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Old 05-05-2018, 04:54 AM   #2201
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Watched Drag Me to Hell last night on the Lionsgate (UK) blu-ray. My second time, and it remains a fun return to roots for Sam Raimi. It's cliched and relies heavily on sound effects and jump scares, but Raimi does a solid job of mixing humor into the horror without diluting the intensity, and keeping the pace sufficiently hectic to not get bored. There's a good deal of practical FX at work here, which is always fun.

UK blu has very good image quality and a reasonably active surround (In general it's more restrained than I expected but does put up a good show in critical scenes, especially the one in the Spanish exorcist's house). There's about an hour's worth of BTS/interviews, quite sufficient for a film of this type. Glad I didn't opt for the more expensive Shout Factory release.

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Old 05-05-2018, 05:23 AM   #2202
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^Nice review ravenus.Do you understand Tamil? Anbe Sivam is one of my favourites.I wish they make sequel,or just a short film by just bringing the three main characters.The ending,though perfect,just makes me want to see what if the three or even just the two characters had met after the ending.

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Old 05-06-2018, 05:13 PM   #2203
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Quote:
Originally Posted by abhi1986 View Post
^Nice review ravenus.Do you understand Tamil? Anbe Sivam is one of my favourites. I wish they make sequel,or just a short film by just bringing the three main characters.The ending,though perfect,just makes me want to see what if the three or even just the two characters had met after the ending.
Yes, I understand Tamil. In any case, Netflix had subtitles for the film. Ha, I sometimes used to fantasize about such sequels when I watched movies like Pushpak (does he ever meet the girl again?), but these are better left as they are, because wanting more is better than getting a sequel that spoils the original.
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Old 05-06-2018, 05:15 PM   #2204
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Default Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Pasting my blog post on FatMfH (brace yourself for, even by my standards, a long-ass review ):

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Partly poignant, partly grotesque, 1973's Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (FatMfH) is like its subject a mosaic of contrasting elements. It was the last in Hammer's multi-installment Frankenstein series (almost all of which starred Peter Cushing as the titular Baron Frankenstein) and the swan song for the studio's most triumphant director Terence Fisher.

The story begins not with Frankenstein himself, but with Simon Helder (Shane Briant), a young doctor desirous of emulating the missing baron's experiments (with an illustrated book whose title tells as much). It's a rip-roaring beginning with a policeman discovering the handsome doctor's study which houses among other things a fresh cadaver and a jar of eyeballs. Shane Briant is a strikingly beautiful actor, almost effeminate, and his Simon displays a chilling level temperament even when sentenced to a 5-year stretch at an insane asylum. It is at the asylum that he encounters his idol Baron Frankenstein, hiding under the not-so-clever pseudonym of Dr. Viktor. Cushing makes a dramatic entrance emerging out of the shadows to stop Simon's hazing by the crude asylum warders. He then takes him on as assistant to the task of administering to the patients' medical needs. You see, the asylum director is a wasted hedonist and Frankenstein himself runs the place (rather more humanely than the official warden), and is in return provided the space and means to conduct his "experiments".

Initially you feel this may be a different kind of Frankenstein film, in which the apprentice proves more eager than the baron himself to learn about and help with his work. Simon's almost creepy admiration and Frankenstein's initial hesitation gives it something of an Apt Pupil feel. But once the corpse is out of the bag, the baron quickly reverts to original form, and Simon finds that he may have got more than he bargained for, with inmate deaths occurring all too conveniently when the baron needs specific spare parts for his latest 'creation'. The monster of the title is played by muscleman David Prowse, famous as Darth Vader and trainer for Christopher Reeve's Superman physique. Prowse is encased in a hairy rubber suit, looking more like a badly shaved ape than a resurrected cadaver. But in his limited way his character suggests both savagery and pathos. There's also the beautiful but mute nurse Sarah (Madeline Smith), dubbed Angel by the inmates - in an early on-the-nose scene, an inmate sculptor (Bernard Lee aka James Bond's M) even gives her a winged angel figurine.

Unlike previous Terence Fisher entries for Hammer, the script (Anthony Hinds) is curiously free of character drama or tension for the longest period, devoting much time to the mechanics of the transplant procedure (since this is the 70's, blood and offal are on blatant display). The sequence of events leading to the climax come up quite abruptly: the baron hatches an absurd plan of having the creature mate with Sarah, which is vehemently opposed by Simon who then tries to destroy the monster. In turn the monster gets loose and...well, a good deal of mayhem occurs.

Prior to FatMfH the studio had tried to adapt to the more liberal time with explicit nudity, lesbianism and gore in their films (and awkward ventures like Dracula AD 1972). But this film is a return to the classic Hammer recipe, as if they knew that time was up for the studio, and wanted to go out with the sort of film that audiences first noticed them for. Both Terence Fisher and Peter Cushing were dealing with tough times - Fisher had had two automobile accidents in rapid succession leaving him in serious doubts about his ability to work, and 60-plus Cushing was still enervated from the death in 1971 of his beloved wife Helen. But they bring their game to the table, and the scene where Frankenstein smashes a bottle of anesthetic ether into his coat and then leaps onto the monster's back to smother him with the fumes, flailed around till the massive creature finally falls, undoubtedly brings nostalgic cheer to Hammer fans. Briant's Simon is a worthy player against Frankenstein and Smith is sincere as Sarah. A trove of classic Hammer actors serve in the supporting cast for this last hurrah to their alma mater.

Of course, FatMfH was always damned to fail, appearing laughably quaint in the face of such ferocious competition as William Friedkin's The Exorcist, but the film has its own weaknesses. Hammer was always a tight-fisted studio, and in the absence of the American co-funding they previously enjoyed, the budget for this one seems to have been tighter than for earlier films. The penury is partially mitigated by being set almost entirely in a single location, but apart from the costumes and some of the props, it looks a little threadbare and the very obvious miniature showing the asylum and its surrounding is an eyesore. The lighting is blander than usual in large swathes of the picture. The creature's appearance is not justified by its origin. There might have been some desperation to up the gore content with some brutal blood-soaked stabbings, and the climax appears unnecessarily inspired by Night of the Living Dead's zombie carnage.

But flaws notwithstanding FatMfH is a fond farewell to an era of thrilling horror films from that classic British studio.

About the Icon Entertainment blu-ray (region B):

The initial shots had me a little worried about softness / dirt but the picture improves significantly soon after and most deficiencies are likely to be put down to the low budget production and condition of the source. It looks like a nicely cleaned up vintage print. I saw the film itself in the 1.66:1 ratio and sat through the commentary in the 1.37:1 ratio, in both instances there were no digital glitches I noticed. The sound is decent and clear and James Bernard's score carries punch, you can't ask for more.
There's a nice 25-min retrospective on the film's making including participation of cast members David Prowse, Shane Briant and Madeline Smith and Hammer historians Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby. There's a shorter piece on Terence Fisher, generally discussing his style and personality, and the conditions in which he directed this film. Nice stuff. The commentary track has Marcus Hearn with Briant and Smith, and gives you a few tidbits not gleaned from the retrospective, but nothing earth-shaking. The 2nd DVD also includes a PDF booklet with writing from Hearn and Rigby.

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Old 05-11-2018, 07:15 AM   #2205
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Default The Passion of the Christ [dir. Mel Gibson]

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For the longest time (now almost 14 years after its initial release), I avoided watching The Passion of the Christ. A lot of it has to do with the word surrounding the film. "Torture porn", it was called in many quarters, "Anti-Semitic", others judged it. It didn't help that helmer Mel Gibson at various points of time after, rightfully earned a Crazy Mel badge. But after all this time, my misgivings gave way and I decided, mainly after a re-watch of his Apocalypto, that a film-maker of his calibre deserved at least a viewing. Also, with the Definitive Edition home video release in hand, even if I eventually disliked the film, it would not be for lack of context.

Passion is specifically about the final hours in the life of Jesus Christ, covering the period from his betrayal by Judas, his trial by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, subsequent torture and crucifixion. Along with calling it "the most violent film I have ever seen" critic Roger Ebert says in his cautious review of Passion, "...[it] is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of...This is not a sermon or a homily, but a visualization of the central event in the Christian religion. Take it or leave it." A very accurate description of the film as it turns out. In that sense the film makes for an interesting pairing with Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese's film confronts the internal battle he (and source book author Nikos Kazantzakis) imagines Christ faces, scared and emotionally fractured by the messages he perceives, doubting his own role as divine messenger and Son of God. As interpreted by that chameleon among actors Willem Defoe, Jesus is heart-tuggingly human, and his eventual sacrifice all the more weighty for that.

Jesus as presented by Gibson and actor Jim Caviezel is a different beast. As we see him in these last hours, he has no doubts about his role and his ultimate destiny. There is pain and suffering, but there are no second thoughts. Jesus performs miracles, insta-attaching a soldier's ear after Peter lops it off during a struggle in the Garden of Gesthemane. To offset any idea of a personal hallucination it is suggested that apart from him mother Mary also sees the Devil (portrayed here as an androgynous malicious looking being more at home in a bump-scare horror film). This actually puts the character at a distance from us. We could better appreciate the enormity of Jesus' act of self-sacrifice, "of dying for our sins" if we were convinced that he felt the pain that any human being would, subject to those tortures. Here blood flows freely, and Jim's Jesus totters with convincing agony when flogged while carrying the cross, but there's the nagging feeling, "What if Jesus is just playing for an audience, what if he feels only a fraction of the pain an ordinary human being would? If he's not one of us, how can his suffering be measured in our scales?" While Gibson is to be appreciated for not following in Scorsese's trail, he is so quick to glorify Jesus and draw a halo around him (not so much in the gritty visuals as in the overly adulatory music score), that for any non-dyed-in-the-wool Christians he ends up making him more remote.

My problem is less with the torture sequences - they're done well, and the courage and dignity Jesus shows in the face of suffering indubitably elevates them above the quality of torture porn or snuff film. I was more jarred by cheap shots like Satan throwing a hissy fit after he is frustrated by Jesus or that last passing shot of a resurrected Christ, which felt like one of those post-credits spoiler hints in the Marvel superhero movies.
As for the blu-ray presentation, the film has a dusty, sometimes soft look, and blacks are curiously muted to dark gray. But there are no digital anomalies and the color reproduction can be beautiful. The 5.1 soundtrack in Aramaic is rendered with fidelity and when necessary, power. The surrounds are used for ambience, music and to heighten specific moments.

So that's my impression of the film per se. I will try to update this post with my gleanings from the contextual supplements provided in the home video package.

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Old 05-15-2018, 07:37 PM   #2206
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Saw two completely different movies on Arrow blu's in the past 2 days.

Blanche by Walerian Borowczyk is a French medieval drama loosely adapted from a poem called Mazeppa by Lord Byron. Actually it's more than just "drama": this story of the new bride of an aging lord, who is the objet du désir of several men including the king himself, and her own step-son is part ribald farce, like in Ben Jonson's Volpone, part Shakespearean intrigue and part fetishistic visual diorama of period detail and ingenious props (many of which were designed by Boro himself). The chaste Blanche is early on compared to a caged bird, and every corner she turns she meets a man that wants to "rescue" her. What is first a humorous merry-go-round turns serious as the suspicious husband orders an act of murder that leads to disastrous consequences. The great actor Michel Simon in one of his last roles gives a wonderful account of the aging jealous spouse and even in his vengeful avatar generates sympathy for his character's motivations. Blanche is played by Borowczyk's wife Ligia Branice. Reportedly this led to some distress during production, where neither producer-actor Jacques Perrin (who played one of the suitors) nor Michel Simon wanted her in the part. But she is actually quite good, with her odd high-strung manner reflecting the repressed nature of her character. Among the small number of Borowczyk films I have seen, this is the closest he has come to conventional audience-pleasing emotional drama with a good amount of importance given to the writing of characters (although apparently he wasn't much for directing actors, letting them do whatever they wanted, and often being more occupied in making sure the sets and props came out right). I had a lot of fun watching this film and it certainly lends itself to revisiting.
The 2k restored master for Arrow's blu looks excellent, with great (naturalistic) color and texture, as expected from a James White supervised project. The film has some great period music (especially the wedding song at the beginning of the film) and it comes across very well in the LPCM mono track, while dialog is clear (optional English subtitles provided). There are a bunch of extras of which I saw the half hour retrospective, which has crew members and film historians candidly discussing the production issues and the on-set relationships during the film's making.

Battles without Honor and Humanity - As different as can be from the above film, this one is a headlong dive into the violent Yakuza genre. And headlong is right, the opening 10 min introduces you to so many characters it's hard to keep track. Don't worry though, because you'll eventually come to know the principal ones, even though I occasionally found it surprising that one of the protagonists is so upset about the death of some character that barely registered with me. I got only the first film and not the set, and I'm glad, because while the film has a lot of energy (and a very interesting frenzied soundtrack to support the action), I didn't find it as gripping as some of the later Kinji Fukasaku films like Yakuza Graveyard. For instance, I found the behavior of the clan boss to be so totally fake and ringing the warning bells I was surprised these guys felt loyal to him, but then they were lower level hoods and perhaps not meant to be smart. The ending is actually really good, and sets up a nice cliffhanger for the next segment, but I don't know if I'll bite.
The Arrow blu has okay video. No digital anomalies, but the source looks soft and faded, maybe there is no better element available. Sound (mono) is limited in dynamic range but decent. There is a 10-min video piece where Takashi Miike compares the Yakuza films as made by Fukasaku and then by him, it has some interesting comments about the different periods they worked in, and also about audience expectations of the films. The main extra is a commentary track by Stuart Galbraith, which I haven't as yet heard.

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Old 05-19-2018, 06:33 AM   #2207
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So I saw the new blu of Silence of the Lambs. While at the outset the drab and sometimes soft palette of the film may not be the poster-child for a brand new 4k restoration (of course, close-ups immediately look great and that's a good part of the film) but comparison with the MGM images shows significant improvement. You can see the sketches on Dr. Lecter's wall much more clearly, and the colors are more balanced (the MGM disc seemed to lean towards pink). Clothing textures are clearer too, especially Starling's green coat. And unlike the MGM's smoothed out look, grain is much more apparent.

Apart from the commentary, disc 1 houses a video essay by Maitland McDounagh, which is by the numbers in most part and never very interesting, on account of being mostly a generalized superficial account of serial killers (and their distinction from spree murderers). There's about 40 min of deleted/extended scenes, which are mostly mechanical supports justifiably pruned from the lean final product. The biggest scene here is the footage of the evangelist preaching on Lecter's cell TV set, the actor seems to give a really long single take and at the end of it he is applauded by the crew.

The extras of disc 2 seem to be taken entirely from the MGM release, do please let me know if there are any new on-disc extras here. The booklet includes reprints of 2 forewords from Thomas Harris - one of them talks about his meeting with the character that inspired Hannibal Lecter - pretty creepy, if true. There's also an excellent 1991 interview with Jonathan Demme who comes across as a very socially conscious film-maker at a time when it was not particularly fashionable.

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Old 05-23-2018, 12:20 PM   #2208
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Default Brimstone & Glory [dir. Viktor Jakovleski]

Mexico's city of Tultepec seems to be their equivalent of Sivakasi, known for a fireworks industry as well as their large scale pyrotechnic displays during their National Pyrotechnic Festival. The manufacture of fireworks is essentially done by hand, with most members of the town involved in it. The townspeople freely admit that they are not chemists and the mixture of ingredients is ad hoc and empirical. Tultepec's patron saint is known for having rescued people from a burning hospital without himself suffering a single burn injury, and the people pray for his favors by their traditional fireworks displays.

This documentary by German film-maker Viktor Jakovleski takes a look at their traditional festival which includes two major events - Castles on Fire and the Burning Bull. CoF is a towering framework on which multiple intricate rotating displays of fireworks are set up. The Burning Bull is like a crazy mix of Diwali and Jallikattu - a wireframe / fibreglass bull is colorfully draped and pushed/steered along the streets on wheels, people dancing around it. At some point, fireworks shoot out of the bull landing in all directions, while people continue to dance in the belief that their saint will keep them from harm. The documentary is focused on the positive aspects, showing only a couple of instances of people getting minor injuries, but the entire show looks quite dangerous. In fact, although not during the festival, but less than a year before the documentary was filmed Tultepec was in the news for a major fireworks disaster in which nearly 40 people died and several more were injured. And I can never feel quite at home seeing children work with potentially explosive material. The film does air some of these concerns but is more interested in exposing the uniqueness of the culture and the spirit of the people. The pyrotechnics displays are shot with a variety of cameras, from Go-Pros to Phantom High-Speed cameras (up to 1500 fps), and we are treated to sumptuously colorful and luminous pyrotechnic displays. In conjunction with the atmospheric percussion-driven score, it makes for an almost other-worldly experience. Whatever one's reservations with the activity it is certainly amazing eye-candy.

Oscilloscope's blu-ray presents the less than 70min documentary in a smashing 16:9 transfer. The night-time pyrotechnics are simply outstanding, especially during the slow-motion segments. Lossless stereo and surround options are given (Spanish with English subtitles). I tried the surround track and it was quite good, the surrounds mainly employed for ambience and music. Extras include a half hour interview with the director (in English) and a couple of short (less than 10 min) featurettes. The disc is housed inside a sleeve in the colorful digipack.

https://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Brims...lu-ray/197568/

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Old 05-25-2018, 12:07 PM   #2209
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I guess the rest of you are too busy whining about how streaming is destroying the Indian blu-ray scene, to watching films and talking about them.

A couple nights ago I saw Cash on Demand from the Hammer Vol 2 boxset. The options in the menu offered a choice between UK Theatrical Cut (66min) and Extended US Cut (81min). I opted for the former, since I assumed "extended" meant previously edited footage was tacked on to make it feature length in the US. It was later that I realized that the UK release was delayed by nearly 2 years and additional cuts made to fit COD in a double bill because Hammer were not convinced of its saleability as a standalone. That said the film I saw did not seem noticeably abrupt or truncated, so at least they did a good job with the scissors.

COD is entirely set within the confines of a bank. The manager Fordyce (Peter Cushing) is a high-strung petty tyrant who delights in cracking the whip on his staff, idolizing machine-like efficiency and sneering at human niceties like the upcoming office Christmas party. Fordyce suddenly finds himself in a subservient position when he is visited by a Col. Hepburn (Andrew Morell) who poses as an insurance company inspector but turns out to be a robber that threatens to do away with Fordyce's wife and child if he doesn't follow a detailed series of instructions to help with emptying the vault funds. The cat-and-mouse play between Fordyce and Hepburn is the engine that powers the major part of the film, and it's beautiful. Peter Cushing, usually the badass in Hammer productions, transforms across the course of the film from unpleasant bully to spineless sniveller, and the consummate actor gives it his all. Morell, who I have previously seen only in good guy parts in Hound of the Baskervilles and Plague of the Zombies, seems to enjoy his character's sinister humor and delivers his lines with palpable relish. Apart from these two stalwarts, a strong supporting cast of British actors lends much by way of credibility and immersion factor.

I also laud Quentin Lawrence's direction, which deftly handles the intimate setting (Bernard Robinson's production design making the most of a 37,000 pound total budget) and keeps tight rein on the pace. In fact at least once Morell enters the film, the script moves in real-time without obnoxiously drawing attention to the fact. The end brings to mind Charles Dickens' story of A Christmas Carol. I will at some time take a look at the longer US cut (Clips from the making of suggest more scenes of Cushing being nasty to his staff), but the UK version was in itself cracking good entertainment.

The video presentation on Indicator's blu-ray is beautifully replicates the film's classy B&W photography, with healthy contrast and texture. The mono audio is clear and free of distortion. For extras there are a feature audio commentary, a nearly 20-min making of hosted by Marcus Hearn, shorter pieces involving actor Lois Dane (who was 20 at the time of making this film, and later played a more sinister part in Hammer's Captain Kronos) and high-resolution scans of stills and a publicity booklet filled with profiles of the cast and anecdotes from the shoot (the printed booklet in the package also contains this material in addition to a fine essay by Kim Newman)

My first viewing from this boxset was quite auspicious (of course I had the highest expectations of this, being a Peter Cushing fan), and I am eager to sample the other films soon.

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Old 05-26-2018, 10:37 AM   #2210
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Over the course of last night and this morning I went over the entire content of Eureka's blu-ray release of Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

From my POV of a Doyle canon purist, this film is a reasonably engaging experience, even if it has a tendency to meander. Among the good things, this is possibly one of the early efforts to humanize the Holmes character and actor Robert Stephens offers some touching moments of frailty. Colin Blakely as Watson also emits humor and warm-heartedness and the cameraderie between the two feels natural. On the other hand the film's rather too obvious plotting and uneven tone, especially its sometimes spoofing quality (the acrobat midgets seem to come from another film altogether) makes it hard to feel consistently enthusiastic about. Of course several sources in the extras talk about Wilder's original 165 min "roadshow" cut (and there was apparently an earlier 4-hour cut), but from viewing the very well-put together compendium of the deleted material (shown either as audio over script / stills or visuals without sound) suggest an even more meandering enterprise - apparently Wilder wanted to make the film like a 4-movement symphony with each movement emphasizing a particular tone. He even based it around Miklos Rosza's Violin Concerto, an undeniably beautiful piece of music and a highlight of the film (along with an iconic riff from Swan Lake). Wilder called PLoSH "The most elegant picture I've done" but the material shown here does not in my view add up to an elegant or engaging experience. In fact the deleted scene of "The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners" better resembles something from the "Carry On" series. Wilder's not having a good grasp of the technicalities of exterior filming meant that some crucial sequences commenced on location (including the Inverness) had later to be recreated in the studio at considerable expense. Despite his bitterness towards the producers for cutting up the film he must take up some of the blame for the bloated mess of the production.

The Eureka transfer may not have any digital anomalies, but the source is in often questionable shape with all manner of damage marks, and one doubts anything was done by way of restoration. The sound is decent with a nice presentation of ROsza's score but don't expect any immersive atmospherics - The action sequences are aurally dull. Extras include a video essay by Neil Sinyard and previously mentioned compendium of excised material. Sinyard tries to sell the idea of the film being a "misunderstood masterpiece" but I can't bring myself to it. Christopher Lee who plays Sherlock's brother Mycroft talks about the film and his admiration for Wilder, and also his experiences playing Sherlock Holmes. There's also an interview with the film's editor Ernest Walter, who discusses both the film (and his differences of opinion with Wilder) and his career in general. The extras (apart from the trailer) are in SD and non-anamorphic.

The booklet contains a decent essay (Philip Kemp) and a detailed report of the film's production, nice although there's nothing additional to whatever is already conveyed through the disc extras. I have to say that the booklet, while attractive in layout and images, does not seem to have undergone any proofreading, with typos and grammatical errors galore. Among other things, on multiple occasions Peter Sellers (previously considered as a Watson to Peter O' Toole as Holmes) is written as Peter Sellars. Seriously Eureka, you need to pull up your socks over this stuff.

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Old 05-28-2018, 11:48 AM   #2211
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Default Charley Varrick [dir. Don Siegel]

Charley Varrick is the kind of action film Hollywood doesn't make any more, and that's a sad thing.

Having previously rattled audiences with Dirty Harry's cynical and violent protagonist, Don Siegel's newer film in its opening moments challenges you to like its titular lead (played by potato-nosed Walter Matthau), showing him conduct a bank robbery in a nowhere town during which some bank employees and police officers are violently killed. Charley and his nervous pal Harman (Andrew Robinson) make their escape and hole up in Charley's trailer truck. The surprisingly large bank haul leads Charley to believe that the bank was a drop-point for laundering mafia money (which some may suppose to reduce Charley's guilt for the crime, although it does not in any way exonerate him for the murders committed during the robbery).

Soon enough an enforcer is hot on Charley's trail to recover the money and make an example of him . Burly Joe Don Baker plays the enforcer "Molly", bringing his imposing frame and a quirky menace to the part. Now Charley is the victim and by showing his pursuers to be more easily prone to sadistic violence, the script (and Matthau's level performance) veers our sympathies with the man responsible for the bloodbath at the beginning. Even here, Charley's no (ha!) angel, ready to double-cross hot-headed Harman to ensure his escape.

Apart from Charley and Molly, there are a whole bunch of supporting characters and every one of them has a personality or at least some identifying traits that raise them above mere pegs. For instance the crooked home branch manager who has come to gather information about the robbery and try to locate the mafia funds has a scene where he pow-wows with a local kid and pushes her on the swing; a small aside that makes him more human and less of a plot cliche. This is the sort of clever writing sorely missing in big movies today. Of course, Siegel is also a master of the raw-edged gritty action thriller, be it the bank robbery gone wrong at the beginning or the final showdown where a biplane and an automobile spar near a junkyard. Set to a pulse-pounding score from frequent collaborator Lalo Schifrin, these scenes and the film in general carry a lively charge.

The blu-ray video from Powerhouse/Indicator is sourced from an older master and doesn't boast the level of detail, color gamut and fine grain structure that one has come to expect from top tier restorations but on the other hand there aren't any encoding anomalies. The mono soundtrack seems mostly clear and Schifrin's score carries a lot of punch. In extras I saw a 70min making of with input from actors Andrew Robinson and Jacqueline Scott, Lalo Schifrin and the sons of director Siegel and writer Rodman. The disc also includes lengthy interviews with Siegel and Walter Matthau played as audio over the film, a trailer with optional commentary and stills gallery. There is also a thick booklet with the package.


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Old 05-29-2018, 09:19 AM   #2212
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I'd had one of those really awful days at work yesterday, and it was with something of "Thank God for this" that I picked from the mailbox, my copy of The Old Dark House (TODH). I had heard of this Universal / Carl Laemmle Jr production years ago in the same context as The Cat and the Canary, and watched it in a horribly poor public domain stream where you could barely make out some of the darker scenes and the audio was rife with drop outs and slowdowns and all manner of distortion.

Visually the new 4K restoration (by Cohen Films) is a revelation and one admires the opulent Gothic production design and Whale's lighting choices. The audio still has some issues with hiss and higher frequencies but what you have here is far superior to any previous release, which means that the film can be judged on its own terms, so how does it hold up?

TODH is set in a remote mansion to which different sets of travellers rush to ask for shelter in the midst of a torrential downpour and landslide. The first group consists of the bickering Waverton couple (Raymond Massey and the lovely Gloria Stuart) and their debonair bachelor friend Penderel (Melvyn Douglas), while the second is the self-made wealthy Sir William Porterhouse (Charles Laughton seeming to use a Scottish/Welsh accent, I don't know which) and his "companion" Gladys (Lilian Bond). While a dry roof and a fire would seem just what these wayfarers need, they are intimidated by their very strange hosts, the Femm family, and their imposing valet Morgan (Boris Karloff, doing another dialog-less monster part for Whale).

TODH is an interesting combination of screwball comedy and Gothic horror, and manages a balancing act between the two. Whale makes some excellent use of traditional horror devices like mirrors and shadows and locked doors. Unlike some latter-day classics of horror-comedy it is not a spoof / send-up. Of course, in these modern days, the horror element is rather dated (and the non-immersive quality of the sound keeps the action at a distance), but there are some effective moments once Morgan goes berserk and the insanity of the Femm family is on full display. Soaking in its pleasantly creaky atmosphere (with some Bailey's Irish Cream at my side), I had a nice viewing experience. TODH is not a "Universal" (ha!) recommendation but anyone who likes their old horror pictures should give this one a shot.

Among the extras I saw "Meet the Femms" a decent video essay on the film by David Cairns and the short interview with Boris Karloff's daughter (sad to hear that James Whale apparently referred to Karloff as a "truck-driver" and didn't think highly of the actor).

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Old 06-10-2018, 01:35 PM   #2213
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From the booklet notes I understand that An Actor's Revenge was primarily devised as a tribute to its lead Kazuo Hasegawa (being his 300th film and a remake of one of his earlier efforts) and director Kon Ichikawa was assigned the task of making the film. Of course Hasegawa is a central element, playing two roles, the titular female-impersonating theater actor sworn to avenging the death of his parents at the hands of corrupt merchants and town officials, and a Robin Hood like veteran thief with a sense of humor. The camera loves Hasegawa and he turns on the charm full blast. But AAR is also a director's film incorporating a strong stylistic element, especially in its homage to the theatrical setting, often using obvious painted or artistic backdrops instead of real locations, and employing light and shadow to hide or reveal elements on the screen like how they would work with spotlights on stage. The more pedestrian melodrama elements are made more palatable thanks to the knowing style. The film is a pleasing entertainer with drama, action and even bits of comedy, which occasionally makes for some schizophrenic moments (like with the character of the female thief who falls for Hasegawa's actor), but Ichikawa manages to pull off the mix well enough. The production design is striking and the music carries a heady mix of traditional kabuki theater and more jazzy elements.

The video on the BFI blu-ray is excellent, with strong colors and textures, I can't imagine a film of that vintage looking any better. The sound, is only mono (as LPCM 2.0) but is clear and has decent presence. Apart from some vintage short films about Japan made for western audiences, the major video extra is a 50-min documentary by Nagisa Oshima about the first 100 years of Japanese film, in which he (narrated by William B White) takes the audience through an eclectic set of films and movements which in his view influenced the Japanese film industry. The booklet contains a decent essay on the film and shorter bios on Ichikawa and Hasegawa. I haven't as yet heard the commentary track by Tony Rayns but I'm looking forward to it. But already I consider this a nice addition to my collection.

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Old 06-13-2018, 08:50 AM   #2214
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I had seen Speed Racer at the cinema when it was released here, and while in terms of story and characters, the film had a puerile manufactured quality (the fat kid brother character was an annoying git), the near hallucinatory audio-visual experience with a super-vibrant color palette and constant use of gimmicky wipes and dissolves was sufficiently engaging for me ro get the film on blu-ray. In fact the disc was in my collection for nearly 6 years but only last night (after I returned exhausted and wanted some trashy entertainment) did I feel sufficiently enthused to re-watch the film.

I understand SR is based on an anime series and the Wachowski director duo incorporate a lot of the hyperbolic TV anime style in their film, with the utterly nuance-less characters (I sure hope Susan Sarandon got a good paycheck) and the clunky in-your-face graphics during the non-vehicular action sequences (which are like a combination of the 60's Batman TV series and 80's Indian campy Ramayan TV series). At more than 2 hours the film is a bit of a (ha!) drag as well, and could have definitely done with excising of needless characters (fat kid bro immediately comes to mind, although I understand he's a regular part of the anime series). But every time the film takes you to a race track it's the visual equivalent of having head-exploding drugs without the side-effects. Compared to current day blockbuster extravaganzas the effects seem a little dated and the car physics don't feel sufficiently weighty, but they remain consistent to the film's aesthetic. I also appreciate that the Wachowski's were honoring the family-friendly nature of the original show, this is a film kids will love.

The blu-ray had rave reviews for its video on release. One wonders if a new scan/encode would raise the bar further, or whether the limitations in terms of texture are more a limitation of digital capture technology of that time. Nonetheless it is an attractive, extremely vibrant transfer and great reason to have this film in one's collection. I'm more hesitant about the audio. I'm not per se against lossy audio (and a 5.1 Dolby surround track at 640kbps is not something to sneeze at), but while dialog was clear and surrounds were active during the race sequences, I felt a certain deficiency in oomph factor even on raising the volume, not sure why. I haven't seen the extras, but I understand they aren't all that.

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Old 06-15-2018, 07:05 AM   #2215
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Saw the Malayalam sleeper hit Parava (Bird) yesterday on Blu-ray.


Before going into the film, a few words on the Blu-ray itself. Parava is the first film to be released on the format after a long slump that followed the very unfortunate no-sale of the excellent "Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum", and unlike the previous Malayalam BD releases, this one has been released directly by the production company, Anwar Rasheed Entertainment. As for the image quality, all is well and good, and the audio tracks here are a Dolby Digital 5.1 one.... and a DTS 5.1 one. That's right, both are lossy in this one, despite having the DTS-HD MA logo plastered over the cover art, the disc art and even the audio options menu. Nevertheless, the DTS track is the full-bitrate one with 1.5 Mbps and sounds great... it's just that the track - or even a lossless 5.1 one - doesn't do justice to the much praised sound design which was theatrically presented in Dolby Atmos. I guess the audio format snafu could be the result of sheer oversight, and I'm planning to take this up with Anwar Rasheed, the producer himself. The subs here are decent, but sprinkled with a lot of grammatical errors and typos. And as usual, no extras.

Parava happens to the directorial debut of Soubin Shahir, the guy who made Crispin a household name. And much like that movie itself (and others - like "Angamaly Dairies" and "Kammattippadam"), the film tells a tale rooted mostly in a single location - in this case, a neighborhood in Mattancherry - through the eyes of two teenage boys Irshad aka Ichappi and Haseeb (sprightly debutants Amal and Govind), for whom rearing and training pigeons is a passion. The film's also about the reclusive loner Shane (Shane Nigam), the gulf-returnee Majid (Gregory) and of course, the "big bro" for all the youngsters of the area, Imran (Dulquer Salmaan
[Show spoiler]in an extended cameo, who appears in the flashbacks
), as well their families. While the film revolves around these guys, the supporting roles too are as well-etched and memorable as the main ones, regardless of their screen time. However, the antagonists here are more or less stock villains - a couple of murderous junkies (played by Sreenath Bhasi and the director himself), and the boys' rival pigeon-flying team.

Photographed by debutante Littil Swayamp, the film employs a bold and hyperkinetic visual style that has the camera frenetically following the boys through the dingy alleyways and soars over the town without breaking a sweat, stopping only to catch the elders placing bets. Though a little too long at 145 mins, the film's been edited with a rhythm that matches the visuals. The terrific sound design and an equally terrific score (from a quartet of composers led by Avial guitarist Rex Vijayan) elevate the film ever further.

BTS video for the title sequence:
The above text is purely based on my own opinion. If you mistake it for some sort of soothsaying, you cannot be more wrong. :-P

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Old 06-15-2018, 09:21 AM   #2216
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Great to see a review from you after such a long interval.

Quoting my blog review for the 1961 British film Victim, which I saw on the UK blu-ray from Network:
Quote:
Wikipedia says Victim (1961) is the first English language film to have used the word "homosexual". It speaks volumes for the level of daring it would have taken in that period to come up with a film that treated homosexuality in a somber and sympathetic manner. Heck, it was only 6 years later that consensual sex between same gender people was no longer automatic grounds for criminal prosecution in the UK (a policeman in the film remarks that the punishment for this "offence" is similar to that for robbery with violence). Against this backdrop one understands the measured way in which the film unfolds its theme. For a good part of the beginning we are not even told why young Jack Barrett is on the run and desperate to get away from the country, mostly oblique glances and dialog that dances vague circles. Jack would rather take the sole blame for embezzling his employer's funds than reveal his reasons for doing so to the police. The film's core of cruel persecution is wrapped in a blackmail plot, where vulnerable folks are drained by a ruthless parasite frightening them with exposure of their "unnatural tendencies" - probably drawing from true events, the script also informs us that 90% of all blackmail cases arise from homosexual relationships. The homosexuals here are a sad and lonely lot, finding solace in clandestine companionships and a loose network, horrified at any suggestion of coming together to expose the villains extorting them.

Such trepidation is also manifest in the character of its lead Melville Farr (played by the dashing Dirk Bogarde). Farr is a rising barrister, due to take silk. He has suppressed his homosexual tendencies to the extent of being in a married relationship - he loves his wife (Sylvia Sims), but tellingly they have no children. He has pushed himself away from relationships with men that threatened to get intimate because he is afraid of his own desires. Farr's sexual identity is a victim not only of external society but his own sense of guilt; he may well believe homosexuality to be a weakness or disease, even when he fights against its criminalization. But this cautious approach actually makes for a stronger drama. Bogarde's acting conveys both dignity and anguish, and is the lynchpin of the film's emotional thrust. He presents a more conflicted individual than an outright flaming gay character would. Bogarde would later remark, "It is extraordinary, in this over-permissive age [c. 1988], to believe that this modest film could ever have been considered courageous, daring or dangerous to make. It was, in its time, all three"

The film does make clear its horror of a society that views homosexuality as evil or perverse. The characters that speak against homosexuality are mainly the villains of the piece, although in one scene a bartender may be reflecting public opinion of the time when he suggests that a society that accepts homosexuality might as well let by "every other perversion". Farr's wife expresses her horror at his sexual orientation (of course, one sympathizes with her for his infidelity in thought, even when he is emphatic about never having been intimate with any of his 'acquaintances') but later stands by him when he resolves to take on the blackmailers even if it means coming out in public view, although that may again have to do with her being impressed by his sacrificial suppression of his sexual desires at the altar of their marital love.

Basil Dearden as director (The Blue Lamp, Poole of London) brings verisimilitude with his experience in location shooting and realization of a palpable contemporary London milieu. While it may have been a tactical decision to couch the film's defense of alternate sexuality in the wrappings of a police procedural, the screenplay never seems like a contrived or awkward message piece, and its characters are more than just mouthpieces for the creators. In its chaste deliberate manner, Victim projects the message of tolerance more acceptably than an outright chest-thumping film about homosexuality may have been able to. Even with all that, it was slapped with an X-rating for its UK cinema run and initially denied a rating by the MPAA. While it's easy in hindsight to regard some of Victim's content as too timid or not sufficiently defensive of gay rights, the courage the film displayed in its time to open the closet even a crack must forever be respected.
Network gives an excellent video presentation of the film. While not as stunningly revelatory as BFI's Night and the City blu-ray (blacks could be a simdgen deeper), the film has overall strong image quality with fine detail and grayscale contrast. There are no distracting damage marks or other anomalies. Sound is a lossy Dolby dual mono track at 224kbps, which is a little disappointing. It's mainly a dialog film so not a major deficiency, but I did occasionally feel that a lossless track may have provided a little more clarity and presence, especially for scenes shot outdoors or in crowded interiors. The major on-disc extra is a half-hour vintage interview with Dirk Bogarde shot at his home shortly around the release of Victim, in which he discusses his career up to that point, sharing his enthusiasm for the vital new movement in British cinema (he has an amazing mastiff that turns up near the end). Apart from that there are a multiple stills galleries, a film trailer and PDF's of promotional material.

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Old 06-18-2018, 05:06 AM   #2217
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ravenus View Post
Great to see a review from you after such a long interval.
Thanks. Just had it reformatted and rephrased, as the previous version was a hastily written one.
The above text is purely based on my own opinion. If you mistake it for some sort of soothsaying, you cannot be more wrong. :-P
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Old 06-18-2018, 07:32 AM   #2218
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Saw The Reptile last evening on the UK blu-ray.

Here, another typical Hammer hamlet (the ones with a pub, a graveyard and a castle / mansion with suspicious goings-on) has mysterious deaths where people turn green/black and foam at the mouth...and they have bite marks. The villagers ignore the obvious interpretation and bury the dead without any postmortem. The brother of one victim shifts into the inherited home with his wife and is promptly given the cold shoulder by everyone other than the pub-man (Michael Ripper). Noel Willman tries to foster some presence as the suspicious mansioner with the beautiful daughter (Jacqueline Pearce) he seems to keep suppressed.

While this site review suggested an enjoyable modest entertainment, I have to say this is among the more tedious Hammer films I've seen from their classic period (athough to be frank I have not seen several of the Dracula films without Peter Cushing). The major deficiency is the story, the lack of it. The film stretches to 90 min but the narrative doesn't cover more than half so we see characters doing a lot of doubling back or skulking around or being completely obtuse to circumstances because that would wrap up the proceedings in less that feature length. At one point a character set to destroy the titular monster decides to first spend a good while freeing a large group of animal pets from their cages, just so he can be interrupted in his mission. There is some decent atmosphere but the production is unable to disguise the threadbare plot. Plague of the Zombies (PotZ) which was made back-to-back with this film and shared many locations and props turned out immensely better.

Technically the blu-ray looks quite good, with some sunlit scenes appearing like they could have been recently shot. However, there are some scenes at the beginning with the title and opening credits which seem to come from a different and inferior source. Audio (LPCM 2.0) is decent if revealing age and budget limitations. Extras include a 20 min making of that tries to be as kind as it can to the feature, a half-hour episode of "Wicked Women of Hammer" (in SD-PAL) and the trailer. On the whole I wish I had not succumbed to the temptation of getting this to bookend PotZ.

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Old 06-20-2018, 06:24 AM   #2219
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Default Doctor Strange [dir. Scott Derrickson]

Watched Doctor Strange at home last night. It's ANOTHER Marvel movie, but one of the better ones, and I'd got the blu because I had a good time with it at the cinema. Benedict Cumberbatch is the titular arrogant surgeon turned souped-up sorcerer, while Mads Mikkelsen is his rather underwhelming adversary (a part that could have easily done by the brawny and graceful Scott Adkins, wasted here in an itty-bitty henchman part with the ignominious fate of getting his muscular butt kicked by scrawny Cumberb*tch). The narrative runs with Swiss watch precision, although Marvel's directive to insert a joke every two min of a movie can be irritating (Spiderman: Homecoming was even more so). The actors are professional (and in the making of profess to being enthusiastic about the film and the marvel franchise, the usual "everything was great, especially everything" promotional fluff).
The action remains exciting (like Inception, but a lot more fun) and the ability to re-watch one's favorite sequences on video is a big advantage. The animated backdrops against which our characters spar would make for amazing screensavers. I especially enjoyed re-visiting the climactic brawl set in Hong Kong where everything other than the characters is moving in reverse.

As expected for a recent blockbuster the video quality is excellent, with rich colors and a crisp look. I have heard complaints about the audio in recent Disney blu-rays but this one seems quite capable - the car crash early in the film carries a lot of heft, and the other action sequences also offer a lively experience. I do wish the "other dimension" sequences had more of an "other dimension" audio vibe to them, but there's nothing here that I miss from the theatrical experience. If you play all the featurettes together you get around an hour's worth of behind the scenes, although I have to say it gets boring to hear people repeatedly gushing over each other. The US blu-ray is supposed to have a commentary track but I think I did not see it on my UK disc, need to check again.

For those interested, I got my copy (ordered in Jan 2018 from Zavvi) with a slipcover that had different but quite bland art and a "phase three" logo on the spine. Mine went immediately into the recycle bin.

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Old 06-20-2018, 06:57 PM   #2220
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Tonight was retro-Bollywood time with 1989's Chaalbaaz on the Eagle DVD. Chaalbaaz was and remains an entertaining take on the Ram & Shyam / Seeta & Geeta template (which in itself came from a Telugu movie called Ramudu Bheemudu). At this point of time in Indian cinema there were very few visual stylists. Punkuj Parasher then fresh off TV's Karamchand and the Beverly Hills Cop inspired Jalwa went all out to make a stylish potboiler with song sequences that mirrored the slickness of MTV videos. Queen Sridevi made a huge mark playing the contrary twins, reducing the so-called heroes - Sunny Deol and Rajinikant - to supporting parts (although this is also one of Rajini's finest comic turns). While it could have been tighter, the film has an enjoyable "desi masala in a glitzy package" quality with several memorable scenes and a bunch of hummable tracks (Laxmikant-Pyarelal). Cinematographer Manmohan Singh who previously shot Sri in Chandni, once again makes love to the star through his camera.

Thankfully this is not the first time I'm seeing the film because if it was I'd be terribly puzzled by the content of the DVD. By now of course I'm used to seeing DVD's of vintage Indian films often looking like they were sourced from a video tape that was run over by a truck (and that's describing the better moments), but Eagle have also butchered 18min of footage from the film including...wait for this...the scene depicting the exchange of the twin sisters which causes the confusion powering the rest of the movie. I first thought perhaps the DVD has skipped a chapter but no, it is actually missing this footage (including the hilarious bit with Rajini at the police station). This is why I feel like laughing whenever the people in this side of the forum start fantasizing about 4K restorations and UHD releases from Bollywood. If anything, the film industry and the home video industry has repeatedly shown that out here Customer is Chutiya.

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