set during the 1930s with Dowling as a hard-boiled priest-detective. We flash from the present to the hard-boiled detective scenes and they’re absolutely hilarious.

On the downside,  some stories just didn’t work. After having an angel in Season 2, the writers decided, “How about having Father Dowling encounter the devil?” Thus we were given, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery.” What we get is a Hollywood version of the devil who is defeated by a plot ripped off from, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” The story introduces an older brother for Steve and contradicts a previous season’s story featuring Steve’s younger brother. Further, it has the characters acting really out of character. It’s the worst episode of the series.

“The Consulting Detective Mystery,” is a bit of clunker. Father Dowling makes a deduction as to who committed a crime. He’s wrong, leading to an innocent ex-con losing his job. This leads to Sherlock Holmes appearing in order to restore Father Dowling’s confidence. It’s not a great setup and the actor playing Holmes doesn’t work. It’s not as bad as, “The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery,”  but it’s weak and poorly executed.

The rest of the box set is serviceable and fun. Father Dowling was never a big budget show, and it never featured television’s most clever mystery writers. It was a show you could enjoy with the whole family. Another reviewer described the show as “cute,” and I’ll go with that. This season, in particular, features Father Dowling and Sister Steve working to save a cute zoo monkey framed for murder. It’s easy viewing with a bit of nostalgia for simpler times thrown into the deal.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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