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  • Theatrical trailer - A Bronx Tale; The Sweet Hereafter; The Rage in Placid Lake; Australian Rules; Erskineville Kings; Read My Lips; Respiro; The Best Man’s Wedding and Eat Drink Man Woman
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A Bronx Tale

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 121 mins . M15+ . PAL


Whether he likes it or not, Robert De Niro will go to his grave remembered for his portrayals of cool criminals, a fat degenerate boxer or a taxi-driver with a passion for porn and underage girls.

It’s actually quite a shame, because in 1993 he turned his hand to directing for the first (and so far only) time, and created both a role and a film which I consider easily amongst his most ‘watchable’ work. (With De Niro, the lists of his ‘most watchable’ and his ‘best’ work often don’t share the same titles, thus the distinction).

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The mob bought their suits at a Roger David "Buy 1 Get 2 Free Sale"

Taking a semi-autobiographical one-man play written and performed by the then unknown Chazz Palminteri, De Niro found something appealing, perhaps familiar, about the plight of a father desperately trying to keep his son on the right side of the tracks after he becomes the object of attention of a local mobster. In a deliberate decision he wisely took the role of the father and had Palmiteri take up the part of Sonny instead.

We meet young Calogero (Francis Capra) in 1960, at age nine. He witnesses the local mob bigshot Sonny shoot a man in what looks like a parking dispute. When the cops call on Calogero to point the finger at the shooter, he wisely keeps his mouth shut. Sonny looks to repay the debt by offering his father, Lorenzo (De Niro) some easy work and big money as a ‘thankyou’. But Lorenzo is a proud man, with an honest if shitty paying job driving a bus, and a belief in doing the right thing, so he knocks back Sonny’s offer. In his world, the right thing to do is get up every morning and go to work to provide for your family, and he hopes that one day it’ll pay off by making things easier for Calogero.

Unfortunately, Sonny takes a liking to Calogero, and soon has him working the local bar earning tips and running errands. Lorenzo discovers this and warns off Sonny, instructing Calogero to stay away from what can only be trouble. We return eight years later to find Calogero (now played by Lillo Brancato who was more recently seen on The Sopranos) is now a part of Sonny’s inner circle and his relationship with his father no better than before, drawing paternal guidance as much from Sonny as from Lorenzo.

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"C'mere and gimme a kiss and I'll give ya a lovely cabbage."

It’s in these teenage years that Calogero is drawn through his most trying times and the film focuses most on. His friends are a bigoted bunch of losers who are compelled to emulate the lazy life and violent actions of their idols, and as much as he questions their motives he can’t draw himself away from them. This is made all the more difficult when he meets and falls for young black girl, Jane (Taral Hicks), while his friends concurrently strike up an inter-racial feud involving her brother.

De Niro had obviously learned a thing or three from his years in front of the camera and his relationship with directors of note, because his own vision is often beautifully paced and lingers with pivotal moments just so. The dilemma Calogero finds himself in as he feels bound to accompany his friends on a trip of vengeance, the tug of war as Sonny and Lorenzo battle for his ear and his heart, the relationship that is threatened before it even begins between Calogero and Jane play out without an inch of slack and genuinely engender our sympathies. Naturally it all plays to a backdrop of the sounds of the period, with each racial and social group drawing upon their own unique genre, but the music is never overpowering and more often than not works to build up and supplement the melancholy present in many scenes.

When you view A Bronx Tale in the dim light of his recent output (you could actually go back a few years at the minimum), you have to wonder why De Niro hasn’t opted to sit in the director’s chair again. Unfortunately, you really get the feeling that lately he would consider it too much work, and would rather pick up what could only be called ‘lazy cheques’ for his mostly forgettable performances in non-descript box office fodder.


‘Disappointing’ best describes the picture, I hate to say. If you currently own the VHS sell-through release of this film as I do, then you’d be hard pressed to justify the upgrade based purely on any hoped-for picture improvements. Obviously the red push of the video is gone giving faces a healthier more natural look, but blacks are still overpowering and impenetrable. Detail is only negligibly improved but still very poor and the picture suffers from a very distracting jerkiness which occurs frequently enough to have you wondering if you’re watching an NTSC DVD (which it isn’t, it just looks like a poor NTSC to PAL conversion). On top of that, the picture takes the original full frame image and crops it down to about 1.78:1, so you lose picture information from the top and bottom of the frame. Whether 1.78 was the theatrically intended format I’m not sure, so this is less important. Maybe worst of all is all this comes on DVD without 16:9 enhancement. Well, at least you know now that the VHS copy you have at home isn’t a pan and scan release.


I’d love to give you better news here, especially seeing as how it got saddled up with a shiny new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix to bring it to life, but “why bother?” is all I can say. I’d say that approximately one channel is roughly all this mix sounds like it used, the other 4.1 taking a break from duties. Stereo imaging was barely detectable, dialogue (and most everything else for that matter) was anchored in the centre channel, and the surrounds, well, I’ll just take their word for it there's something going on behind my head, even if I didn’t hear it. It’s a shame too, as the soundtrack is cool, the many street locations had the opportunity to liven up the mix with far more ambient noise, ditto the few gatherings of the mob boys.


Perhaps then the bonus features will be enough to pull this release out of the slumps dug by the A/V so far? Er, not really. In a nutshell, there’s a six-minute featurette which has the sole distinction of containing the most I’ve heard De Niro say that hasn’t been written in a script. There’s a theatrical trailer, filmographies for key cast which manages to be up to date enough to list four new titles in release in 2004 for De Niro but only lists 'highlights' and a short photo gallery that contains a mix of movie stills and De Niro playing director. Lastly, there are eight more trailers for Palace Films and the World Movie Collection, featuring: The Sweet Hereafter; The Rage in Placid Lake; Australian Rules; Erskineville Kings; Read My Lips; Respiro; The Best Man’s Wedding and Eat Drink Man Woman.


So, surely there must be something to recommend this DVD? Yes, in fact there are two things. First, it’s a damn fine film, and that it was De Niro’s first directing effort makes it all the more compelling, and second is that it can be bought for about $15 if I’ve seen correctly, making it a cheap buy to replace a VHS copy that is going to degrade in quality eventually. If you don’t already own the film on some format then perhaps now’s a good time to get acquainted with it. Just don’t expect to be wowed with the quality of the picture and sound.

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      And I quote...
    "Robert De Niro's directorial debut is an engaging piece about growing up in the Bronx. Unfortunately, the picture quality needs a slap in the head."
    - Vince Carrozza
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS730P
    • TV:
          Philips 55PP8620
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB1070
    • Speakers:
          Wharfedale s500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Polk Audio CS245
    • Surrounds:
          Wharfedale WH-2
    • Subwoofer:
          DB Dynamics TITAN
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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