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Image Entertainment presents
Gangland: Bullets Over Hollywood (2005)

"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster."
- Ray Liotta in GoodFellas

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: February 09, 2007

Stars: Paul Sorvino, James Caan, Chazz Palminteri, Angie Dickinson, Talia Shire, Michael Madsen, Roger Corman
Director: Elaina Archer

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult language and graphic violence)
Run Time: 01h:09m:35s
Release Date: December 05, 2006
UPC: 014381313727
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Mob movies have captivated audiences since the dawn of cinema, evolving with changing times and tastes as they depict (and often romanticize) the exploits of dons and kingpins. Capone, Dillinger, Bugsy Siegel, and Lucky Luciano are only a few of the legendary crime lords to inspire some of Tinseltown's most repugnant yet mesmerizing antiheroes—ruthless men who clawed their way up from the street to become powerful, imposing figures of greed, corruption, and violence. Though many of the actors who embody them—icons like Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, De Niro, and Pacino—have rued the resulting and inescapable typecasting, they, too, became stars and their memorable performances continue to perpetuate the glamorous myth of lawless lives led outside society's stringent boundaries.

Gangland: Bullets over Hollywood, a 2005 documentary, celebrates this durable, endlessly fascinating genre, and shows how it was influenced by headlines, politics, and the movie-going public. By relating both classic and contemporary crime films to the social issues and figures of the day, we come to see how this very American art form has permeated our culture and become strangely beloved, despite dark and disturbing themes, gratuitous gore, and audacious action.

Director Elaina Archer interweaves mafia history with the films that mirror it, but unfortunately it's little more than a cut-and-paste job. Most gangster films are gritty and tough, but the ones we truly revere wrap up the savage content in a lush, lyrical package, and unfortunately Archer's documentary never captures that mood. Her functional approach funnels plenty of information to viewers—with sections on European immigrants, Prohibition, topical yarns, gangster parodies, blaxploitation flicks, and mob TV series, among others—but such a rich subject craves a more creative presentation. Luckily, her interviewees, who include Chazz Palminteri, James Caan, Leonard Maltin, Angie Dickinson, Talia Shire, Roger Corman, and Henry Hill (on whose life GoodFellas was based), pick up the slack, speaking fervently and eloquently about the genre, and making several cogent points.

Any Hollywood documentary, however, lives and dies by its movie clips, and here Bullets over Hollywood falters. By relying too heavily on trailers (a cost-cutting measure, no doubt), Archer must make due with limited material that often fails to illustrate the ideas expressed in the interviews and narration. (It's especially disappointing that only stills are employed to represent the Godfather films.) Still, there's a wealth of fine excerpts from such classics as Bonnie and Clyde, Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, Mean Streets, White Heat, On the Waterfront, Key Largo, Scarface, and Carlito's Way, as well as rare silent films from as far back as the 1910s.

Gangland: Bullets over Hollywood may not be the quintessential crime movie documentary, but it's competently produced, often absorbing, and informative. Most of all, it proves we Americans are indeed married to the mob—or at least mob films—and divorce isn't anywhere on the horizon.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The interview segments are crisp and clean, but some occasional video noise hampers the image somewhat. More recent film clips look fine, but because many of the classic excerpts come from public domain trailers, the quality is often subpar.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The stereo track is adequate, with actor Paul Sorvino's narration (and singing!) coming through loud and clear. The interviews are equally comprehendible, and the music is nicely balanced.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Chapter stops are the only "extras" offered.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Fans of the mob genre will certainly enjoy Gangland: Bullets over Hollywood, but sadly this straightforward documentary isn't as colorful as the movies it examines. Still, it's an enlightening look back at a fascinating and enduring crop of films, and well worth a rental.


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