Ruthless mobsters crack down hard on barkeeps, strong arming their way into seizing every bar in town. When they mess with Jo Lee-Haywood, the too cocky gangsters messed with the wrong Southern gal as Jo turns out to be Jo Pickings, one of three dames of the notorious Pickings gang. Jo tries to abide by a straighten arrow inspired by her deceased husband and four kids, but crime tugs at her violent past, scraping the good from her clean off. With the help of her brother, Boone, and her sisters, Doris and May, Jo and her family of heavily armed outlaws aim to fight back against thugs and thieves in this modern day western.
“Pickings” is the freshman film of first time feature film producer, writer, and director Usher Morgan. The contemporary gritty western is a maelstrom of goliath turf wars that’s stylized with rotoscoping and other comic book fatigues to dress Morgan’s film as an aesthetically popping story with illustrative visuals, anomalies, and raw tooth violence. The clear cut message, a fairly popular thematic motif among westerns, is don’t mess with family, even if family has been through an estranged time, and though Morgan’s theme runs a fairly conventional line, the “Sin City”-esque overlay gives “Pickings” a strong double take. What’s an especially fun and unique concept is having one of the characters, Sam “Hollywood” Barone, be exhibited in black and white while everyone else is in color as if the character was pulled straight from a Humphrey Bogart classic.
Elyse Price headlines as Jo-Lee Haywood, a wife-mother scorned by notorious gangsters, but the tough as nails mother of four runs a tight-ship when it comes to her bar and to her family. Price doesn’t hold back, taking the gut-checking hits and delivering a twice as big response with a performance of contempt and revenge. Price is joined by Joel Bernard, the sole brother of the Pickens gang whose as tough as they come, especially when you’re the only boy with three sisters. Bernard does the job matching Price’s hard nose character with his own more subtle version. The two other sisters, Doris and May played by Michelle Holland and Lynne Jordan, barely scratch the surface in an appearance that makes their characters difficult to absorb. Aside from Jo Lee-Haywood, the only other character with a significant character arc is her daughter Scarlet Lee-Haywood filled in by Katie Vincent. Vincent’s softens up against her mother’s violence despite being a passive witness to her cornered brutality, but can adhere to the akin familiarities of her family’s long and violent history. The cast rounds out with Yaron Urbas, who in my opinion is a decent mobster, Michael Gentile, and Emil Ferzola.
“Pickings” doesn’t come without problems and one of the problems is is the story concludes on a really too clean note. The inner monologuing exposition of Jo Lee-Haywood conveying her start-to-finish tale of her involvement with the three dames, Doris, May, and Jo, is a good visual like the rest of the Morgan’s film, but is just that, a good visual, and doesn’t carry the weight of suspense and becomes even more diluted when Doris and May have little interaction with Jo and barely any screen time at all to put the oomph into conveying their badassness. Aside from being obvious and telling, the gun blazing finale is also a bit underwhelming and disappointing, chocking everything to a one sided victory without any, or the hope of any, dire loss to compensate just feels empty and, again, too clean for comfort.
Courtesy of Dark Passage Films comes “Pickings” onto DVD and Blu-ray home video. The DVD is presented in a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio that capture the neo-noir facets of shadowing figures and haunting mysteries. Morgan’s film doesn’t necessary pop with color, but that’s particularly the nature of the genre. Aside from that, no real issue with the DVD transfer. The audio is a stereo option that has an ample dialogue track and a stocky ambient accompaniment. Katie Vincent’s bootlickin’ acoustical score never wavers, cracks, or looses range. Extras include deleted scenes, filmmakers’ commentary, “The Mop” a Pickings short, a behind the scenes featurette, and a spoof reel during the end credits. Loaded with female empowerment, “Pickings” is a violent crime drama with neo-noir battle garments of two warring clans ready to get along like the Hatfields and McCoys, but the undercutting finale puts a sharp spur in one’s couch melding backside, leaving much to be desired from a women scorned vendetta.
Daryll, a New York City night shift janitor and decorated Vietnam war veteran, becomes obsessed with beautiful female reporter and wealthy socialite Tony Sokolow. When Daryll claims to be a key witness to a murder of one his business building’s high profile tenants, a once in a lifetime opportunity opens up to meet Tony when she’s assigned to cover the murder and as Daryll pours his heart out to the reporter, he’s also torn by his claim that could place his war buddy friend Aldo, a hapless former employee of the recently deceased and the prime suspect in the murder investigation, in jeopardy even more. Is Aldo the killer or is the mystery much deeper, tied to a world unforeseen by Daryll whose working in the depths of the building’s janitorial confines?
Hot off from her success from Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” Sigourney Weaver goes from sci horror-thriller to mystery-thriller and alongside her is up and coming co-star William Hurt in Peter Yates’ 1981 mystery drama “Eyewitness.” The film sparks a string of obsession suspense features that would span a decade and firmly place the genre into a popular notoriety among audiences who couldn’t get enough of the peeping tom debauchery. A hefty roster of talented actors also co-star, some on the verge of stardom to the likes of Hurt and Weaver, including Christopher Plummer (“The Sound of Music”) in the prime of his career, the crazy eyes of James Woods (John Carpenter’s “Vampires”), an un-grayed Morgan Freeman (“Se7en”), Kenneth McMillan (“Dune”), “Mission: Impossible” television series’ Steven Hill, and Pamela Reed (“Kindergarten Cop”).
Performances all around are phenomenal as every actor and actress cultivates their character’s purpose in the story and you can surely experience the humble beginnings to some of the biggest A-list celebrities of today; however, Hurt’s performance was one of the only concerning factors. Hurt’s portraying a modest, perhaps slightly traumatized, Vietnam veteran with an afar obsession toward an attractive public figure and his presentation was overly awkward and certainly creepy too the point where I even felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. What made the situation more bizarre was the verbal and facial exchanges between Hurt and Weaver’s characters. Tony didn’t quite seem affected by the oozing creepiness this supposedly good man seeps from every pore of his skin and she, in fact, embraces his forward, if not crossing the line, affections that would certainly warrant a restraining order in today’s society. Maybe social interactions vary from generations and decades, but this type of relationship building dialogue and scenes didn’t produce the appropriate type of chemistry between Weaver and Hurt reducing the strength of their bond.
The Steve Tesich script strummed the strings reminiscent to my viewing experience of George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead.” Yes, you read that correct – “Land of the Dead” – and what does this zombie horror film have in common with “Eyewitness?” Well, in the 2005 film about the continuous decline of humanity in a zombie apocalyptic world, Romero had written a social commentary about the separating of social classes where, even in a dying world, the rich stayed safe in their loft, sustaining an obsolete lifestyle, and the poor suffer below their feet living in the present, but in the end, anyone and everyone is fair game for being unprincipled and for the undead. Tesich’s script does the same without being lavishly upfront and without the hordes flesh eating zombies. Beneath the obvious murder mystery lies the merger of the classes as Dyrall and Tony eventually fall for each other, but their friends and family on either side condemn the relationship, making the statement numerous times that a janitor absolute can not fall for someone as wealthy as Tony. James Woods’ Aldo becomes just another example out of many where a court-martialed and discharged Marine with erratic behavior and struggling with living a middle class life becomes suspect number one in a murder case, but with a victim whose profession was international trading, the pockets might be a bit deeper and with a laundry list of ill-will individuals.
Signal One Entertainment releases “Eyewitness” in the UK for the first time on Hi-Def region B Blu-ray anywhere with a 1080p presentation in a widescreen 1.85:1 format. The video quality is far superior than, of course, it’s DVD revival with the restoration of much of the natural color tones without a hint of compression artefacts or obvious image or edging enhancements from the 35mm stock footage. The English LPCM audio 2.0 track is fair, full-bodied, and well balanced with really no issues, especially not with composer Stanley Silverman’s lively score. Signal One Entertainment certainly knows how to treat a classic film providing a slew of extra features including an audio commentary with director Peter Yates and film historian Marcus Hearn from 2005, an audio only conversation with the director along with film critic Derek Malcolm and another conversation with another film critic Quentin Faulk on a separate extra feature. Composer Stanley Silverman discusses his approach to scoring “Eyewitness” and there’s also an alternative VHS presentation of the film under one of the original titles “The Janitor.” Original trailers and TV spots round out this robust bonus feature cache. “Eyewitness” on Blu-ray is a must own with a clean and refreshing version of a this classic whodunit thriller from Signal One Entertainment!