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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
"I'm not pushing anybody. I'm just not backing down."
DVD ReviewSometimes making a film a family affair can give the production an air of intimacy not otherwise possible (e.g., Eyes Wide Shut), but on other occasions it can just result in self-indulgence and lack of restraint. Such is unfortunately the latter case with Cadence, a race-relations drama directed by Martin Sheen and starring himself and two of his sons, based on a screenplay that was kicking around Hollywood for over two decades.
Charlie Sheen has the lead as Franklin F. Bean (a part originally written for his father 20 years earlier), a rebellious antiauthoritarian army private in 1965 West Germany. When his father dies, Bean gets drunk, gets 8-balls tattooed on his hands and gets into a fight with an MP, which lands him 90 days in the stockade. This minimum security camp is run by bullying Master Sergeant Otis McKinney (Martin Sheen) and his sidekick Cpl. Gassner (Ramon Estevez). Since all of the other prisoners are black, Bean has trouble fitting in until he is taken under the wing of Stokes (Larry Fishburne) and becomes part of their march/dance routine to Sam Cooke's Chain Gang. While working on the prison farm, Bean becomes obsessed with fixing a dilapidated windmill for irrigation purposes. A battle of wills between McKinney and Bean results in the commanding officer seriously losing his marbles and taking the prisoners out in the rain one night for a round of The Most Dangerous Game.
Martin Sheen's first mistake was in directing himself. While he is usually a fine actor, without a third party looking at his acting and using judgment, he chews scenery like a maniac. Son Charlie is nearly as bad, overdoing many of his scenes such as his father's funeral. When we add in son Ramon as Gassner, one wonders why no one notices that these three guys all look alike. I spent far more time wondering about that than I should have, making this casting a serious distraction from the movie itself and indicating how little this picture is able to hold one's interest. The climactic sequence is nicely done, with rapid intercutting and substantial tension, although that is somewhat disrupted by inappropriate use of slow motion.
The fact that the script was twenty-plus years old also makes for some problems; although it very well could have been a highly influential picture if it had been made circa 1970, by 1991 it didn't have much to say that was new. Other films (such as A Soldier's Story, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket) had come along and covered much of the same territory in the meantime. At this point, the script seems as if it were little more than a collection of cliches (such as the white guy proving himself in a basketball game) and stock characters. The prison is an interesting setting, but the tyrannical and bullying McKinney doesn't seem likely to have ever countenanced the jive Stockade Shuffle that the prisoners engage in during their marches. Perhaps if Martin Sheen had played the part with more delicacy it might have worked.
The central symbol, the broken windmill, seems forced. Equally problematic is the fact that, although long disused and off-limits, Bean is able, when the story demands it, to fix the windmill in about thirty seconds. If only someone had been able to fix the movie as quickly.
Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: It's not clear to me whether this DVD presents the film in its original aspect ratio or not. The case has the contradictory statements that it's modified to fit your screen, but that it's presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio. The framing looks more or less correct, so I'm inclined to think it's the right ratio but so few films are made in Academy ratio any more that that seems unlikely. There doesn't seem to be adequate open space for this to be an open-matte presentation.
Even giving that point the benefit of the doubt, there are some serious shortcomings to this image transfer. The picture is very soft and grainy throughout, with a video rate about 4 Mbps. Blacks are exceptionally weak, rising up to the level of medium greys on occasion but no further. Colors are decent if unspectacular. The end result looks like a decent VHS transfer but is definitely subpar for a DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: Although nominally a Dolby Surround track, the audio might as well have been mono. It is almost entirely center-oriented, with no notable surround or directional effects of any kind. Music is a little shrill and compressed-sounding and lacking in bass extension. On the positive side, there is no hiss or noise on the audio.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Extras Review: The only extra is a set of cast and crew bios and filmographies. These are unfortunately presented in a teeny-tiny typeface that is barely readable to my aged eyes without pressing my face against the screen. When you add to that an extremely awkward navigational system, I hardly see the point. The chaptering is very good for a film of this length, but the index screen suffers from having a nearly invisible cursor.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsAlthough it has some moments, the film is formulaic and overwrought much of the time. When you add in a marginal transfer and minimal extras, the whole adds up to a big "pass" sign.
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