Showing posts with label blu-ray review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blu-ray review. Show all posts

23 March 2015

Blu-ray Review - The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)

No comments: Links to this post


Genre:
Fantasy, Musical
Distributor:
StudioCanal UK
BD Release Date:
23rd March 2015 (UK)
Rating: U
Director:
Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Cast:
Moira Shearer, Robert Rounseville, Ludmilla Tchérinam
Buy:Tales Of Hoffmann - Special Edition * Digitally Restored [Blu-ray] [1951]

Michael Powell and his cohort Emeric Pressburger were cinematic painters; every shot in their best films has the texture and skill of the master artists. The Tales of Hoffmann comes at a transitional period for Powell and Pressburger, as they were forced into make a couple films they didn’t want to make. It’s also the last one that really has the same splendour their many wonderful films of the ‘40s had, they would make a few more films but the magic just wasn’t there.

The Tales of Hoffmann plays out as this surrealistic proto-psychedelic phantasmagoria opera. It’s based on the opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, which itself is based on the stories of the real E. T. A. Hoffmann. The film is indeed an opera and I have to admit for the majority of the running time, I had the subtitles to clarify what was being sung in case I missed a key plot point. It’s an early example of an anthology film; it’s 3 stories are fantastical in nature, all of which have their own title card.

The stories are all as strange as the psychedelic madness of the set and costume design. The first story is about a robot woman! It ends with one quite fittingly, about a woman who is forced to sign so much it kills her. It’s pure gothic storytelling with liberal amounts of fantasy, it’s no wonder horror maestro George A. Romero has said numerous times it was the film that made him want to make films. It’s all bookended by a drunken Hoffman telling the stories in a tavern.

The real wonder of the film is the work by cinematographer Christopher Challis, along with production design by Hein Heckroth, and art direction from Arthur Lawson. Powell and Pressburger had been making steps towards a film that had visuals that matched operatic music before like their masterwork The Red Shoes, but it comes into full formation here. The design work is almost reminiscent of German expressionism but in colour, each story even has it’s own colour palette. The imaginative design work is simply mind boggling at times, as Thelma Schoonmaker points out in the interview on the disc, it looks like made wigs out of celluloid.

When it came out in 1951 the world wasn’t ready for a film with such imagination on show. Over the years it’s stature has grown and it’s influence can be seen from the aforementioned work of Romero, to the fantasy of Terry Gilliam, to the use of red in Martin Scorsese’s films, to the operatic violence of Brian De Palma. We have to thank Martin Scorsese spearheading the restoration process on this, along with many other key works of Powell and Pressburger. I’ve seen a handful of the new restorations of their work and they are simply breathtakingly gorgeous, every single one.

★★★★
Ian Schultz


9 March 2015

Blu-ray Review - Leviathan (2014)

No comments: Links to this post


Genre:
Drama
Distributor:
Artificial Eye
Rating: 15
Director:
Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast:
Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Aleksey Serebryakov
Release: 9th March 2015
Buy: Leviathan [Blu-ray]

Leviathan is the film Vladimir Putin and his cronies don’t want you to see. It was however funded partly by money from the Russian ministry of culture, and it’s leader Vladimir Medinsky has admitted openly he dislikes the film. He claims it’s not a real depiction of Russian life and the director is more interested in “fame, red carpets and statuettes".

There are numerous reasons why the Russian government would have disdain for the film. First and foremost it depicts the Russian government as corrupt beyond repair in a Kafkaesque comedy of corruption. One of the biggest criticisms of the film by Medinsky is that the Russian coastal villagers are depicted as “swearing vodka-swigging humans” and given the story of the government stealing the home of the main character Koyla (Aleksey Serebryakov), it’s certainly believable he might be a bit “sweary” and might be drinking more than his fair share of Russia’s biggest export.

The themes of the film are as heavyweight as you might expect from the Russians, they are not known for their lightweight entertainment after all. The title of course comes from the Bible, and is the name of a giant sea monster in the Old Testament, obviously in this context the monster is the oppressive government. It’s also a loose retelling of the book of Job which some cineastes might know also inspired the Coen Brothers A Serious Man.

Andrey Zvyagintsev has made one of the most relentlessly bleak films to come out in a long time. However, despite the bleakness is also has an extremely dark sense of humour, the circumstances as so bleak it becomes absurd in the way Franz Kafka is very funny. Mikhail Krichman shot the film and some of the imagery is truly haunting, Zvyagintsev claims Krichman learned his craft from reading American Cinematographer. Aleksei Serebryakov as the lead Koyla gives one of the most heartbreaking performances in years, despite being at times rather unsympathetic. The arc he goes though is a perfect blend of biblical doom with aspects of the struggle Josef K goes through in The Trial.

It might not be a lightweight watch, and it’s a lengthy one at 2 hours and 20 minutes, but it’s a feat of work that should be seen. It’s an important film that depicts the issues that face the normal people of Russia under the tyrant that is Vladimir Putin. It has an ambition that is extremely rare in world cinema today, alongside a willing to tackle some deep questions. It should certainly be congratulated for that.


★★★★
Ian Schultz

Blu-ray Review - Devo - Hardcore Live! (2015)

No comments: Links to this post


Genre:
Concert documentary
Distributor:
Wienerworld
Rating:Exempt
Director:
Keirda Bahruth
Release: 2nd March 2015
BuyDevo -Hardcore Live! [Blu-ray]

Hardcore Live! is the first proper concert film by pioneering “New Wave” band Devo. There has been a handful of Devo concerts on DVD but never really a concert film in the tradition of a Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, despite an appearance in the cult classic Urgh! a Music War. It received a small theatrical run Stateside but has just come out on Blu-Ray/DVD over here.

The set up is a back to basics approach to Devo, founding member Bob 2 (Bob Casale) sadly passed away in early 2014 and the surviving members decided in tribute to do a short tour of the US playing the early “Hardcore” songs, and for the most part ignoring their later songs. They also mostly use vintage analogue equipment to replicate the original sound. The “Hardcore” recordings were also reissued in 2013 after being out of print for a long time too much acclaim from fans and critics.

Devo, to anyone who has been lucky enough to witness them live (I’ve seen them twice), will know that they are much more intense on stage than on their records. Lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh stares out everyone in the hall, and for a band that for the most part is made up of men in their 60s, they out play any young band in pure intensity. The first part of this concert however is a deliberately subdued performance of them going through early songs sitting on chairs making jokes in-between the songs pretending they are still stuck in their in basement in mid 70s. Devo opens with the futuristic “Mechanical Man” and plow through tracks like “Auto Modown” and “I Been Refused”.

The show ups the pace when they change into their early blue boiler suits (not the later, more well known yellow suits) and play their mutated version of The Rolling Stones’ enduring classic “Satisfaction”. They just completely burn the house down like every time they perform, they play some stuff off their first album like “Uncontrollable Urge” and Devolution rallying call “Jocko Homo”. They also play obscurities like “Fountain of Filth” and they finally do a touching encore featuring Bob 2’s son on bass of “Clock Out”, a song they last played live in 1977.

The concert is interspersed with interviews with the remaining members talking about the early days, Bob 2, their philosophy etc. It also includes interviews with Toni Basil (of “Mickey” fame), and with the great V. Vale, founder of Re/Search publications and early punk zine Search & Destroy, who has been a Devo fan since the very beginning. It brings some interesting commentary to the proceedings for a band who were sometimes completely misunderstood by critics.

The final product is a superbly entertaining concert film, that is moving and more exciting than most. It’s directed by Keirda Bahruth, who is mostly known for television work, but did also direct the documentary on musician Bob Forrest. The footage is extremely well shot, my only criticism is it could’ve used some colour correction near the end to give it a more seamless colour palette. The disc includes a feature to just play the concert without the interviews and alternative opening along with a short scene showing the creation of Mark’s mutant guitar.



★★★★
Ian Schultz

5 March 2015

Blu-ray Review - The imitation Game (2014)

No comments: Links to this post

Genre:
Thriller
Distributor:
Studio Canal
Rating: 12
Director:
Morten Tyldum
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley,  Mark Strong, Matthew Goode
Release: 9th March 2015
Buy:The Imitation Game [Blu-ray]

The Imitation Game, as everyone probably knows at this point, is about Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who was one of the radical figures in the creation of what we now know as the computer. He was also homosexual, and was convicted by the police as a result. Due to being forced to undertake chemical castration, he later committed suicide. The film was an early front runner for the Academy Awards and ended up being triumphant in the adapted screenplay category.

In The Imitation Game, Benedict Cumberbatch has never been better; he perfectly captures a driven man who has ideas too large for his time. He also manages to capture the paranoia Turing suffers after the war, specifically in the scenes where he is interrogated, which eventually leads to his downfall. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke who was one of the code breakers but had to operate in secret because of the sexism of the time. The rest of the cast is full of solid British actors like Mark Strong and Matthew Goode.

The production design is top notch by Maria Djurkovic who also did Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which also shared some of the same cast). Both have an attention to period detail that is sorely lacking in many films. Oscar Faura shot it and he has been doing beautiful work for a long with films like The Orphanage and The Machinist and this no exception. Finally the director Morten Tyldum solidly puts it all together, even if at times it seems as though it’s begging for an Academy Award.

The film works on many levels; it’s firstly a nail-biting thriller that is gripping from the moment it starts to it’s sad climax, but it also works as a solid war film that shows the behind the scenes of what really won the war. Not only that, but it also works as a depiction of a time when being yourself could lead to prison, or in the case of Turing, even worse. The film is actually surprisingly funny throughout which is surprising given the subject matter, but Turing's interactions with high officials and his team of code breakers are laugh out loud funny as times. The Imitation Game is one of the better British films to be released in 2014, in a year where there were a surprising amount of British films up for the major awards in the US.

The Blu-ray release includes 3 features including 2 on the true history of the story, and finally the more standard making of.


★★★★

Ian Schultz

28 January 2015

Blu-ray Review - Shoah (1985)

No comments: Links to this post



Genre:
Documentary
Distributor:
Eureka
Release Date:
26th January 2015
Rating: E
Director:
Claude Lanzmann
Buy: Blu-ray - Shoah

Claude Lanzmann started work on what would become Shoah in 1974. He initially had backing from the Israelis but after time went on, they withdrew funds. Six years of the eleven until it’s eventual release in 1985 were simply devoted to getting the interviews. What he finally finished was an extremely long, but fascinating and thoughtful film on the Holocaust, and primarily what happened in Poland.

Shoah runs at a simply exhausting 9 and half hours. Lanzmann takes the brave move of using for the majority of the running time, filmed testimonies with survivors, witnesses and German perpetrators. It also extensively shoots the landscapes of where the camps are, and in a very eerie but effective way, puts you there, even without reconstructions or photographs etc.

The film’s most fascinating elements are stories where you hear about denial. One of the most shocking is when a Jewish woman is trying to warn everyone they are about to be gassed but they tell her to go away, and unfortunately, they get killed as well. It also goes into great detail about the production line aspect of the concentration camps and how a lot of Nazi office workers really didn't know about the final solution until really near the end of the war - if you believe them or not it’s up you to decide. The second part of the film also deals with the heroic attempts by the Jewish to fight back in the Warsaw Ghetto despite knowing it was unwinnable.

Shoah’s biggest flaw is also it’s most controversial one. When it was released in Poland many pundits criticized it as anti-polish propaganda. It does at times show the Polish in not a very good light, for example, a lot of them just stood and watched the atrocities happen, they collaborated with the Nazis, they were already anti-semitic etc. It was criticized for not showing all the great things the Polish did for the Jewish, or the millions of Polish that were exterminated by the Nazis. Lanzmann has admitted part of the film was to show how implicit the Polish were, which was true to an extent, but there was also another side which would have been nice to have it be represented.

It’s quite riveting stuff throughout, there are numerous parts where you zone out for a while, but within 20 minutes you get all wrapped up into the story again. Obviously the film cannot explore the full depths of the Holocaust, because of the scope of the atrocities, it is impossible to make a definitive document, however this is one of the most powerful films made on the subject to date.

Over the years Lanzmann has revisited the subject in another 4 films, mostly made out of outtakes of Shoah with the latest being the recently released The Last of the Unjust. Naturally, they are all included in this Blu-ray set.


★★★★1/2
Ian Schultz

23 January 2015

Blu-ray Review - The Last Seduction (1994)

No comments: Links to this post



Genre
Neo-noir
Distributor:
Network
Release Date:
26th January 2015
Rating: 18
Director:
John Dahl
Cast:Linda Fiorentino, Bill Pullman, Peter Berg
Buy: Blu-ray The Last Seduction


It seems that since the release of The Last Seduction the film has kind of been forgotten in the history of neo-noir. It is also sometimes called an erotic thriller, but it has too much of an air of classiness to really be lumped in with those. The press release for this blu-ray calls it both, but it’s quite clearly a neo-noir in tone and story telling, and it’s not very erotic.

Linda Fiorentino gives her finest screen performance as the manipulative bitch Bridget Gregory. She steals drug money and goes on the run from her husband Clay (Bill Pullman) after he makes a killing on a deal on pharmaceutical cocaine. She hides out in Beston, New Jersey on her way to Chicago and meets a guy called Mike who has a dark secret of his own. They start an affair, but of course Bridget has ulterior motives than some romance with some local. The film concludes with one of the best twist endings of all-time.

It was directed by John Dahl who previously made the noir western Red Rock West starring Nicolas Cage. Dahl (who is not related to Roald) would go on to direct films like Rounders and The Great Raid and a lot of television. The film has a low budget 90s look, which is what the film is, but Dahl’s cinematographer really pulls out all his stops with the lighting and the look as much as the budget allows. Alongside Quentin Tarantino’s early films (it came out the same year as Pulp Fiction) it really brought a revival to the noir imagery and themes.

Bill Pullman plays the husband and he really has a knack for playing noir characters, which I think is partly down to the fact he look like he could have been in a film from the 50s. He deserves more meaty parts like this or Lost Highway than the ones he usually gets. Linda Fiorentino's performance has gone down in the history books as one of the best depictions of the classic femme fatale, but she takes it to such bitchy heights it’s a marvel to see what she did with the character. She was shamefully denied an Oscar nomination because the film was shown on TV before it had a theatrical release. Peter Berg is also extremely good as Mike the local she starts her affair with. It also features an early role for Dean Norris who would later be in Breaking Bad, for which John Dahl actually directed an episode.

The disc is fairly heavy with features, including the longer director’s cut in standard definition, and has a director’s commentary for that cut. The disc also includes a nice sized documentary on the film, behind the scenes footage, and the trailer. The final feature is the John Dahl directed episode of Fallen Angels, a totally forgotten anthology TV show. They were often based on classic stories by the great pulp authors like Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler etc. They were directed by then young directors who would become well known such as Steven Soderbergh and Alfonso Cuarón, and even megastar actors like Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks directed episodes. If you like the episode included I would recommend tracking down the budget dvds of the second season, they are retitled to the even cheesier title, Perfect Crimes and are currently, little over a pound a piece on Amazon.

Overall The Last Seduction is a film that should be revisited so one can marvel at how solid a director can nail down the noir style decades after that era has died. It may not be as impressive as Chinatown or some of David Lynch’s work but it definitely deserves to go down in history as one of the finest examples. The new blu-ray is by far the best release Network has down in a while and hopefully more people discover this extremely twisted but vastly entertaining modern classic.

★★★★1/2
Ian Schultz

20 January 2015

Blu-ray Review - The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

No comments: Links to this post


Genre
Adventure, Fantasy
Distributor:
Network
Release Date:
26th January 2015
Rating: U
Director:
Michael Powell, Ludwig Berger, Tim Whelan
Cast: Conrad Veidt, Sabu, John Justin, June Duprez
Buy: Blu-ray The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad is one of the benchmarks of fantasy cinema. It is a remake of the earlier silent version with Douglas Fairbanks, even though both are very different. It also happens to be one of the first major films directed by Michael Powell, however like The Wizard of Oz, there were many directors: 3 credited and 3 uncredited. With that being said, the film certainly has Powell’s stamp on it.

Admad (John Justin) is imprisoned by the evil warlock Grand Vizier Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), despite being the rightful heir to the throne of Bagdad. With the help of the thief Abu (Sabu), Admad escapes, and together they go on a fantastical adventure. Admad, now blinded, tries to win back the Princess (June Deprez) and in doing so, must defeat the evil Jaffar.

The film’s greatest strengths are the special effects and cinematography. The film is the first major picture to use extensive blue-screen. Due to the primitive nature of effects at the time, it is visible, yet it is still used in breath-taking ways. The film has two centrepieces: the encounter with Djinn the genie, and even more impressive spider web sequence. The spider sequence terrified a young Terry Gilliam so much so that he would, “wake up in the middle of the night trapped in that spider web, all my bedclothes wrapped around me.” The special effects naturally won the Oscar as did the art direction and cinematography.

The cinematography is as lush and colourful as you would expect from Michael Powell. It was shot by the French cinematographer George Perinal who Powell must have enjoyed working with, as he did so again on The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Powell would also work with him again on his later film Honeymoon, however Jack Cardiff, or his former camera operator Christopher Challis, shot many of the classic Powell and Pressburger films.

The Thief of Bagdad should be re-discovered, and hopefully thanks to the new Blu-ray release by Network it will. It has influenced directors as diverse as Terry Gilliam, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. The only real shame in the release is that it’s bonus features are limited to the original theatrical trailer and image galleries.

★★★★
Ian Schultz

19 January 2015

Blu-ray Review - I'm All Right Jack (1959)

No comments: Links to this post




Genre:
Comedy
Distributor:
Studio Canal
Release Date:
19th January 2015
Rating: U
Director:
John Boulting
Cast: Ian Carmichael, Peter Sellers, Terry-Thomas, Richard Attenborough, Miles Malleson
Buy: Blu-ray I'm All Right Jack

I’m All Right Jack is considered one of the great British satirical films, and although it is certainly a good film, it doesn't quite live up to it’s reputation. Back during it’s release it was the highest grossing film of 1959, how times have changed. The film’s highlight is a performance by Peter Sellers as the socialist union shop steward Fred Kite.

The film’s protagonist Stanley Windrush (Ian Carmichael) is an upper class graduate who takes a job at his uncle’s missile factory. However, his uncle plans to have Stanley become the focus of a labour dispute that he plans to profit from. This all goes pear shaped when Kite takes advantage of the dispute for his own agenda.

As is so often the case with Peter Sellers, he completely steals the film from under all the other actors, and according to The Guardian, “it’s a career best performance”. Although that is a ridiculous overstatement, it is definitely considered up there with his finest performances, and Bafta agreed, awarding him Best Actor. British veteran thespians like Dennis Price and the recently decreased Richard Attenborough round off the supporting cast.

Unfortunately the satire is dated and isn't as funny as it should be, but with that being said, it’s still a very enjoyable watch. The film’s 102 running time flies by, and it does have something to say about how the greedy bosses will do anything to make a buck at the expense of their workers. This is certainly an issue that has relevance to today’s political climate. The disc includes a new interview with star Liz Fraser, a featurette on Peter Sellers, and an early Richard Lester short with Peter Sellers.


★★★1/2
Ian Schultz

16 January 2015

Blu-ray Review - Two For the Road (1967)

No comments: Links to this post


Genre:
Comedy
Distributor:
Eureka
Release Date:
19th January 2015
Rating: PG
Director:
Stanley Donen
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Albert Finney
Buy: Blu-ray - Two for the Road

Two for the Road is a slightly forgotten film by Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain, Bedazzled, Charade), which has been re-released by Eureka in their Masters of Cinema imprint. It stars Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn and both have rarely been better. The film’s influence can certainly be seen in Richard Linklater’s rightfully celebrated Before Trilogy.

Mark Wallace (Albert Finney) is a well off architect who is married to Joanne (Audrey Hepburn) in a relationship which is obviously on the rocks. Through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards the stories of how they fell in love, fell out of love, and got back together are shown. The film is mostly set in parts of Northern France, and more often than not is set on the same road but at different points in their relationship.

It was an interesting period for Hollywood when Two for the Road came out; films like Bonnie &Clyde and Point Blank were murdering the classic Hollywood studio system. I think Donen saw this and decided to make a film which partly owed itself to some of the work from the French New Wave, but simultaneously worked as a mainstream romantic comedy. It was also the first big film that Albert Finney did for an American Studio; he had great success a couple years earlier with Tom Jones (for those who don’t know, it’s not about the Welsh singer). Audrey Hepburn obviously was a massive iconic film star, but even by 1967 her star was fading and she only acted in 5 more films in the next 25 years.

Frederic Raphael, who had a massive success with Darling starring Julie Christie (he won the Oscar for it), wrote the script. It has been said that the interactions between Finney and Hepburn are based on his own relationship with his wife, and it certainly has a feel of an authentic real life romance. Raphael deservingly was nominated for an Oscar for the script.
Christopher Challis shot the film. He learned his trade being a camera operator for Powell & Pressburger, eventually graduating to becoming their DP. Martin Scorsese once said of Challis, “Chris Challis brought a vibrancy to the celluloid palette that was entirely his own, and which helped make Britain a leader in that long, glorious period of classic world cinema”. His innovative work is on glorious display in Two for the Road. The photography of the French landscape just pops with the new Hi-Def transfer.

Two for the Road is fascinating and extremely funny film and a example of old Hollywood director taking his cues from the New Wave but making something still accessible to a mainstream audience in 1960s. It’s editing is fascinating and it’s shot length is extremely short for the period, much more modern than even someone like Sam Peckinpah who is noted for his fast cuts. It’s probably Audrey Hepburn’s finest performance and Finney is always a joy on screen. The film’s influence on future films is undeniable, and it has a wonderful score by Henri Mancini that fits the mood and pace perfectly - he considered it the favourite among his scores.  

The disc contains an interview with Frederic Raphael, a commentary by Stanley Donen, the theatrical trailer and a booklet with essays on the film.

★★★★
Ian Schultz

29 July 2014

Blu-Ray Review - Victim (1961)

No comments: Links to this post

Genre: Drama
Distributor: Network
BD Release Date: 28th July 2014 (UK)
Rating: 12
Running Time: 105
Director: Basil Dearden
Cast: Dirk Bogarde, Slyvia Syms, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock
BuyVictim Blu-Ray

The year is 1961 and homosexuality in the UK is still a crime, this was also the year that filmVictim was released.  It became famous for being the first film in the English language to use the word “homosexual” and one of the first films with a sympathetic portrayal of a gay man. It is also widely believed to have played a role in the eventual overturning of the law banning homosexuality.

The police are after a young man named Jack Barrett who has stolen money from his employer and is on the run. He tries to get in contact with the barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde) who is married but in reality is gay and had an affair with the young man. Barrett commits suicide after he is caught but Melville is blackmailed.

Dirk Bogarde was widely known to be gay but rarely spoke about his own sexuality even in his own autobiography. It took him astonishing courage to take up the part in Victim in 1961 and gives a wonderfully paranoid performance throughout the film. It was a game changer and an important film for Bogarde’s career and for cinematic history.

The cinematography has a slight noir tinge which suits the material very well; Otto Heller who photographed many of the finest British films ever made such as Peeping Tom, The Ladykillers and The Ipcress File shot it. Basil Dearden-who did some of the most unique films to come out of the 50s and 60s British industry, directed it.

Network has done a very impressive disc for such an important film. The transfer is clean and has the right amount of contrast and grain. The features include a half an hour interview with Bogarde shot during the release of Victim and it also includes publicity materials like the original trailer and stills.


★★★★
Ian Schultz