Posts Tagged ‘Blu-ray review’

Blu-ray Cover - The Great Buster

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: April 02, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:41:03

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: None

Ratio: 1.78:1

Notes: A DVD edition of the film is also available.

The Great Buster - Banner.jpg

“Charles Cohen, whom I’ve known for a while, asked me if I was interested in possibly making documentary films on Buster Keaton and Douglas Fairbanks. I quickly said yes and [suggested] that we start with Keaton.” –Peter Bogdanovich (Press Book, 2018)

It is difficult not to see this documentary as built-in promotional gimmick for the Cohen Media Group’s collection of Buster Keaton films. However, such motivations don’t necessarily make the film unworthy of its viewership. It’s nice to report that The Great Buster: A Celebration works as a primer for those who may be unfamiliar with Buster Keaton’s life and work, and it covers many of the more important points of his life and career. It is fair to say that the film might even inspire new interest in the director’s work (which was very likely Bogdanovich’s intention).

If there is a problem to be found here, it is born out of the fact that it was produced much too late to be truly comprehensive. Many of Keaton’s friends, family, and associates are either deceased or were too old to participate (although we are happy to report the presence of Norman Lloyd). One may recall a three-part documentary series on Keaton’s life entitled Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow. This particular production was released in 1987 and was able to include a good number of people who knew and worked with Keaton (including his widow, Eleanor). Better yet, much of the narration was taken from archival television and radio interviews with Keaton himself. It covered the same territory in more intricate detail, and felt more intimate and personal.

One might argue that the two hour and forty minute duration allowed for a more comprehensive approach, but the truth is that one of the weaknesses of that earlier documentary was that it was padded for length and tended to repeat itself at times. The film’s superiority is due to the production’s use of Keaton’s own voice as narration, and the interview subjects that it chose to include.

It goes without saying that Bogdanovich was unable to resurrect these participants for his own feature. Instead, he was forced to interview a variety of comedians, actors, and filmmakers who claim to have been influenced by Keaton. To be fair, these interviewees do a decent job at regurgitating much of the same information that was included in that earlier production, but most of these individuals wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) be considered experts on the subject (though there are a few debatable exceptions).

“We tried to get as broad a cross-section as we could with filmmakers, performers, [and] friends. Fans and experts and others who were influenced by Keaton or felt something special about him. There were some people that we tried to get but we couldn’t work it out, like Johnny Depp and Jackie Chan, whose work makes him a kind of modern Buster.” –Peter Bogdanovich (Press Book, 2018)

The result is best described—as the title suggests—as “a celebration” or appreciation of Keaton and his body of work, and there is certainly value in that.

One Sheet.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by the standard Blu-ray case with insert artwork that features the film’s theatrical one sheet design framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. Cohen also includes a small booklet that features credits and film related photography. We are happy to announce that a slipcover that features the one sheet design without the “C” Logo framing has been included with this release. One only wishes that this was their standard practice.

The disc’s menu features footage from the films made by Buster Keaton and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Cohen Media Group’s high definition transfer is a solid one, but it is only as good as the archival material allows. The television footage is pretty weak in just about every respect, but it is as good as one could possibly expect and represents the source elements adequately. Bogdanovich’s freshly produced “talking head” interview segments are all incredibly detailed and completely meet Blu-ray standards. Fine detail is very much in evidence here. Most of the footage taken from Keaton’s oeuvre looks pretty good here, but there are variations between different titles. Some show some pretty significant age related damage, and it seems unlikely that some of these issues can be adequately restored. A clip from one of his shorts (The Boat) shows particularly bad damage during one of the film’s most important moments. However, these variations in texture, grain structure, clarity, contrast, and detail are to be expected. It’s part of the documentary aesthetic. A variety of aspect ratios are on display, but this never becomes distracting since this is what one has come to expect from such a production.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Considering that there are only two primary audio elements utilized for this documentary—namely interview dialogue and music that plays over Keaton’s silent work—the disc’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix goes above and beyond the needs of the film. It’s a great audio transfer, but it is understandably not terribly dynamic.

Special Features:

0.5 of 5 Stars

Conversations from the Quad with Peter Bogdanovich – (28:49)

This is essentially a post-screening Q&A with Peter Bogdanovich (moderated by Richard Pena). It includes a pre-screening introduction by both Charles Cohen and Bogdanovich. Usually, this sort of feature would be quite welcome and an enjoyable addition to any disc. Unfortunately, this particular footage is marred by terrible sound that is nearly indistinguishable throughout most of the duration, and the image isn’t much better as it is shot from the very back of the room. Someone occasionally jerks the camera back and forth as they try to reframe on a cheap tri-pod. There are moments of interest throughout the Q&A, but it is very hard to hear what is being discussed. Honestly, it may have been better to leave this off of the disc as it doesn’t leave a very good impression.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:50)

The film’s theatrical trailer is included here as well.

Final Words:

The Great Buster will engage cinephiles who are new to the subject as it serves as a very good primer on the subject of his life and work. However, Keaton devotees may find themselves wishing for more. Either way, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours.

Advertisements

Spine #975

FG Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Region: Region A

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 German DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3962 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 33.77 Mbps

Notes: This is the North American Blu-ray debut of Funny Games.

Title

“The film is a film about the representation of violence in the media, not about violence per se. It is a self-reflexive film, after all.” –Michael Haneke (Cinema.com, 2007)

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games has been making enemies since its release, and to say that the critical opinion was polarized is an understatement. It should be said upfront that yours truly despised the film upon the first viewing, and this wasn’t because of the overwhelming mean spiritedness behind it. Instead, it was—in the words of Haneke himself—the self-reflexive nature of the proceedings that simply seemed to be one step too far. Fourth wall breaks have never appealed to this viewer and it is doubtful that they ever will. However, it is important to keep in mind the intentions of the filmmaker and to ignore one’s own prejudices and preferences in order to judge a film fairly.

Therefore, it is important to understand what Michael Haneke was trying to achieve:

“It’s meant as a provocation, and of course, all the rules that usually make the viewer go home happy and contented are broken in my film. There’s this unspoken rule that you can’t harm animals. What do I do? I kill the dog first thing. The same thing with the boy. You’re not supposed to break the illusion. What do I do? I break the illusion. It’s the principle of the whole film. It’s a very ironic film… When I did Benny’s Video, which was done before the first Funny Games, I had depicted violence but I felt that not everything was said. I was thinking, how I could continue this dialogue…

…I wanted to show the audience how much they can be manipulated. First they think it’s all an illusion, just a film, then I do this rewinding and suddenly you go back. I look at the viewer directly. I talk to him. I wink at him. I do this again and again to show how much one can manipulate. In view of this overriding illusion in movies, it’s a good idea to create a little bit of mistrust in the verité, in the truth of moving pictures.” –Michael Haneke (Cinema Blend, 2007)

The “slap-in-the face” aspect of the film certainly resonates, but one wonders if he even needed to go as far as he did to make his point. French auteur Jacques Rivette voiced his dislike of the film in no uncertain terms after seeing the film at Cannes and was still annoyed at the film a few years later when he called Funny Games a “complete piece of shit” in a 2001 interview published by Senses of Cinema. Haneke has the film’s two villains wink at the camera, speak to the audience, and rewind the events of the film via remote control. He takes a sledge hammer approach to a goal that could have easily been achieved more gracefully without these devices. There is a decided arrogance to this approach that rightfully rubs many viewers the wrong way, and one would have to label the film a success if this were Haneke’s only objective.

FG Wink

This wink represents the first in a series of fourth wall breaks employed in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.

However, the film’s success is open for serious debate if the director honestly intended to force his audience to consider how they are manipulated by the rules and structure of the genre while also critiquing their thirst for violent entertainment. For one thing, there are plenty of genre fans who enjoy the film’s cruel and nihilistic nature. They experience the film just as they would any other entertainment—just as they enjoy films like Scream (which affectionately critiques the slasher genre without ever having to break the fourth wall). What’s more, these fourth wall breaks become less distracting (and less distancing) upon repeated viewings, and one becomes desensitized by their knowledge of upcoming events. In other words, this film (which was originally intended as a “provocation”) eventually turns into another genre entertainment. One has to wonder if the director would be pleased about this particular fact.

FG SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases (we actually prefer this to their digipaks). The cover sleeve includes thematically appropriate cover artwork that utilizes either a still or a screenshot from the film itself. It’s isn’t one of Criterion’s most brilliant designs, but it certainly serves its purpose. Also included in the case is a pamphlet that includes more film-related imagery and an interesting essay by Bilge Ebiri that is an interesting read even if you ultimately disagree with some of what is included within the text. Information about the transfer and technical credits are also included therein.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features the film’s title in black against a red background in the same style utilized by both the film and Criterion’s cover. A loop of the television noises heard within the film provide accompaniment for this image, and the layout is exactly what collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. It is attractive and should be intuitive to navigate.

SS02.jpg

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

It will come as no surprise to the already initiated that Criterion’s image transfer is top notch and a huge improvement over all previous DVD editions of the film. These improvements go beyond the greater resolution offered by the DVD format as it offers a sharper and cleaner image (even in darker scenes) and showcases with better blacks and improved color throughout the duration. Whites are well controlled but quite brilliant, and fine detail consistently impresses as well. Contrast is also expertly handled here, and there is a natural layer of film grain that is well resolved and never distracting. The disc’s encode seems well handled and utilizes a relatively high bitrate, and there are no anomalies to complain about here. The restoration was personally supervised by Michael Haneke, so it seems reasonable to assume that this is how the film is intended to look and represents the his intentions.

FG SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a nicely handled representation of the film’s original sound. It seems likely that certain audiophiles may wish for a more dynamic mix, but I’m not sure that their disappointment would be reasonable. What we are given is a clean and clear mix with a reasonable level of separation. In all honesty, the track is fairly dynamic, it just doesn’t reinvent the wheel for a new generation of viewers (and purists will be pleased by this decision). It’s somewhat difficult to gauge the level of clarity in the dialogue elements, because German is foreign to this pair of ears. However, there doesn’t seem to be any issues here, and ambience, effects, and music are also admirably handled.

FG SS04.jpg

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Trojan Horses – (25:09)

Criterion’s new retrospective interview with Michael Haneke finds the director candidly discussing the film’s origins and script evolution, ‘behind-the-scenes’ production challenges, the untimely deaths of three of the film’s four primary actors, and his intentions for the film. The film’s remake is also discussed (albeit briefly), but this topic probably deserved more time than it received. His discussion is often surprisingly thorough, and there is at least one surprising revelation as to one of his influences. It is a thorough discussion about the film and a worthwhile addition to Criterion’s supplemental package. As a matter of fact, it is the disc’s strongest extra.

Bad Boy – (17:56)

Arno Frisch’s new interview is also surprisingly revealing and offers plenty of interesting information about the film’s script and production. It is clear that he is proud of the film and is enthusiastic throughout the duration. His revelations here add to those given by Haneke and gives the viewer a greater appreciation for the movie itself. He also discusses his vivid memory of the walkouts during the Cannes screenings of the film.

Game Culture – (28:07)

Alexander Horwath gives what might be described as a scholarly appreciation of the film. It does offer the viewer some food for thought, but it honestly isn’t terribly revelatory overall and pales in comparison to the two previous interviews. Most of his observations are either obvious or debatable, and most viewers will have already considered much of what he has to offer here. It’s a worthwhile addition to the disc, but fans of the film may find it wanting.

Cannes Film Festival Press Conference (1997) – (44:12)

It is nice to find this vintage press conference included here as it offers quite a bit of information even as it hints at the film’s divided reception. The information divulged is sometimes hindered by some of the reporters as they sometimes asked asinine questions, but such is always the case. Many of the questions betrayed an innate misunderstanding of the material and seemed to both annoy and amuse Haneke himself. In addition, Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe were largely ignored in favor of Arno Frisch (despite the fact that they had more difficult roles and did an outstanding job in the film). The answers are sometimes repetitive due to the ridiculous questions being asked, but at least this gives the viewer more opportunity to absorb the repeated information. It is a nice—if limited—addition that adds to the value of the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:12)

The film’s original theatrical trailer rounds out the list of supplements admirably.

FG SS05.jpg

Final Words:

Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is an “experimental provocation” that continues to polarize viewers. Some believe that the film is a successful critique of media violence while others believe that it is a hypocritical endeavor that merely raises the proverbial middle finger towards anyone who endeavors to watch the film.

This reviewer stands somewhere in the middle. It’s an interesting effort and worth seeing if only so that you can make up your own mind, and Criterion’s disc is probably the best way to experience it in one’s home environment.

FG SS06

One Sheet

Spine #970

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: April 23rd, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:06:11

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono PCM Audio English (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 35.82 Mbps

Title

Zapata! and Face the Crowd were both scorned when they came out and so was Splendor in the Grass; now they’re minor classics. I know many of the critics and I don’t think of them as God-like figures. What can they do to hurt me? Sure, I might be slightly embarrassed for a day, but then you just go your own way.” –Elia Kazan (Interview, 1969)

Everyone has probably seen at least one episode of The Andy Griffith Show, so it might be worth posing the following question: What if Andy Taylor—the extremely modest and benevolent rural Sherriff portrayed in this series—was in actuality an amoral and maniacal megalomaniac? What if his country boy charm and kindly disposition were merely a pretense? I ask these questions because Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith’s character in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd) has a public persona that isn’t terribly different from the character that Griffith portrayed in his hit series, but this persona is merely a sociopath’s mask.

A Face in the Crowd follows the rise and descent of Rhodes as he is discovered by Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) in an Arkansas jail trying to sleep off a terrible hangover (any similarities to Otis Campbell end here). Jeffries soon has him employed as a charismatic local radio personality, but this is merely a single step on his journey to becoming a national television celebrity. However, this isn’t your typical rags-to-riches yarn as it soon becomes a scarily prescient satire about demagoguery. It forces us to consider just how possible a truly democratic system of government is in a land full of people who are more than willing to let others do their thinking for them (especially when the media is more than happy to oblige them).

Perhaps the film was a flop because it was released in an era when questioning our system of government was looked at with extreme skepticism, but those who look seriously at our current sociopolitical climate might wish that people had paid closer attention.

AFITC-SS01.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases. The cover sleeve includes thematically appropriate cover artwork that has been credited to Marc Aspinall. It’s a nice design as is usually the case for Criterion (even if it isn’t one of their best).

Also included in the case is a booklet that includes more attractive artwork and plenty of production photography that serve as illustration for an interesting essay by April Wolfe entitled, “American Character,” a second essay by Elia Kazan (the film’s director) entitled, “About Screenwriters,” and a vintage New York Times feature entitled “Strange Chronicle of Andy Griffith” by Gilbert Millstein. All three of these writings offer something worthwhile and should add to the viewer’s appreciation of the film. Technical details about the transfer are also included within its pages.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features thematically appropriate artwork and is in the same style that collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. Frankly, it isn’t one of their more attractive menus, but it should still be intuitive to navigate.

AFITC-SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion provides the following information about this new Blu-ray transfer of A Face In the Crowd:

“This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics director film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, and small dirt…” –Liner Notes

The resulting image is a huge leap forward from previous home video transfers, and the differences aren’t merely the result of the new 4K scan (although it certainly contributes to this transfer’s superiority). It certainly showcases much more fine detail, but it also sees a huge improvement in nearly all other areas. Shadows are more detailed even as deeper blacks are on display, the film looks much better in motion, both clarity and image stability is greatly improved, and grain patterns look more organic and are better resolved. There doesn’t seem to be any problematic digital tampering on display here either.

AFITC-SS03.jpg
Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s Mono PCM Audio transfer is a healthy rendering of the film’s original audio elements and is faithful to the original artistic intentions of the filmmakers. The original source elements seem to have been incredibly healthy, and there aren’t any encoding issues to mar the film’s original sound elements. The result is a stable audio transfer that is free from the distracting blemishes that one might expect to find from a film of its era. Certainly any perceived issues are inherent in the source.

AFITC-SS05.jpg

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Facing the Past – (29:10)

Facing the Past is a short documentary about the film’s creation and reception that includes interviews with Andy Griffith, Budd Schulberg, Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Jeff Young, and Leo Braudy. It has been carried over from a previous Warner Brother’s DVD release, but it is arguably the disc’s most comprehensive examination of the film. It’s a thorough look at the film and the talent who brought it to life. Those involved are surprisingly open and candid about the challenges that they faced while working with Kazan, scholars are on hand to discuss biographical influences, and there is a surprising focus on the director’s controversial HUAC testimony that colors the entire length of the program. It is well worth a half hour of the viewer’s time.

Ron Briley on A Face of the Crowd – (20:43)

Ron Briley is the author if “The Ambivalent Legacy of Elia Kazan: The Politics of the Post-HUAC Films,” and this fact should provide viewers with a clue as to what they can expect from his informative interview. However, they will be quite surprised at just how digestible the information actually is as his delivery isn’t nearly as dry one might expect. Kazan’s political and professional background is discussed, the HUAC testimonies are examined with some level of depth, and Briley also examines how this biographical information influenced the film and its themes. It is interesting to learn that both Arthur Godfrey and Will Rogers informed the characterization of Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes. In fact, Budd Schulberg’s inspiration for the story was born out of a drunken conversation with Will Rogers, Jr. about the reality behind his father’s public persona. There is quite a bit of information here that was also covered in the older Warner documentary, but it also contains enough new information to make it a worthwhile addition to this package.

Evan Dalton Smith on A Face In the Crowd – (19:43)

Evan Dalton Smith’s interview zeroes in on the background and career of Andy Griffith. Griffith’s early career as a monologist, his early stage success, his first few films (including A Face in the Crowd), and finally his iconic television series are discussed here in some depth. It is the lightest supplement on the disc, but there is still enough meat to add to the viewer’s appreciation and understanding of A Face in the Crowd and its star performer. It is worth the viewer’s time if only to learn of Kazan’s diabolical manipulation of Griffith’s emotional triggers as it was an experience that left its mark on the actor.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:19)

An original theatrical trailer for the film has also been included here. It is interesting to see as the approach is far from typical of trailers during this period. It might offer a clue as to why the film failed at the box office.

AFITC-SS06.jpg

Final Words:

A Face in the Crowd is essential viewing for fans of both Andy Griffith and Elia Kazan, and Criterion’s terrific Blu-ray release of the film is probably the best way to do this.

AFITC-SS07

One Sheet

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Warner Brothers

Release Date: April 02, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:56:27

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Alternate Audio:

5.1 French Dolby Digital
5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 2.40:1

Notes: This package also contains a DVD disc and a digital copy of the film. UHD/Blu-ray Combo and DVD editions of the film are also available for purchase. Both editions include a digital copy of the film.

Title.jpg

Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a man in his eighties who is broke, alone, and facing the foreclosure of his business. When he is offered a job that simply requires him to drive, he accepts the position only to learn that he has actually signed on as a drug courier for the cartel. Unfortunately, a hard-charging DEA agent named Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) is soon on his trail. It is an interesting premise and an admirable effort that makes for an engaging viewing experience, but there is probably a better film hiding somewhere in the material.

The family dynamic and his relationships could have been fleshed out in a less heavy-handed manner had this element been given more substantial screen time and slightly different treatment. What’s more, the dynamic between Eastwood’s mule and Cooper’s DEA agent could have been fleshed out and milked for quite a bit more suspense. Luckily, Eastwood’s confident and effortless direction manages to make up for a few of what one assumes are script shortcomings, and his performance is charming enough to carry the viewer through what might have otherwise been an unrewarding viewing experience.

SS01.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers protects the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray eco-case. We are not fond of eco-cases and find that they do not offer adequate protection for the discs or the artwork. Luckily, the first printing of this title includes a slipcover that features the same artwork that appears on the sleeve enclosed in their case, and this further protects both the artwork and the discs contained inside. The cover art for this release is based on the film’s original one-sheet design, but we see less information on the top and bottom of the image. The text has also been moved so that it looks more cluttered than it did on the one sheet (despite the fact that there is less text on display). It’s nice that they utilized the original poster design for the home video release, but the alterations didn’t improve the design.

One Sheet

The static menu uses yet another alteration of this same image with music from the film as accompaniment. The result is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

SS02.jpg

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers offers a strong but somewhat underwhelming transfer. The film was originally shot in 2.8K resolution and mastered in 2K, so the Blu-ray transfer was simply scaled down from the original master and modestly corrected for the format. While we were unable to view the 4K UHD release, it seems reasonable to assume that it would have been underwhelming considering that the transfer isn’t true 4K. (Upscaled 2K does not 4K make.) In any case, the Blu-ray transfer is quite good and serves Eastwood’s natural but somewhat subdued cinematography well. There is a fair amount of fine detail on display throughout, and colors seem to accurately represent the filmmaker’s original intentions while displaying accurate skin tones. Black levels are healthy without crushing pertinent detail, and there certainly aren’t any distracting digital anomalies.

SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is likewise representative of the film’s original quaint sound mix. It isn’t terribly dynamic, but it serves the material efficiently. There are some very nice separations on display. There’s really no room for complaint.

SS04.jpg

Special Features:

1 of 5 Stars

Nobody Runs Forever: The Making of ‘The Mule – (10:59)

This is actually just a standard EPK with a lot of navel-gazing from those involved in the production. We get a few general snippets of information, but it is mostly built on broad statements about the project. To make matters worse, it seems as if the participants may have gone into more detail in their interviews only to have the meat of their contribution cut from the final edit. It’s a shame that the days of legitimate “making of” documentaries are a thing of the past. Why do people who already own the Blu-ray need to be sold on the merits of the film? They already have our money!

Music Video: Toby Keith’s “Don’t Let the Old Man In – (02:54)

The music video is built entirely of footage from the final film. There aren’t even any shots of Toby Keith. Keith’s fanbase will probably welcome this addition.

SS05.jpg

Final Words:

The Mule isn’t amongst Eastwood’s best directorial efforts, but it is an extremely enjoyable viewing experience. Warner’s Blu-ray offers fans a solid high definition transfer that fans should welcome into their collections.

SS06

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Lionsgate Films

Release Date: March 05, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:43:18

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: This package also contains a DVD disc and a digital copy of the film.

I should probably say up front that I met Peter Hedges and had the opportunity to listen to him speak on two separate occasions. This was during the theatrical release of Dan in Real Life. The first was at Angelo State University and the second was at a benefit meal and screening of the film at a local cinema in San Angelo, Texas. He made an impression on my young mind, and I have followed his career with interest since that occasion.

I can say with certainty that Ben is Back is his strongest directorial effort to date. While certain critics have complained that the film can be “sentimental” (a criticism that has haunted Hedges throughout his career), it is difficult to understand what they could have been expecting. The film tells the story of an addict son (Lucas Hedges) and a mother (Julia Roberts) who refuses to give up on him despite the overwhelming odds against his chances of recovery. What honest rendering of this story could avoid the occasional sentimental moment?

Roberts gives one of the best performances of her career here as every look at her troubled Ben betrays a storm of conflicting emotions. The history of their entire relationship is written in her eyes. Lucas Hedges is equally impressive here as we understand that the guilt he feels about the pain and trouble he has caused is yet another trigger for his addiction. It never quite shows the hell of being an addict since Ben has been in recovery at a rehab facility for quite some time, but one does get a sense of his hunger.

We will admit that the film isn’t at all a cinematic masterpiece, but it is an engaging few hours of entertainment.

Teaser

The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Lionsgate protects the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray eco-case. We are not fond of eco-cases and find that they do not offer adequate protection for the discs or the artwork. Luckily, the first printing of this title includes a slipcover that features the same artwork that appears on the sleeve enclosed in their case, and this further protects both the artwork and the discs contained inside. The cover art for this release is based on one of the film’s foreign one sheet designs. Frankly, the US one sheet was a superior image, but what we have here actually works quite well.

The animated menu features footage from the film accompanied by music. It is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Lionsgate’s 1080P transfer offers a solid rendering of the film’s original digital master. Fine detail is sometimes impressive and always on par with what one expects from the format. The transfer seems to represent the original cool color palette faithfully, and skin tones are always relatively healthy throughout the duration. Black levels might be less than perfect on occasion (darker scenes might show evidence of slight crushing), but this might very well be an issue with the original cinematography and not the transfer. There aren’t any issues that should distract the viewer from enjoying the film.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio offers a bit of surround activity without showing off or becoming overly aggressive. After all, this is a quiet film about a difficult but loving relationship between a mother and her son. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for sonic somersaults, but the film’s score and ambient sounds are well separated and engaging. It’s a solid but subtle track that supports the story being told.

Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Director Peter Hedges

The only substantial supplement on the disc is this commentary with the film’s director. The track is consistently engaging and always articulate even if Peter Hedges sometimes falls into the habit of simply giving the viewer a play-by-play as to what is occurring onscreen instead of discussing the details of the shoot, the reasoning behind his writing and directorial decisions, and other pertinent information. We are given a few nuggets of information and the viewer is made to understand why this subject is a personal one to him personally.

Theatrical Trailers – (03:40)

There are two trailers here—a teaser and the theatrical trailer. It is nice to have these included here.

Ben is Back Image Gallery – (02:14)

Thirty-three images play as a slideshow with accompaniment from the film’s score. The first image is the original theatrical one sheet while the other thirty two are production stills. The main strength of this feature is that it provides a reference for anyone who may someday wonder what the original one sheet looked like.

One Sheet

Final Words:

Fans of Julia Roberts or Lucas Hedges will certainly want to add this to their collections.

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Well Go USA

Release Date: March 05, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:28:10

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 Korean DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: 2.0 Korean Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: This package also contains a DVD disc and a digital copy of the film.

Title

“The story felt mysterious [and] nothing really happens in it, but… there was something very cinematic about that mysteriousness.” –Lee Chang-dong

Burning is a singular cinematic experience that seems to play by the rules of the slow-burn thriller, but Lee Chang-dong has merely added the veneer of a thriller to something that is much more mysterious and vastly more interesting. The basic plot follows Jongsu (Ah-in YOO), an alienated young introvert with a simmering rage burning somewhere deep inside the recesses of his mind who finds a friend and potential love interest in Haemi (Jong-seo JUN). Haemi seems to remember more about her childhood acquaintanceship with Jongsu than he does, and he questions the existence of the cat that she asks him to feed for her when she goes off on a trip. When she returns home from this trip with a man named Ben (Steven Yeun), it obviously bothers Jongsu and he is immediately suspicious of this wealthy and sophisticated young man. To be fair, it does seem that Ben showcases at least some of the personality traits of the textbook sociopath. Jongsu’s confusion about Ben’s relationship with Haemi is soon abandoned once she disappears, and these feelings are replaced with an obsessive need for answers as to her whereabouts. He finds that the answers to his questions are elusive and this is actually part of the point.

Jongsu’s alienation is a byproduct of living in a socially, financially, and politically divided world. It is relevant that his father’s dilapidated farm is located near the North Korean border and that Ben is mysteriously wealthy, but this is a situation that is relevant to most of the world’s population right now. It is a problem that penetrates the heart of what it is to be human. How can anyone expect to form lasting connections with people in a socially segregated environment? It is no wonder that the film is drenched in existential angst. For all of the monologues about “great hunger” (or searching for truth and meaning), Burning understands that it is this search that is important. The answers are unknowable. The inner thoughts and emotions of those around us are unreadable. Such ambiguity is the film’s main strength but it will probably limit the film’s appeal.

There will inevitably be many viewers who prefer to take their mystery with a side of neatly tied up answers, and the deliberate pacing will probably be interpreted by these people as “slow” (even though there is a distinct difference in a film that is “slow” and one that is “deliberately paced”). These people might prefer to opt for re-runs of Murder She Wrote.

SS01.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Well Go USA protects the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring artwork based on the film’s primary US one sheet. It isn’t at all clear why they felt the need to crop the image on all four sides, but it is nice that they used their original design as it is an attractive image.

US ONE SHEET
Menu

The menu begins as a short video clip and morphs into a static image with the typical menu options. It’s an attractive presentation.

SS02.jpg

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

This is a nice high definition transfer that represents the original 2K DI master rather nicely. The encode is nicely rendered and there aren’t any noticeable digital artifacts or compression to distract the discerning viewer. Meanwhile, there is an appropriate level of fine detail on display and clarity is reasonably strong throughout most of the duration. There certainly aren’t any glaring issues to discuss, and any weaknesses that one might perceive are the direct result of the original cinematography.

SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is fairly strong and reasonably immersive throughout the duration (at least for such a low key film). Fidelity is certainly never an issue. It is difficult to judge the clarity of the dialogue since the language spoken throughout the duration of the film is predominantly Korean, but it sounds as if the dialogue is given the appropriate amount of priority within the mix.

SS04.jpg

Special Features:

1 of 5 Stars

About the Characters – (02:29)

This short clip is built mostly from “behind the scenes” footage and interview soundbites, but it is not given a chance to offer anything truly instructive. To say it isn’t comprehensive is an understatement. It is merely an EPK fluff piece. This seems a shame since Burning deserves quite a bit more.

Teaser Trailer – (00:58)
International Trailer – (01:21)
Theatrical Trailer – (01:49)

It is nice to have these three trailers included on the disc (especially since there aren’t any other supplements included).

SS05.jpg

Final Words:

Those who enjoy films by David Lynch won’t find Lee Chang-dong’s Burning particularly challenging as it is actually rather straight forward and far less esoteric than most of Lynch’s work. However, those who feel that riddles should have well-defined answers might prefer more mainstream entertainments. In either case, this Blu-ray is a great way to experience the film in one’s home environment.

SS06.jpg

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: February 12, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:14:37

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

2.0 English Dolby Digital

5.1 English Descriptive Audio

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital

5.1 French Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: This package also contains a DVD disc and a digital copy of the film. UHD/Blu-ray Combo and DVD editions of the film are also available for purchase.

Title

Those who love Queen will undoubtedly enjoy Bohemian Rhapsody, because it is the music and performances that carry the film forward. Fans will find themselves charmed by default, because music has the power to mesmerize. I sometimes forgot that I wasn’t actually watching the real band. My ignorance as to the events of Mercury’s life makes it impossible for me to judge as to whether the filmmakers wasted any of the subject’s potential. What I do know as a Queen fan is that Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury is uncannily accurate. Even his bodily movement seems to embody the character. It is Malek’s profound talent that has already earned the film two Golden Globe awards in the Best Motion Picture (Drama) and Best Actor (Drama) categories (not to mention an array of other prestigious accolades—including Best Actor awards from SAG and BAFTA). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently followed suit and nominated the film in five different categories, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Rami Malek), Best Editing (John Ottman), Best Sound Editing (John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone), and Best Sound Mixing (Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali).

It should be said that Malek deserves the Oscar in the Best Acting category. I’ve never seen any of his other performances and cannot compare it to anything else that he has done, but I know that none of the other nominees had the challenges that Malek had to overcome for this film. Bohemian Rhapsody, however, doesn’t deserve to take home the Best Picture statue since the film doesn’t really go deep enough into the psychology of the eccentric protagonist. The film moves at such a fast pace that relationships aren’t examined in any real depth. We see Mercury struggling with various demons, but we are kept at arm’s length. We’re never invited to struggle with him. We simply have to take the dialogue at its word, and the performances cover this particular blemish quite admirably. There are probably a certain number of viewers who will be more than grateful for the film’s pacing, but I personally wouldn’t have minded hanging out with the characters in a more intimate manner. It is always fun to get a glimpse at the creation of iconic music, but Freddie Mercury’s personal struggle should have been the ultimate focus of the film for the simple reason that this would have been more dramatically compelling.

To be fair, the film has succeeded despite an incredibly problematic production. It certainly isn’t a film that offers a solid argument in favor of the auteur theory since Dexter Fletcher replaced Brian Singer as the film’s director for the final two weeks of production. In view of this, the final product is much better than it has any right to be. One gets the feeling that this is more of a producer’s project than a director-driven film, and it lacks the kind of singular vision that separates great films from those that are merely engaging entertainments as a direct result of this. However, there is something to be said for any film that can truly be called an engaging entertainment. As I mentioned previously, it is a movie that stands on the strength of the music and on a number of performances that range from good to incredible. It makes me want to get out my Queen albums, and what is this if not a testament to the film’s appeal?

SS01

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

20th Century Fox protects the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray eco-case. We are not fond of eco-cases and find that they do not offer adequate protection for the discs or the artwork. Luckily, the first printing of this title includes a slipcover that features the same artwork that appears on the sleeve enclosed in their case, and this further protects both the artwork and the discs contained inside. The cover art for this release is based on one of the film’s poster designs (although not the design used on the primary one sheet). The image has been cropped significantly on all four sides, but we are happy that they chose to use this image as it looks quite attractive.

The animated menu features footage from the film accompanied by music. It is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

20th Century Fox offers fans an incredibly strong 1080P transfer of Bohemian Rhapsody that showcases an incredible level of fine detail and authentic color reproduction and terrific clarity. Black levels are solid without crushing important information, and it is difficult for one to really take issue with anything whatsoever. There aren’t any noticeable compression issues or any other potentially distracting anomalies. Everything here looks fabulous, darling!

SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

This 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is absolutely terrific. It really does deliver the goods. First of all, the mix is well prioritized with incredibly impressive low ends and dynamic surround immersion throughout the film. It really does wrap around the viewer in ways that transport them into the world of the film—it makes will make you want to travel back in time so that you can attend an entire Queen concert! Dialogue is always well rendered and understandable as well. There really isn’t any room for complaint about this one.

SS04.jpg

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

The Complete Live Aid Movie Performance – (21:55)

It’s nice to have this compete recreation of the original Live Aid concert performance in its entirety, but it would have been even more fabulous to have also included the original concert by Queen. Actually, such a supplement would have been worth the price of this Blu-ray all on its own. Then again, this recreation isn’t exactly anything to sneeze at as it does give fans an idea of just how much meticulous work went into the Live Aid sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, and it will probably add to the viewer’s appreciation of the film as a result.

Rami Malek: Becoming Freddie – (16:13)

Rami Malek’s performance carries Bohemian Rhapsody (with the help of a lot of great music), so it is nice to have this featurette that actually discusses the work that was required of Malek in order for him to achieve such an incredible portrayal of Freddie Mercury. It’s actually much more comprehensive than the sixteen minute duration might suggest. It’s a worthwhile addition to a great disc.

The Look and Sound of Queen – (21:44)

This program focuses on such things as the cast and the various production elements that went into recreating the time period, the band, and the iconic performances that are showcased throughout the film. Again, this is more comprehensive than one might expect and a worthwhile viewing experience for anyone who enjoyed the movie. Better yet, it includes quite a bit of input from Roger Taylor and Brian May!

Recreating Live Aid – (19:55)

This is a detailed look at the recreation of Queen’s iconic Live Aid performance and it is another comprehensive program that includes plenty of “behind the scenes” footage along with cast and crew interviews—not to mention interviews with Roger Taylor and Brian May (although we do here less from them here than in the previous supplement). It’s a great addition to the disc.

Theatrical Trailers:

Teaser Trailer – (01:31)
Theatrical Trailer – (02:25)
Final Trailer – (02:08)

The very least that a studio can do for fans is include a film’s theatrical trailers, so it is nice to see that all of the major trailers are here in all their glory.

SS05.jpg

Final Words:

I’m not at all certain as to the accuracy of the biographical content, but Bohemian Rhapsody works as an engaging entertainment. Watch it for the music and for an incredible performance by Rami Malek. 20th Century Fox has released a Blu-ray that delivers the goods, and it comes highly recommended for Queen devotees.

SS06.jpg