• Primetime Panic (Fun City Editions) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Fun City Editions
    Released on: October 26th, 2021.
    Director: Joseph Sargent, Roger Young, Jonathan Kaplan
    Cast: Mare Winningham, Jennifer Warren, Ike Eisenmann, Trini Alvarado, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mako, Mare Winningham
    Year: 1981/1982/1983
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    Primetime Panic – Movie Review:

    Producers Leonard Hill and Philip Mandelker hand their hands in almost twenty made for TV movies in the three years that they worked together, from 1981 through 1984 when Mandelker passed away. Fun City Editions presents a three disc collection offering up a trio of some of their better known efforts, all beautifully restored and with some welcome supplements that document their history and put the films into context. Here’s how it all shapes out.

    Dreams Don’t Die:

    Directed by Roger Young in 1982, this first film is set in New York City and details the exploits of Danny Baker (Ike Eisenmann), a high school aged teenager who, along with some of his buddies, spends a lot of his spare time with a can of spray paint in his hand. The film opens at night in a train yard with Danny and his pals tagging up some abandoned subway cars only to get spotted by the cops and chased across the cars. It’s an exciting and really nicely shot scene that sees the guys make their escape, albeit just barely.

    Danny is involved with Teresa (Trini Alvarado) and lives at home with his mom, Grace (Judi West), but she isn’t around as much as maybe she should be, since she has to work nights in order to keep the lights on and put food on the table. Danny dreams of making it big as a graffiti artist one day, hoping to bring Teresa with him, but the odd are stacked against these two lovable kids. When Danny gets mixed up with "Captain" Kirk (Israel Juarbe), a drug dealer who recruits minors to run his goods around town, things don’t necessarily go in the right direction for the pair. A cop named Charlie Banks (Paul Winfield) busts Danny when he’s out making a run, but rather than bring him in he decides to try and put him on the straight and narrow. Will Danny get his act together or will Kirk keep his claws dug in deep?

    A mix of troubled youth, street gang and crime genres with an after school special vibe, Dreams Don’t Die is a pretty fun watch. Shot on location in New York City, it’s got that gritty aesthetic that you’d hope for and there’s a lot of great footage of the subway system that is neat to see, given how much cleaner it is now compared to back in 1982 (no, really!). It moves at a pretty nice clip and features a strong cast, or at least strong enough. Sometimes Eisenmann overdoes it a bit but he’s likeable in a goofy sort of way, the kid’s got moxie! Paul Winfield is great to see here as well, perfectly cast as the kindly cop.

    Like a lot of morality plays geared towards a younger audience, it isn’t too difficult to figure out where this one is all headed or even how it’ll finish, but getting there is a lot of fun and, like all of the films in this collection, will provide a serious nostalgia rush to those of us of a certain vintage.

    Death Ride To Osaka:

    Also known as Girls Of The White Orchid, director Jonathan Kaplan’s 1983 picture, which is based on a true story, begins in Los Angeles where we meet Carol Heath (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a waitress at a greasy spoon who hopes to one day make it big as a singer. When scouring the newspaper one day, she comes across an ad looking to place prospective performers at gigs in Tokyo. She meets with two agents, an American named Cavanaugh (Philip Charles MacKenzie) and a Japanese man named Shiro (Richard Narita), and soon enough she’s inked her signature down on the contracts and is on a flight to Osaka.

    Upon her arrival, she’s brought to the White Orchid lounge and quickly realizes that she, and quite a few others, including fellow chanteuse Marilyn (Ann Jillian), has been scammed into working as a prostitute for the Yakuza gangsters that own the establishment, which is operated by Madame Mori (Carolyn Seymour) and her husband Hatanaka (Soon-Tek Oh). Without any cash or even her passport, Shiro takes her under her wing but there’s only so much that can be done here. While Mori and Hatanaka coerce Carol into being more cooperative with the men who wish to enjoy her potential services, her ex-boyfriend Don (Thomas Porter) starts to figure out what’s happened to her.

    Released straight to TV in North America but theatrically (and with a bit of nudity) in foreign markets, Death Ride To Osaka is definitely sleazier than your average made for TV movie of the eighties. Presented here in its uncut export version, it proves to be a pretty strong role for Leigh, whose star was starting to rise pretty quickly at this point in her career. She’s good in the party, perfectly believable and entirely sympathetic. The rest of the cast does decent work here as well, and while some of the Japanese characters are stereotyped (not uncommon for the era), the acting is pretty strong overall. Ann Jillian is also very good here and hey, check out Mako in a supporting role.

    Production values are pretty strong. Parts of this were definitely shot on location in Japan, which definitely adds to the appeal, while other parts were clearly shot on a soundstage. It’s a very colorful movie set to a pretty decent score and it moves at a decent pace. Overall, this one should have no trouble holding your attention, and it proves to be a pretty entertaining mix of exploitation and melodrama.


    Last but not least is director Joseph Sargent's 1981 picture, Freedom, which stars Mare Winningham as a sixteen year old named Libby. She lives with her mother, Rachel (Jennifer Warren), a divorcee now dating a guy named Richard (Tony Bill). She makes her living as a reporter and to say that the two of them don’t get along would be a bit of an understatement. Eventually, Libby manages to become legally emancipated from Rachel.

    No longer accountable to her mother, Libby decides to head out on her own and explore her new found freedom. Soon enough, she’s hooked up with a travelling carnival and befriended a guy named Bill (Peter Horton), soon blossoming from a friendship into a romantic relationship. As time goes on, predictably enough Libby starts to realize that maybe things weren’t so bad back at home, even if she and dear old mom didn’t see eye to eye on pretty much anything.

    Written by Barbara Turner, Freedom is much more of a character drama than the other two movies in the collection. It’s well-acted and well-directed, the characters are nicely written and believable and the performances are quite good. Production values are decent and the movie’s pacing is fine. Still, it gets a little sappy and predictable in its second half, even if all involved in the production do a good job of making that sappy predictability moderately engaging. Those who appreciate films based around the difficulties of the family dynamic will appreciate what Sargent, the man who directed The Taking OF Pelham 123 and Jaws The Revenge in addition to a LOT of TV work, has done with the film and again, the acting is strong enough to make it work.

    Primetime Panic – Blu-ray Review:

    Fun City Editions has restored each of the three films in this collection in 4K from its original 35mm camera negative and presented them in both 4:3 and 1.85.1 widescreen aspect ratios (the screen caps below are, obviously, from the 1.33.1 versions which don’t feel quiet as tight as the widescreen versions do). Each of the three movies is presented on its own region free 50GB disc. The transfers are pretty much pristine, showing excellent detail and color reproduction with plenty of depth and texture noticeable throughout. There are no problems with any compression issues and the transfers are free of noise reduction or edge enhancement quirks. The pictures always look nice and filmic, with good black levels and nice, lifelike skin tones. Top notch work here.

    The DTS-HD English language Mono tracks are also very good. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. Expect the range to be a bit limited as these are older single channel tracks but the quality is good. Everything is clean, clear and as balanced as you’d want it to be.

    Extras for Dreams Don’t Die include an audio commentary with Dino Proserpio and Jonathan Hertzberg that is definitely worth a listen. It’s an interesting talk that goes over the details of the cast and crew that worked on the film but which also explores some of the themes that the movie deals with and goes into quite a bit of detail about tagging, graffiti and street art, the way that it is perceived and portrayed in culture and how it was dealt with, or not dealt with, in the New York City of the eighties when this movie was made.

    Death Ride To Osaka’s extras start off with an audio commentary featuring Lars Nilsen who goes over the details of the cast and crew’s respective life and times, spending a fair bit of time going over Jennifer Jason Leigh’s work, noting how certain aspects of the movie may not have aged so well in regards to the way that the Japanese characters are portrayed, what connects this production to a few other made for TV movies of the same era, some of the themes that the picture explores and quite a bit more.

    The disc also includes a forty-six minute video interview with director Jonathan Kaplan entitled
    Back To The White Orchid. This goes over how he came to be involved with the picture, where his career was at during this period, casting the film, working with Leigh, shooting in Japan and having to film the musical numbers live, amongst other things. He’s got a sharp memory and tells some interesting stories here.

    A new video essay put together by Chris O'Neill and narrated by Claire Loy entitled Finding My Own Way runs fifteen minutes and does an interesting job of covering the differences between the theatrical cut and made for TV cut of the movie, how the film does a unique job of dealing with its somewhat controversial topics, Kaplan's directing style and what it brings to the movie, the quality of the cast in the picture and more.

    Amanda Reyes gives another one of her typically excellent commentary tracks for Freedom that is as detailed and insightful as her other tracks have been. She goes into loads of detail about the director’s career, the inspiration behind the movie, the cast and crew involved in the production, the themes that the picture explores, the acting in the film, thoughts on the effectiveness of key scenes and lots, lots more.

    Also included on the disc is a twenty-seven minute video interview with Andrea Adams, the daughter of Carrie Morrow whose real life exploits were the basis for the film. She talks about how when her mother ran away from home her grandmother turned the event into a script, how she feels about the movie and how some of the events in the film parallel certain events from her own life.

    Included inside the clear Blu-ray ‘flipper’ style (meaning each disc is on its own tab inside the case, with a hinged piece in the middle holding the first two discs in place) is a full color booklet that contains an essay by Justin LaLiberty titled Hard In The Paint on Dreams Don't Die and a second essay by Cristina Cacioppo on Freedom titled Ties That Blind, both of which are well-written and insightful. Cast and crew credits for each of the three features is also included inside the booklet. This release also comes packaged with some reversible cover sleeve art.

    Primetime Panic – The Final Word:

    Fun City Edition’s Blu-ray release of Primetime Panic presents three very worthwhile made for TV pictures in gorgeous transfers with fine audio and quite a nice selection of supplements to accompany the three features.

    Click on the images below for full-sized Primetime Panic screen caps!