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Natural Enemies (Fun City Editions) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Natural Enemies (Fun City Editions) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Fun City Editions
    Released on: August 30th, 2022.
    Director: Jeff Kanew
    Cast: Hal Holbrook, Louise Fletcher, Jose Ferrer, Viveca Lindfors
    Year: 1979
    Purchase From Amazon

    Natural Enemies – Movie Review:

    Before he directed Revenge Of The Nerds, Troop Beverly Hills and V.I. Warshawski, filmmaker Jeff Kanew helmed 1979's Natural Enemies, based on the novel of the same name by author Julius Horwitz.

    The story revolves around a forty-eight year old man named Paul Steward (Hal Holbrook) who makes a good living for himself as a magazine editor. One morning, he wakes up in his West Redding, Connecticut home where he lives with his wife Miriam (Louise Fletcher) and their three kids, Tony (Peter Armstrong), Alex (Stephen Austin) and Sheila (Elizabeth Berridge), and gives serious consideration to killing his family and then himself.

    He doesn't do that. Instead, he travels to Manhattan where he talks with friend named Harry Rosenthal (José Ferrer) and then a therapist named Dr. Baker (Viveca Lindfors) about the plans he came dangerously close to carrying out, and that he still plans on carrying out. Surprisingly, neither of these associates of Paul's opts to call the police. Figuring his days could very well be numbered, Paul decides to hire a quintet of hookers (June Berry, Alisha Fontaine, Pat Mauceri, Michele O’Brien and Claire Reilly) and have an orgy, during which he waxes on to the hired ladies about his marriage and his problems at home. He again reiterates that he intends to kill his family when he returns home to Connecticut.

    He’s clearly looking for answers, something that might change his mind about the horrible decision he’s made and intends to act on, but his life seems to empty and devoid of meaning that it doesn’t look like he’ll find them, until he has a chance encounter with a woman on his train ride home.

    A misanthropic ‘day in the life’ story that’s more of a depressing character study than anything else, Natural Enemies (which his, oddly enough, a ‘Utopia Production’) is an interesting movie worth seeing for fans of Holbrook, as he is very good here even if the movie doesn’t succeed in making his doom and gloom seem as inescapable as it needs to in order to really work. Paul’s marital issues and dire circumstances in his bedroom, brought on by some of the issues that Miriam deals with without much real help from her husband, could be better served by having an extra-marital affair rather than by a murder/suicide, but Kanew’s film is so intent on delving into the most depressing angle possible that the story never investigates that option. Granted, Kanew and company do a pretty solid job of showcasing the banality of Paul’s exceedingly mundane existence, but despite some really strong cinematography and solid production values, that doesn’t always make for the most gripping viewing because it can be hard to related to the lead. Wnd when the movie is as decidedly deliberate in its pacing as Natural Enemies is, you find yourself picking holes in his situation, wondering if it might be better, and easier, for him to simply leave his family rather than kill them. To its credit, the movie does do a good job of demonstrating the apathy that Paul is constantly surrounded with (hence why no one he shares his problems with bothers to call the cops), and that would certainly play a part in why he decides to do what he does, but it’s hard to really sympathize with the guy much even if that aspect probably does add to the realism of the story.

    With that all said, while Kanew’s attempts to expose the fallacies of the cliché of the American Dream might not make for particularly enjoyable viewing, the movie is, despite its flaws, a genuinely odd but somehow compelling misfire. Holbrook is excellent here, perfectly cast as sad sack Paul and convincing in the way that he portrays his characters obvious depression. Louise Fletcher is excellent here as well, and the supporting cast all does a nice job. The acting here is very strong. Production values and location work are also quite good.

    Not a perfect film, but an interesting and well-made one.

    Natural Enemies – Blu-ray Review:

    Natural Enemies, which has been out of print for decades, comes to region free Blu-ray restored in 2k from a 35mm deposit print held by the Library of Congress on a 50GB disc with the feature using up 28.7GBs of space and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. A disclaimer that appears on screen before the movie starts warns us that damage and color fading couldn’t be repaired but overall, this looks very nice. If it isn’t quite as pristine as most of the label’s other offerings, it’s still in very nice shape with minimal print damage and nice, natural grain. Detail is pretty strong and colors look good, as do black levels. The image always looks nice and filmic, showing no issues with any noticeable noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts even if sometimes the things look a bit hot due to some of the color fading.

    The only audio option is a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are offered in English. No problems with the audio to note, the dialogue is easy to understand and follow, there’s a bit of depth to the score and effects and the track is free of any hiss or distortion. The levels are properly balanced and there’s no audible sibilance to complain about, it all sounds very good.

    A newly recorded audio commentary by Bill Ackerman of the Supporting Characters podcast kicks off the extras. He talks about how the movie was a labor of love for the director and how the film is a great showcase for the leads. As the track goes on, he talks about Cinema 5 and their work with Bergman and how Kanew latched on to Bergman’s work and its influence on Natural Enemies with some of its visuals and its mood. He does a great job pointing out some of the subtle details in the movie that start to add up and establish the grim reality of Paul's life and his tone of resignation, the use of music and voice over narration, the way that the film alienates us from Paul in the early stages, details on Holbrook and the other cast and crew members, where this movie fits in Kanew's career and details on his life and work, details on the source novel, how the movie was received when initially released and the cult following that has grown around it and lots more. It's an interesting and very well thought out examination of the movie.

    The disc also includes The Road To Natural Enemies, which is a new, two-part video interview with director Jeff Kanew. The first part runs for twenty-three minutes and covers Kanew's upbringing and home life in Brooklyn, getting into darker movies as a kid but also enjoying Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, how he got interested in music and then into film, getting his start editing TV commercials, trailers and adult films, making the move into directing, meeting and marrying his wife and really wanting to be famous. He talks about shooting a XXX movie called Mail Order Confidential and what he learned about moviemaking, getting lucky when he was asked to work on The Graduate and create its trailer and doing his first documentary feature with 1972's Black Rodeo.

    The second part runs forty-four minutes and it delves into the details behind the making of Natural Enemies. He's quite candid in his discussions and recollections of how he came to make the movie. He talks about how he came to read the novel and the impression that it made on him, getting some producers on board and getting the financing in place for the movie, writing the script himself, trying to get name actors like Paul Newman and George C. Scott interested in the project, getting inspired by Robert Redford after he convinced Hal Holbrook to take the lead, landing Louise Fletcher after she won the Oscar for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and shooting two endings for the movie at Holbrook's insistence. He also goes over memories of shooting certain key scenes, how Holbrook and Fletcher got along on set, locations that were used for the movie, Don Ellis' score, getting the film distributed, changing the ending after getting some feedback from some viewers in Los Angeles which completely changed the way that the movie was received theatrically, the film's VHS release and how he feels about the movie all these many years since making it.

    Jeff Kanew also contributes a quick two minute video introduction to the feature. The aforementioned alternate ending, a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection options finish up the extras on the disc.

    As to the packaging, Fun City Editions offers up this release with some very cool reversible cover sleeve art as well as a color insert booklet with a new essay by Jason Bailey titled A Biting Indictment: The Psychology Of Natural Enemies as well as cast and crew listings.

    Natural Enemies - The Final Word:

    Natural Enemies is grim stuff to be sure and the story does have some issues that can be tough to overlook, but it’s also a very well-made and surprisingly underseen film. Fun City Editions has done their typically rock solid job bringing this nearly forgotten movie to Blu-ray, with a very fine presentation and some interesting extra features that do a good job of digging below the surface and exploring the movie’s themes.


    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Natural Enemies Blu-ray screen caps!

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    Ian Jane
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    Last edited by Ian Jane; 09-21-2022, 08:03 AM.
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