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Directed By Walter Hill (Imprint Films) Blu-ray Review - Part Two!

    Ian Jane

  • Directed By Walter Hill (Imprint Films) Blu-ray Review - Part Two!

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    Released by: Imprint Films
    Released on: August 4th, 2023.
    Director: Walter Hill
    Cast: Nick Nolte, Power Booth, Mickey Rourke, Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Thomas Hayden Church
    Year: 1987, 1989, 2006
    Purchase From Amazon

    Directed By Walter Hill – Movie Review:

    Imprint assembles a half-dozen films directed by Walter Hill in this special edition boxed set that offers up some of the best movies in the director’s filmography.

    Here’s the second part of our coverage of this set.

    Extreme Prejudice:

    Walter Hill’s 1987 film, Extreme Prejudice, opens with a scene in an airport in El Paso, Texas where a group of five U.S. military men - Larry McRose (Clancy Brown), Buckman Atwater (William Forsythe), Declan Patrick Coker (Matt Mulhelm), Charles Biddle (Larry B. Scott) and Luther Fry (Dan Tullis Jr.) - meet up with Paul Hackett (Michael Ironside). Hackett is the leader of the so called Zombie Unit, a covert squad made up of men who have all been reported dead, killed in the line of duty, but who are clearly not and these five have been selected for a top secret assignment.

    Meanwhile, Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) works as a Texas Ranger who has recently recieved the offer of a substantial bribe from Cash Bailey (Powers Booth), his former childhood friend who is now a drug dealer south of the border in Mexico. Jack doesn't take Cash's bribe, but Cash makes it clear that should he cause him any trouble he'll wind up dead. A short time later, Jack and Sheriff Hank Pearson (Rip Torn) get attacked by Bailey's men and Pearson gets shot and killed in the fracus.

    From here, the Zombie Unit men arrive in the town and start following Bailey but their attempts to rob a bank sees a few of them nabbed by Benteen. When he realizes that these men are supposed to be dead and then comes face to face with Hackett he learns that their robbery was a ploy to get Bailey's money.

    From here, Benteen teams up with Hackett and his team to head into Mexico and take out Bailey permanently, but of course, there are twists, and the alluring presence of Benteen's lady friend, Sarita (María Conchita Alonso), who once had romantic ties to Bailey.

    A tense and exciting crime thriller that wears Hill’s Sam Peckinpah influence on its sleeve in the best way possible, Extreme Prejudice is a macho movie about macho men. This thing just oozes testosterone from one violent frame to the next, and the whole thing just winds up as pure action movie bliss. We get all sorts of twists and turns in the story, some great cinematography and a really solid score all complementing Hill’s fantastic control for pacing and talented eye for staging action set pieces. From the mysterious opening to the squib-tastic finale, it’s a film fans of eighties action movies simply cannot miss.

    And on top of all of that? It’s got an absolutely fantastic cast. Nolte is rock solid in the lead here with Boothe every bit as good as his foil. Ironside proves he’s got what it takes with his tough guy role and the members of the Zombie Unit, Clancy Brown and William Forsythe in particular, are all equally entertaining.

    Johnny Handsome:

    Directed by Walter Hill and starring Mickey Rourke (in a role originally intended for Al Pacino), 1989's Johnny Handsome sees Rourke playing a smalltime gangster named John Sedley, who has earned himself the nickname of 'Johnny Handsome' thanks to some facial deformities. He convinces a few acquaintances - Mikey (Scott Wilson), Sunny (Ellen Barkin) and Rafe (Lance Henriksen) - to help him out on a heist but of course, it all goes wrong. Mikey winds up dead and Sunny and Rafe abandon Johnny at the scene of the crime where he's promptly arrested. While he's doing his time, Dr. Steven Fisher (Forest Whitaker) performs an operation on him and restores his face to 'normal' so when he's released on parole shortly thereafter, he can go back to the outside world looking the way most would expect him to.

    Once he's outside, however, Johnny draws the attention of a cop named A.Z. Drones (Morgan Freeman) who is dead certain that Johnny will go back to his old ways and return to a life of crime. As such, he follows him. Johnny, on the other hand, is trying to go straight, but soon finds that revenge is a far too tempting offer to resist. Will his newfound love of a cute accountant named Donna (Elizabeth McGovern) be enough to keep him from resorting to the crooked path he once walked?

    So very obviously inspired by the hardboiled crime noir films of the forties, Johnny Handsome is pretty solid entertainment even if, at times, it heads a little too quickly, and intentionally, into B-movie territory. Hill does a fine job of paying homage to the shadowy world of double crossings and femme fatales that he is seemingly enamored with but has trouble setting his film apart from those that inspired it. The color obviously helps in that regard, as does the late eighties aesthetic, but this could have very easily been made decades ago. This is a plus in one way, but at the same time, those familiar with where Hill pulls his inspiration from may find things a bit predictable and at times just a bit too forced to really feel completely authentic.

    With that complaint levied, to Hill's credit he does keep the film moving at a rock solid pace and really lets cinematographer Matthew Leonetti cut loose with some great camera work. Rourke, here at the end of his first career peek (we all know around the time this film was made he'd be more or less forgotten by Hollywood until his career was resurrected by Sin City, The Wrestler and soon The Expendables - a film that this Blu-ray's packaging has no qualms about capitalizing on) but he's good in the lead here. He's gruff enough looking that he fits the role and his performance is a strong one. Of course, the fact that he's surrounded by the likes of Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker and a sorely underused (and underappreciated) Lance Henriksen certainly helps but Rourke holds his own against a pretty formidable supporting cast and the film is all the better for it.

    Ultimately the film is, at its core, a pretty standard revenge film. It starts off with a fantastic opening robbery sequence, settles down for a bit of a slow burn during the middle, and then ramps it back up to a quick pace for a wholly appropriate finale. The clever editing employed throughout the picture helps us forget about the periodically derivative storyline while Rourke's impressive acting here, tinged with just the right amount of pathos to keep us interested in him, anchors the picture with enough emotional weight to matter. Yeah, we might have seen this before and sure it's been done better by other directors, but when the dust settles Johnny Handsome is really a pretty decent slice of noir inspired entertainment made by a talented crew and with an equally talented cast. This makes it easy to look past its shortcomings and enjoy it for what it is.

    Broken Trail:

    The sixth and final film in the collection was actually a made for TV two-part mini-series produced for AMC. Written by Alan Geoffrion and based on his own novel of the same name, the story starts in the San Francisco of 1898 where a human trafficking ring brings Chinese women to American soil forcing them to live as prostitutes in service to the various blue collar men that work in and around the city. When Captain Billy Fender (James Russo) arrives in town, he buys five Chinese women with every intention of selling them into prostitution upon his return to Idaho.

    One state north in Oregon, we meet an old cowboy named Prentice "Prent" Ritter (Robert Duvall) as he arrives at the Gap Ranch where he tells his nephew, Tom Harte (Thomas Haden Church), that his estranged mother has passed away and left everything not to her son but her brother. Prent isn't entirely comfortable with his late sister's decision so he tells Tom that if he helps him bring a few hundred horses from Oregon to Wyoming so he can sell them, he'll give him twenty-five percent of the money. Tom agrees and on their journey they run into Fender and the Chinese women he's purchased but not before Tom brings on an Irishman named Heck Gilpin (Scott Cooper) to help them out. Fender asks to follow them along the trail and with Prent's permission does just that, only to drug the other three, steal their money and horses and take off with one of the girls. Tom catches up with him and hangs him for his crimes.

    As the journey continues, they run into other characters good and bad, eventually having to figure out what to do with the surviving four women, as Tom starts to develop feelings for one of them.

    Much less of the hyper-violent western that we saw Hill create with The Long Riders, Broken Trail is a much more melancholy affair. It’s beautifully shot with some gorgeous cinematography doing a wonderful job of capturing the natural beauty of the American west, and the acting is really strong across the board. Robert Duvall, who brought the project to Hill in the first place, is clearly very invested in the role and does some very fine work here. Church proves to be more than just ‘the guy from Wings’ and really crafts an interesting and believable character with his work in this movie.

    It’s a slower paced film than you might expect from Hill but the film, if slow, never feels especially dull. The characters are well-constructed and believable, and their situations always feel realistic. The production values are pretty strong and there’s nice attention to period detail on display throughout both parts of this three hour epic.

    Directed By Walter Hill – Blu-ray Review:

    Each of these three films arrives on its own 50GB disc in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, with the first two framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and Broken Trail at 1.78.1 widescreen, with Extreme Prejudice and Johnny Handsome being noted as being taken from a new 4k master. The two features look better than the TV mini-series does but all three transfers here are really solid. Colors look nice, there’s good depth and detail and there isn’t really any print damage to complain about at all. Skin tones look accurate and black levels are solid and deep.

    Each of the three movies gets an LPCM 2.0 Stereo option in English, while Broken Trail also gets a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track. Subtitles are provided in English only. No problems to note here. The audio for each of the three presentations is clean, clear and properly balanced and the shoot outs, especially in Extreme Prejudice, really pack a wallop. No problems understanding dialogue or with any hiss, distortion or sibilance.

    Extras are spread across this set as follows:

    Extreme Prejudice:

    The first of the three audio commentary tracks on this disc is from film critic/author Walter Chaw, a second commentary is by film historians Daniel Kremer and Nat Segaloff and carried over from the Lionsgate Blu-ray release is a third commentary by film historians C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke. Understandably, these cover some of the same ground while each allowing the different interpretations of the different participants a chance to shine through. There’s lots of talk here about the performances in the film, how the movie compares to some of Hill’s other work made before and after this picture, John Milius’ work on the script, how the movie was received by critics, details on the production history and lots more. Yet another audio track features some isolated score selections mixed in with audio interview clips with music historian John Takis where he speaks about the effectiveness of Jerry Goldsmith’s solid score.

    From there, dig into two interviews with director Walter Hill, the first of which is from 2010 and runs forty-one minutes. Here, Hill talks about progressing from a writer to a director, if directing affected his writing skills, working with legends like Bronson and Coburn, his influences on Extreme Prejudice as well as the different people he collaborated with on the movie and more. The second interview with Hill is from 2019 and it runs fifty-nine minutes. It covers some of the same ground but also details what he learned from Sam Peckinpah and what he was like to be around, working with different cameramen and their ability to use color, his thoughts on the value of film school, how the position of film director has changed over the years, working with different financiers, the importance of the success of the Rambo movies, how much he likes John Milius' writing, different films that were an influence on Extreme Prejudice and other memories of some of the people he worked with on the movie.

    The Major’s Agenda is an interview with actor Michael Ironside running twenty-three minutes. It lets the actor speak about what it was like being on set and working with Walter Hill, how he wound up getting into acting, landing the role in V and getting some attention for it and how Extreme Prejudice was the first big American feature he did. He then goes on to share memories of what it was like on set, getting along with Hill, thoughts no his co-stars, getting sun stroke on set, shooting on location near El Paso, why some scenes were changed during the production, his thoughts on being a character actor and how he feels about the movie overall.

    The War Within interviews actor Clancy Brown for twenty-five minutes about the camaraderie that existed on the set, how he first started acting, landing the role on Extreme Prejudice and why Walter Hill is a hero of his, working with Hill on this and other projects, what it was like acting alongside Nick Nolte and Powers Boothe, hanging out with John Goodman during the making of the movie, memories of working with the other cast members, where Hill took a suggestion from him that wound up in the movie and filming the different death scenes for the movie and the influence of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on the movie.

    Capturing The Chaos is an interview with director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti. Here, over fifteen minutes, he speaks about how he came to get his start in the film business after getting out of the service by doing commercial work, different jobs he took in his early days, working his way up to cinematographer, what he tries to bring to his work in different genres, why certain scenes in Extreme Prejudice look the way they do, what it was like working with Walter Hill, the challenges involved in shooting some of the more intense action scenes and the importance of using the right camera angels.

    Finishing up the extras on this disc are a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer, a seven minute vintage EPK piece, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options.

    Johnny Handsome:

    Extras for Johnny Handsome start off with a commentary track from Film critic/author Walter Chaw, the author of A Walter Hill Film, how the producers came work worth with Hill and the involvement of what was Caralco Pictures, details on the different cast and crew members that worked on the film, some of the design ideas in the makeup and how it compares to Mask and the Beauty And The Beast TV series, thoughts on the different characters that populate the movie, some of the themes Hill explores with the film, the comic book elements of some of Hill's work and plenty of other details.

    A second audio commentary comes courtesy of film historians Daniel Kremer and Scout Tafoya. They discuss some of Hill's more confounding elements in terms of the importance of certain elements of his work, the themes and ideas that creep up into many of his films, thoughts on Rourke's character, the different performances in the movie and details on the actors that created them, Hill's ability to make films his way up until the mid-eighties, how Hill's career has changed since then, how you can catagorize New York City cinema by mayoral era, empathetic qualities in certain characters and a whole lot more.

    Codes to Live By – Walter Hill on ‘Johnny Handsome’ is a lengthy forty-four minute piece where Hill speaks about why he did the movie and connected to the story, working out the ending used in the movie compared to the happy ending a lot of people wanted him to use, the makeup needed to bring Rourke into character, working with the cast and crew on the movie, why certain scenes are shot the way they are, thoughts on the performances in the movie and plenty of memories from working on the production.

    Imprint has also supplied a trio of brief archival featurettes from the Lionsgate DVD release that cover the film, each of which is quite interesting. The first, Wordsmith, running thirteen minutes, allows writer Ken Friedman to talk about the film's noir elements and about how those same noir elements relate to the film's style in terms of plot, pacing and dialogue. The ten minute Eye Of The Beholder takes a look at some of the problems that arose during the production of this film and then explores Rourke's involvement in the picture while Action Ma, which runs eleven minutes, shows us, through a talk with Allan Graff, how some of the more impressive set pieces that anchor the film were choreographed and how some of the stunt work was handled.

    Aside from that, look for a trailer for the feature, a still gallery, some menus and chapter selection options.

    Broken Trail:

    Aside from menus and chapter selection options, the disc also includes a twenty-three minute making of documentary called Broken Trail: The Making Of A Legendary Western that features interviews with pretty much all of the core cast members as well as Hill himself. It goes over what it was like on set, shooting out on location, some of the technical challenges involved in the production and more. It's also loaded with some pretty decent behind the scenes footage.

    Directed By Walter Hill - The Final Word:

    The final three films in Imprint Films’ Directed By Walter Hill boxed set are given a very nice presentation while the movies themselves, all very well made and quite good, show Hill’s range and talents as a director. A nice selection of extra features does a nice job of documenting the history of these productions and adding welcome context as well. All in all, a great set for a solid director, highly recommended!

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