• Gone With The Pope (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)



    Released by: Grindhouse Releasing
    Released on: March 24th 2015.
    Director: Duke Mitchell
    Cast: Duke Mitchell, Giorgio Tavolieri, Peter Milo, Jeanne Hibbard, Lorenzo Dardado, Jim LoBianco
    Year: 1975/2009
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    The Movie:

    Think how barren the cinematic landscape would be without crazy Catholic movies. Image a world without the horror of The Exorcist or a universe devoid of The Devil In Miss Jones… and imagine a world without Duke Mitchell’s Gone With The Pope. That’s a world that almost came to be, as the film stopped production in 1975 and was never technically finished. Thankfully Grindhouse Releasing came to the rescue and more than thirty years after the movie was started, it hit theaters. Now, the film that would prove Duke Mitchell’s swan song lives again through the magic of Blu-ray and DVD.

    Made completely independent of the Hollywood system, Mitchell wrote, directed and starred in this film that he cast primarily with friends and acquaintances and shot mostly in his spare time on weekends. This follow up to Massacre Mafia Style, made a year earlier, the picture tells the story of a man named Paul (Mitchell) who gets out of the big house and promptly returns to a life of crime. Some mobsters in Chicago offer him a hundred thousand dollars to kill off seven rival mobsters based in Los Angeles and Las Vegas – and he accepts, knowing full well that they will try to kill him once the job is over, rather than pay him off. Regardless, he recruits Giorgio (Giorgio Tavolieri) to hit one city while he takes care of business in Vegas. They pull it off with some help from prison buddies Luke (Jim LoBianco), Peter (Peter Milo) and a guy referred to only as The Old Man (Lorenzo Dardado). Once it’s over with, Paul gets permission from his lady friend, Jean (Jeanne Hibbard) to take the boys away on a boat for a little bit, for some well-deserved rest and relaxation.

    Paul’s got bigger plans than that, however – he talks his crew into participating in an elaborate scheme to kidnap The Pope and to demand a ransom of one dollar from every Catholic in the world (he later decides it would be more reasonable to drop it to fifty cents from every Catholic in the world, but initially he aims high). So they set out to do just that, getting The Old Man to replace his Holiness and making off with The Pope on their boat. Eventually, all involved will wind up on a spiritual journey of sorts, but Paul will stick to his guns, both literally and figuratively…

    Highlighted by an amazingly impassioned speech in which Mitchell’s Paul unloads on The Pope, calling him right out on the hypocrisy of a Church that will let children starve while insisting their figurehead sit atop a golden throne, this is one man’s intense and very likely insane ideas all splashed up there on the screen for the world to see. Paul is really the only character that gets much development but it’s interesting what we do learn about him. Early in the film he’s a hitman, taking out anyone he needs to, but then he’s tender enough to take Jean out on a date at the park where they watch people jump BMX bikes and go on a carousel. He obviously cares for her, but not so much that he won’t screw a black hooker on the side and throw a few nasty racial slurs at her while doing so. This scene is blatantly racist, unapologetically so, but at the same time he and she do seem rather keen on one another. Additionally, while he may lay into The Pope for the crimes that the Catholic Church are definitely at least partially responsible for, he’s empathetic towards the Jews, not only calling The Pope on the Church turning a blind eye towards the Holocaust but actively seeking revenge in their name! Paul’s a man of convictions, but so too is he a man of contradictions. He’s a lover, a fighter, a philosopher… a genuine renascence man clad in dayglow polyester outfits and black hair dye.

    An even more personal film than Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell once again proves a one man wrecking crew, handling not only the scripting, directing and lead acting duties but contributing to the soundtrack as well. Like his earlier film, the picture touches often on themes of Italian identity and heritage but at the same time isn’t afraid to poke plenty of holes at the Roman Catholic Church. That makes it all the more interesting then when things change as the crew get on the boat with their hostage and start to get to know him. Attitudes shift as does the entire tone of the movie and while it’s all done with stilted acting and some admittedly wacky ideas (this might be the only movie ever made with a miracle fish in it?), Mitchell’s obvious enthusiasm for the material makes it work.

    The supporting cast members are interesting to watch. None of these people would seem to have been professional actors and at one point you can clearly see Jeanne Hibbard’ eyes moving left to right as she reads the cue cards being held for her off-camera. Dardado occasionally seems to be struggling to deliver his lines in English while Tavolieri, Milo and LoBianco show about as much range as a wet sock. Yet they too seem to believe in what they’re doing, which makes all of this not just watchable, but mesmerizing.

    The film also has a great look to it. There’s definitely that down and dirty low budget feel to the picture but the cinematography is not only creative but sometimes genuinely inspired. Where the story could easily have been told using simple long/medium/close up shots, the movie instead plays around with camera angels and lighting in interesting ways. Be it the reflection of The Coliseum in Mitchell’s mirrored shades or strange lighting of a statue of the Virgin Mary, this is a wild looking film. Throw into the mix some absolutely amazing location footage shot all over the Las Vegas of 1975 (a very different city than the one that exists today), splattered with neon of every color imaginable, and you wind up with a genuinely cool looking film. Though it goes at a slower pace than Massacre Mafia Style and prefers strange scenarios and set pieces over rampant violence (though the film has its fair share of bloodshed), it’s a more ambitious and flat out bizarre picture than its predecessor – one that, like the picture that came before it, oozes passion and grit from every damn frame.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Gone With The Pope debuts Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in a transfer taken from the only existing 35mm elements. Although there are some shots that are just plain out of focus (which can’t really be fixed), for the most part the transfer here is really impressive. Detail is strong throughout and colors are very nicely reproduced. There’s a bit of damage visible here and there but generally speaking the picture is pretty clean in that regard. Skin tones look good, never too pink or too orange, and black levels are nice and deep. There are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts nor are there any obvious problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement. To summarize, this looks about as good as it realistically can – and that’s pretty damn good indeed!

    Audio options are provided in English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, DTS-HD Mono Master Audio and Dolby Digital 2.0, there are no subtitles or alternate language options provided. There are one or two scenes that are a little muffled but again, this is a case of doing the best with what you’ve got and typically the results are once again quite strong. Dialogue is generally easy to follow but where the lossless options really shine is with the film’s use of music. Jeffrey Mitchell’s Jackknife sounds killer here, and Duke’s lounge numbers sound great too.

    The extras, which are plentiful and fascinating, start off with a sixty-six minute featurette called The Players. This is made up of interviews with editors Robert Florio and Bob Leighton, cinematographer Peter Santoro (who also did a lot of sound and lighting work on the movie), cast members Jim LoBianco and John Murgia and Moonstone Pictures President/Mitchell friend Matt Cimber (who distributed Mitchell’s first directorial effort, Massacre Mafia Style). Each of the interviewees tells how they met Mitchell and how they came onboard to work on this film and some of these stories are pretty amazing. You want to hear about Duke walking around with a loaded pistol tucked in his pant leg? How he dealt with his actors on set when lines were flubbed? Where he got some of the money for this movie or what his relationship with Frank Sinatra was like? It’s all here. We also learn about when and how Duke did or did not use a script, the use of stock footage and cue cards during the production and more. Lots of great clips and archival stills are used here and it’s really just fascinating stuff.

    Shooting Pope spends twenty-three minutes with Peter Santoro where he elaborates a bit more on some of the production quirks he touched on in the longer first piece. Here he talks about landing his first professional cinematographer job on this picture, what it was like taking direction from Mitchell and how he wound up working on sound as well for an extra $5 a day – so that Mitchell could sack the full time sound man from the shoot and save some money. Santoro also goes into quite a bit of detail about the locations that are used throughout the movie and a fair bit more.

    Restoring Pope is a shorter piece, running just over three minutes, but it gives us a quick idea of the amount of work that was involved in turning what Mitchell had shot (which was obviously incomplete) into the feature contained on the disc. It’s quite interesting.

    The disc also contains a wealth of deleted scenes, running just over seventeen minutes in combined length. Nothing in here would really have changed the movie much but it’s interesting to see this stuff. Look for some bits and pieces featuring Paul behind bars and interacting with the other prisoners as well as some more footage from the actual kidnapping sequence where they guys nab his Holiness. We also see Paul cruising around checking out different restaurants and bars – Mitchell is, not surprisingly, featured prominently in most of this material which makes it fun to watch. Complimenting these scenes are another twelve minutes of raw outtakes. These are great because they give us a welcome glimpse into Mitchell’s style as a director as we get to hear him (off camera for the most part) talking his cast through different scenes, expressing concerns about outside noise interference at times and really just doing his all to keep the momentum going on the shoot.

    The craziest extra on the disc is the six minute Inserts, once again featuring Santoro. Here he talks about how he and Mitchell walked by one of the Mitchell Brothers’ theaters and how Duke decided he wanted to get in on the adult film business. Evidently he was quite insistent on this and some of the footage (which sticks to an R rating) of the actual endeavor shows up here.

    Also worth checking out is the twenty minutes of footage included from the movie’s official theatrical premiere which took place in 2010 at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles. Featured here are a lot of the guys who were involved in the picture as well as Duke’s son Jeffrey Mitchell and Grindhouse Releasing’s own Bob Murawski, who was the man that spearheaded putting all of the original footage into feature movie form. It’s a nice celebration of the film and those who made it.

    Bringing the extras to a close is a fantastic eight minute clip of Frankie Carr And The Novelites (the crazy guitar/accordion night club act featured in the movie) doing their thing, a pretty massive still gallery of ephemera and behind the scenes materials, a trailer for the feature and trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing properties. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the film with identical extras on it. Both discs include menus and chapter stops. Inside the clear Blu-ray case is an insert booklet with an essay by John Skipp on one side and a nice one sheet replica on the flip side.

    The Final Word:

    Gone With The Pope is testament to how ambition and passion are always more important than a big budget or a famous cast. It’s a film like no other, an eighty-two minute barrage of ideas that are simultaneously insane and profound as Mitchell takes on the hypocrisy of organized religion without ever really writing off the spiritual side of life. It’s a skewed and strange vision to be sure but it’s relentlessly entertaining, as politically incorrect as they come and really just a wild ride all together. Grindhouse Releasing have rolled out the red carpet for the film, giving it the best possible presentation and jamming the disc with extras that are as interesting as they are comprehensive.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!