Posts Tagged ‘Blu-ray review’

hitchcockmaster

Spine # 137
blu-ray cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:41:37

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 29.73 Mbps

Notes:This title is also available both individually and as part of The Premiere Collection boxed set (both with different cover art) in the DVD format and was given an incredible release in the same format by The Criterion Collection several years before that release.

The film was later given a lackluster Blu-ray release by MGM Home Entertainment both as part of a three-film set entitled, The Classic Collection and as an individual release. This new Criterion edition is from a new 4K restoration transfer of the film and represents an upgrade in quality.

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“In spy films—in all spy films—we have what is called ‘The MacGuffin.’ The MacGuffin, if…

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Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 01:45:47

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

English DTS X

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish DTS

5.1 French (Canadian) DTS

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Notes: A 4K UHD/Blu-ray release of this title is also available and both releases come with an Ultraviolet copy of the film.

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“It just brought us back to the first one and how simple it was. Carpenter didn’t spend the first 45 minutes of the movie explaining how Michael Myers was still alive, and what cult he’s part of, and what bloodline he’s from, and what relative he wants to go after. All of that was gone, and instead he set up this relatable, grounded, realistic world that leaves you filled with dread at the thought of him coming back and destroying it all. For us, that was the start. How can we clear away the clutter and go simple, so the horror can take the front seat and not all this baggage and exposition? That led us to directly connect it to the first one. That became the touchstone.” –Danny McBride (Deadline, October 24, 2018)

The above quote may seem somewhat surprising to anyone who has seen this sequel-reboot to the classic horror franchise. McBride claims that the decision to ignore all of the sequels was made in an effort to simplify their narrative so that it would come closer to John Carpenter’s original, but their script is too cluttered with dispensable subplots to actually achieve that simplicity. The idea to bring Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) back to hunt Myers could have worked, but she should have served as a kind of emotionally damaged Dr. Loomis. We didn’t need the two podcasters to understand her personal hell, because we have the wonderful restaurant scene with her fractured family to drive this home. The screenwriters should have let Laurie’s various interactions with her daughter and granddaughter speak for themselves. It would have been a more nuanced approach to revealing the history behind their damaged relationship. The film’s subplot involving these so-called “journalists” simply wasn’t needed and it stretches credibility. The only function that they serve is to deliver information to the audience and the original 1978 mask (actually an “aged” facsimile of that mask) to Michael Myers.

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Laurie Strode grants a pair of unnecessary podcasters an interview. The scene is well performed but largely expository.

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Michael Myers collects his mask and becomes “The Shape” after dispatching the two podcasters.

We also didn’t need the annoying subplot with Dr. Sartain. Laurie Strode calls him “the new Dr. Loomis,” but he is the antithesis of that classic character. His obsession with Myers merely complicates the film. Finally, we don’t need the subplot that involves Allyson’s “misunderstood” boyfriend (who doesn’t come off as worthy of her). This is supposed to be a suspenseful horror film and not a soap opera. We don’t need these scenes to add to our admiration of the character, because we have seen how much she cares for her grandmother (a character that the audience loves). Her scenes with Cameron only serve to make these characters seem underdeveloped, because we don’t spend enough time with them to care about the relationship. It is simply another unnecessary distraction. It seems like he is only in the film to ruin Allyson’s phone (so that she is more vulnerable), and there are a variety of simpler ways to achieve this. Again, the film as it stands is too cluttered to be suspenseful and plays like an action movie instead of a horror film.

John Carpenter’s original film was powerful because it put an emphasis on suspense and atmosphere. The shape stalked his victims endlessly before he murdered them, and this is the reason that the film worked brilliantly. David Gordon Green’s film spends too much time on unnecessary subplots that don’t go anywhere. He never shows the shape actually stalking his eventual victims for more than a few moments. He replaces suspenseful sequences with a higher body count, but these violent murders mean nothing without a proper buildup. Remember how Michael Myers enjoyed playing with his victims in the original? This sort of playful taunting only happens once in this film, and little to nothing is left to the viewer’s imagination. Furthermore, Green doesn’t seem to have any real understanding of how John Carpenter used his frame. It is true that he opted for a wider anamorphic image, but he doesn’t shoot in depth nearly as often as Carpenter did in the original and seems to prefer longer lenses.

Carpenter used all three fields of the z-axis and kept an uncluttered frame so that the Shape could appear in the background while characters in the foreground remained blissfully unaware of his presence (or had Myers in the foreground as potential victims went about their business in the background). David Gordon Green tries to do this on occasion, but the bokeh created by the longer lenses often obscures him so that it becomes easier to overlook his evil presence. Clarity is an essential element of suspense. A few of the murders even lose their punch for the simple reason that what is happening on the screen isn’t as clear as it should be (and the sometimes frenetic editing only exacerbates this particular issue). Alfred Hitchcock used collision montages to great effect, but he understood how and when to use them. Green doesn’t seem to have a grasp on these things. Again, what we have here is a series of action sequences. This isn’t nitpicking. One hopes to judge a film based on the filmmaker’s intentions, and both Danny McBride and David Gordon Green have stated repeatedly that their intentions were to make a film that felt like Carpenter’s original, and the fact is that the two films have little more than a few characters in common (and even they have been changed substantially).

However, many (if not all) of these complaints could be applied to the other sequels in the franchise, and most of those have a number of more annoying issues to add to the ones listed here. (Don’t even get me started on the terrible “Thorn” mythology that was introduced in Halloween 5.) As sequels go, this new Halloween is probably as good as fans have any right to expect. After all, this is the eighth sequel in the franchise (the seventh focusing on Michael Myers) and the second sequel reboot. (We won’t even mention the annoying Rob Zombie remake series.) Of course, all of the other sequels had one thing that this one doesn’t: their own title! What on earth was the reasoning behind naming this sequel “Halloween” and not distinguishing it from the original film? Sequels should have their own titles. This movie is many things, but it most certainly isn’t Halloween.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Universal protects the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard two-disc case with artwork taken from the original one sheet. They merely cropped some of the negative space so that the iconic mask appears larger on the Blu-ray cover than it would have otherwise. The case itself is protected with an embossed slipcover that features the same artwork.

one sheet

The Blu-ray artwork was taken directly from this one sheet.

Actually, the disc’s static menu also utilizes this image as the iconic theme music from the film plays in a loop. It is both attractive and intuitive to navigate. (Those who own other Universal discs know exactly what to expect.)

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The first Halloween film to be shot digitally has been given an admirable Blu-ray transfer with deep black levels that don’t crush, a crisp image that showcases a wealth of fine detail (despite a few soft edges that appear throughout the duration), and autumnal colors that appear to be rendered faithfully alongside splashes of crimson blood. It’s a strong encode of the original digital elements and seems to be free of the issues one fully expects to see in transfers for films of this nature.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The disc offers fans a choice of two audio mixes of the film’s audio elements. The first is a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer and the second is a DTS X mix of the film. Both tracks are solid, but many will probably prefer the DTS X option. It isn’t as dynamic as other mixes of this sort, but it certainly serves the film admirably (as does the 7.1 DTS-HD mix). It is a pretty dynamic track due to the film’s musical score, although a few of the sound effects may seem slightly anemic to some ears. Dialogue is consistently clean and clear throughout the duration.

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Special Features:

2 of 5 Stars

Seven Deleted/Extended Scenes — (12:42)

This collection of deleted scenes is the only worthwhile supplement on this disc. They all belong on the cutting room floor, but it is interesting to see what was cut from the film.

Extended Shooting Range: Deleted Suicide Thoughts

This sequence is now located in a different place in the film as it was originally intended to proceed the arrival of the two podcasting journalists. It is interesting to see how cutting the last portion of the scene and moving it elsewhere in the linear narrative changed the film. It might alter how fans experience Laurie Strode’s interview at the beginning of the film.

Shower Mask Visit

It was a wise decision to cut this scene as such scenes are pretty cliché and this one doesn’t work very well.

Jog to a Hanging Dog

This is one of those disturbing image moments that would have added very little to the film. It is easy to understand why it was cut from the final assembly.

Allyson and Friends at School

This scene would have given us more time with Allyson and her friends.

Cameron and Cops Don’t Mix

This is a make-up scene between Allyson (Laurie’s granddaughter) and Cameron (Allyson’s boyfriend). Their reconciliation is interrupted by a pair of cops. The drunk Cameron can’t help but mouth off and is arrested as a result. The cops come across as a pair of assholes, but Cameron comes across like an idiot. Few will feel bad for him, and it might actually make a few people question why Allyson is with him as he obviously has issues.

Deluxe Banh Mi Cops

This is an extended version of a stupid conversation between a pair of cops. A shorter version of the scene is in the final film.

Sartain and Hawkins Ride Along

I can’t help but hope that this isn’t a real deleted scene. It seems almost as if the actors are adlibbing before the camera to amuse themselves. It is ridiculously stupid and concerns the psychiatrist picking his nose (or “scratching his brain”). This one really needed an explanation.

Back in Haddonfield: Making Halloween — (06:05)

This disjointed and almost incoherent piece of EPK fluff barely tackles the making of the movie. It merely features footage from the film as talking heads and interview soundbites bump into each other at random. Praise is given to John Carpenter’s original film, the concept is discussed, and characters are dissected in the most superficial manner possible. Why do studios bother putting these so-called featurettes on the disc?

The Legacy of Halloween — (04:25)

This roundtable discussion between John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, David Gordon Green, and Jason Blum doesn’t delve too deeply into the legacy of the original film, but it is slightly better than the previous featurette. Unfortunately, it is light on actual information and plays like a commercial for the new movie.

The Original Scream Queen — (02:32)

Jamie Lee Curtis’ portrayal of Laurie Strode and her status as the ultimate scream queen is the focus of another EPK promo that seems to have been edited by a nine year old crack junkie with ADHD.

The Sound of Fear — (03:19)

The score really warrants a more comprehensive dissection than this generic promo can offer fans.

Journey of the Mask — (02:33)

Here again, this is a subject that really deserves better.

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Final Words:

Evil doesn’t die and apparently profitable horror franchises are immortal as well. This newest sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween tries very hard to honor the original film, but those involved seem to have little to no understanding as to what made the original film a classic.

It is certainly entertaining and earns an easy recommendation for those who enjoyed the other sequels in the series. Just don’t expect it to match the brilliance of John Carpenter’s original film.

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Fans of the Halloween franchise should get their hands on a copy of Ernie Magnotta’s “Halloween: The Changing Shape of an Iconic Series.

alternate poster

 

Spine #952

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 20, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:28:22

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 31.33 Mbps

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“They destroyed Ambersons and the picture itself destroyed me! I didn’t get a job as a director for years afterwards.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

So goes the legend of Orson Welles and The Magnificent Ambersons—another “mutilated masterpiece” in a career full of “mutilated masterpieces.” In any case, this is what Welles would have the world believe. It cannot be denied that the man knew how to spin a good yarn. The best of all of these tales may actually be his own revisionist history. There is certainly evidence to dispute many of his claims as to the details surrounding R.K.O.’s reshaping of Ambersons, but the legendary Welles version will always be the accepted version as it paints the picture of a misunderstood genius in an industry full of philistines.

The one thing that is absolutely certain is that the finished product was a source of sadness and regret for the director.

“I loved ‘Ambersons’ [and] wanted to make a movie of it, [but] the point of Ambersons—everything that is any good in it is that part of it that is really just a preparation for the decay of the Ambersons…

…It was thought by everybody in Hollywood while I was in South America that it was too downbeat—a famous Hollywood word at the time, downbeat—so it was all taken out, but it was the purpose of the movie to see how they all slid downhill, you see, in one way or another…

…There’s no scene in a hospital. Nothing like that ever happened in the story, and the great long scene—which was the key long scene at the end—which was ‘Aggie’ Moorehead in a third rate lodging house… and Joe Cotton has come to see how she is, and that was the best scene in the picture and it was what the picture was about… It’s gone… In other words, [at] about the time Major Amberson dies, the picture starts to become another picture—becomes their picture.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

Welles mentions “South America” and this alludes to one of the director’s unfinished projects entitled It’s All True. Unfortunately, this particular unfinished project played a major role in the misfortunes that befell The Magnificent Ambersons.

“I was in terrible trouble then, because I was sent to South America by Nelson Rockefeller and Jock Whitney. I was told that it was my patriotic duty to go and spend a million dollars shooting the carnival in Rio. Now, I don’t like things like carnivals and Mardi Gras and all that, but they put it to me that it would be a real contribution to Inter-American Affairs and the Latin American world and so, without a salary and a budget of a million dollars, I was sent to Rio to make up a movie about the carnival. But in the meantime comes the new government. RKO is now a new government… They had promised me when I went to South America that they would send a moviola and cutters to me and that I would finish the cutting of Ambersons there. They never did. They cut it themselves.” –Orson Welles (The Orson Welles Story)

Robert Wise, the film’s editor, is often vilified for his part in the reshaping of Ambersons, but the reality is that he was simply carrying out orders. If it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else. In any case, it wasn’t simply a matter of the film being edited without his input, and it wasn’t altered simply because it had a bleak tone. The actual trouble seems to have been the result of an unsuccessful preview screening of the film.

“At a certain point the studio became concerned because they had a lot of money tied up in the picture, about a million dollars, which was a big budget in those days. So we went out for some previews with our work print. At a certain point the studio became concerned because they had a lot of money tied up in the picture, about a million dollars, which was a big budget in those days. So we went out for some previews with our work print… We took this one to Pomona and the preview was just a disaster. The audience disliked it, they walked out, they were laughing at Aggie Moorehead’s character and it was an absolute disaster. So what were we going to do with it? We went back and cut out the scenes with Aggie Moorehead where they were laughing at her over-the-top performance. It was a long picture, as I recall…

…Well, we took it the next time to Pasadena and it played a little better but still not acceptable. We then cut some more and re-arranged things and the third time we took it to Inglewood but we had cut so much out we had continuity problems and needed some new scenes to bridge the gaps. They asked me to direct a scene between George and his mother and that was one of my first directing experiences, that scene between Dolores Costello and Tim Holt in her bedroom. We took it to Long Beach and they sat for it, they didn’t walk out, they didn’t laugh. And that’s the way it went out. We had to get a version that would play for an audience.” –Robert Wise (In Search of Lost “Ambersons)

Scholars are always talking about the “original version” of The Magnificent Ambersons as if the theatrical version of the film isn’t the “original version.” The fact of the matter is that the preview version of the film wasn’t a finished version, and Orson Welles never actually got to cut the film to his liking before heading to Rio. One imagines that the preview version was closer to the director’s intentions than the finished product, but this edit was simply an unfinished assembly of the film. Nobody really knows how closely that version actually matched the director’s vision for the Ambersons. The true tragedy is that only one “finished” edit of the film has ever existed, and this is what was released into theaters on the bottom half of a double bill. No true director’s cut of the film can ever exist (even if someone miraculously finds the earlier preview cut), because Welles was never allowed to oversee a definitive cut. This is what truly bothered Welles.

“Even if I’d stayed in the US to finish The Magnificent Ambersons, I would’ve had to make compromises on the editing, but these would’ve been mine and not the fruit of confused and often semi-hysterical committees. If I had been there myself, I would have found my own solutions and saved the picture in a form which would have carried the stamp of my own effort.” –Orson Welles

Orson Welles During Production #2

Orson Welles during the production of The Magnificent Ambersons

One certainly wishes that circumstances had been different. As it turns out, the longer preview version of the film is forever lost to history since the film was made at a time when little thought was given to the future of a studio’s catalogue.

“It was standard practice that, after the previews, when you’d come back and take sequences out you’d put them in the vault. About six months after the films were released and if you didn’t need to change the film, they’d sell the footage for the silver. But that was nothing particular with Ambersons. It was just company practice. All this about how we destroyed and mutilated it is nonsense.” –Robert Wise (In Search of Lost “Ambersons)

Some sources claim that the negative was melted down because the silver nitrate was needed for the WWII war effort. Just think of the countless treasures that are now lost to history as a result of such a shortsighted practice. It should make us grateful for the treasures that still remain. To call The Magnificent Ambersons a “lost film” seems ridiculous. It may be a bastardized version of the director’s original intentions, but it exists in its original theatrical form—and this existing version is really quite remarkable (even if it is something less than a masterpiece).

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection has given this release special Digipak packaging. Like many other collectors, this reviewer tends to prefer Criterion’s usual clear case presentations. However, this particular design is undeniably attractive. The artwork by Eric Skillman should certainly please fans of the film. Also included is a booklet that resembles the film’s screenplay—a twice-stapled bundle of white pages with most essays written in the courier font (the exception is a short selection by Welles himself)—with the original script’s title page as its cover. The pages contain six worthwhile essays, including “What Is and What Might Have Been” by Molly Haskell, “Surfaces and Depths” by Luc Sante, “Echoes of Tarkington” by Geoffrey O’Brien, “The Voice of Orson Welles” by Farren Smith Nehme, “Loving the Ruins: Or, Does ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ Exist” by Jonathan Lethem, and an excerpt from Orson Welles’s unfinished 1982 memoir entitled “My Father Wore Black Spats.” All essays are worth reading and add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Menu

Criterion’s static menu features film-related artwork rendered in the same style employed for the packaging 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.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s transfer was taken from a 4K restoration that was scanned from a 35mm nitrate fine-grain from the Museum of Modern Art. As is their usual practice, they cleaned the scan of dirt and debris while also correcting age-related anomalies such as warps, splices, scratches, and etc. Purists will be pleased to discover that they have retained the 1.37:1 aspect ratio of the film’s original theatrical presentation, and the resulting image looks much better than this reviewer was expecting. It is a vast improvement over the somewhat rare DVD edition (from earlier special editions of Citizen Kane) in that the darker scenes aren’t nearly as uneven and showcase more detail. Contrast appears to be more accurate here as well and the texture is more filmic. There may be a few density issues inherited from the source elements, but these aren’t terribly problematic. The digital corrections made during the restoration process were obviously made with incredible care and didn’t leave any room for criticism. It looks great in motion as well. This is a release that fans of Orson Welles have been waiting for and it shouldn’t disappoint them.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s restoration extended to the film’s original audio as the track was taken from the 35mm print and cleaned of hiss, hum, crackle, clicks, and thumps. Their work is featured in the film’s original mono presentation as a Linear PCM audio track that showcases great stability but can admittedly sound slightly thin on occasion—though this never really becomes troublesome. It never impedes one’s ability to understand the dialogue or distracts the viewer by calling attention to itself. Bernard Herrmann’s score sounds much better without being oppressed by the excessive compression of the DVD format as it is given more breathing room. In short, the limitations of the track are due to the limitations of the original production techniques and the age of the source elements. Criterion offers viewers a track that is as good as can be reasonably expected.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Robert L. Carringer

It is difficult to think of a more appropriate commentator on The Magnificent Ambersons as Carringer had written a number of books about Orson Welles and his work—most notably “The Magnificent Ambersons: A Reconstruction.” The book reconstructs the “lost” version of the film by analyzing the various surviving production documents and other artifacts and personal interviews with several of the people who worked on the film.

We can’t say that he does the same in this commentary, but he does manage to point out many of the scenes that have been altered while filling us in on what has been removed. The commentary was recorded in 1985 for Criterion’s ancient laserdisc release of the film but holds up nicely even if his tone is more scholarly than enthusiastic.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum

James Naremore (author of The Magic World of Orson Welles, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane: A Casebook, On Kubrick, Film Adaptation, and etc.) and Jonathan Rosenbaum (author of Discovering Orson Welles, Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues, Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics, and etc.) lend their expertise to a new commentary that is just as scholarly as the Robert L. Carringer track. The film’s style is discussed as is some of the film’s history. They both comment about the film’s mutilation by the studio and the effect that this has on the fluidity of the film.

A Dangerous Nostalgia: Simon Callow on ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (25:58)

Simon Callow (author of a three volume biography on Orson Welles: Orson Welles, Volume 1: The Road to Xanadu, Orson Welles, Volume 2: Hello Americans, and Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band as well as other works about such figures as Charles Laughton and Oscar Wilde) discusses how the fate of The Magnificent Ambersons led to his own fall from glory while also examining the original Tarkington novel. Callow also references some of the specific alterations made by RKO. It is a worthwhile interview that could have been much longer as it is an interesting discussion that engages the viewer’s interest.

Joseph McBride on ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (28:54)

Joseph McBride (author of What Ever Happened to Orson Welles, Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success, Searching for John Ford, Steven Spielberg: A Biography, Two Cheers for Hollywood and several other cinema-related titles) discusses the studio politics behind RKO’s fateful decision to rework The Magnificent Ambersons into the film that we have today. It is an engaging interview that should again add something to the viewer’s appreciation of and interest in the director and this film specifically.

Graceful Symmetries: Welles’s Long Version of ‘The Magnificent Ambersons – (18:47)

Christopher Husted’s essay discusses the film’s mutated score by the great Bernard Herrmann and uses this score for clues as to what the so-called “lost” longer edit may have looked like. Again, this original essay adds quite a bit of value to the proceedings.

The Cinematographers – (15:40)

François Thomas (author of Orson Welles at Work) offers a scholarly essay about the film’s cinematography and how the various cinematographers involved brought a different aesthetic to their work on the film. This is a great way to examine the film’s history and overall aesthetic as it will certainly add to the viewer’s appreciation and understanding of the final theatrical “product.”

Orson Welles on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ (1970) – (36:34)

This May 04th, 1970 episode of The Dick Cavett Show features Orson Welles as one of the guests (along with Jack Lemmon) and covers a wide variety of topics. These include his early life, commonly believed exaggerations about him, his work, and etc. The information is both fascinating and entertaining. It might be the disc’s best supplemental feature (and this is saying a great deal).

Two To One (1927) – (28:05)

Two to One is a short film that was edited from a seventy minute silent feature entitled Pampered Youth (1927). It represents a silent adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent Ambersons.” This shorter version was released in Britain in 1931.

Pampered Youth One Sheet

Those who are fond of the Welles version should agree that the inclusion of this short film offers the viewer a unique opportunity to compare the two different versions, and one imagines that it will add to people’s appreciation of the film (especially since sound is such a huge part of the aesthetic in an Orson Welles film).

Peter Bogdanovich Interview with Orson Welles (Audio) – (36:00)

These priceless excerpts from Peter Bogdanovich’s lengthy foundational interview with Welles were conducted throughout the latter part of the 1960s and the early 1970s and will make for fascinating listening for anyone with even the remotest interest in the director. He’s always engaging and it is revealing to learn his views on such topics as cinematography, composition, acting, and the work of other directors.

AFI Symposium on Orson Welles (1978 – Audio) – (29:46)

The audio recording of this 1978 AFI symposium about Orson Welles was excerpted from a longer recording and wasn’t recorded in a manner that makes the information particularly easy to digest, but fans of the director will likely agree that the information discussed makes the challenge well worth it.

The Magnificent Ambersons: Mercury Theatre Radio Adaptation (1939) – (55:42)

It is interesting to compare Orson Welles’s radio adaptation to his film adaptation of The Magnificent Ambersons. There are many remarkable similarities and a few interesting differences in the two adaptations. The most interesting difference is the absence of Fanny Minafer in the radio adaptation and some subtle rearrangements in the ordering of a few of the scenes. The most interesting similarity is the striking resemblance between the two endings. The ending that the studio forced upon the film version—the ending that Orson Welles criticized so harshly—is remarkably similar to his own ending to the radio adaptation. It is nice to have this radio play included for these reasons. This episode originally aired on October 29, 1939.

Seventeen: Mercury Theatre Radio Adaptation (1938) – (01:00:05)

Orson Welles also adapted Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen for one of his Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts. It is a reasonably diverting play but some of the characterizations are decidedly dated. (One might even argue that one characterization in particular is racist). The episode originally aired on October 16, 1938.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:06)

The original theatrical trailer is an excellent addition to Criterion’s stellar supplemental package. It is always disappointing when the trailer isn’t included on a Blu-ray release, because trailers give interesting insights into how a film was marketed to the public upon its release.

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Final Words:

The magnificence of the Ambersons began in 1873. Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their Midland town spread and darken into a city…” The magnificence of The Magnificent Ambersons, on the other hand, began years later in 1941 and has largely been overlooked due to its interesting backstory regarding RKO’s “sabotage.”

Criterion’s new Blu-ray release serves as a testament to the film’s underrated charms. They even sweeten the deal by offering an incredible array of supplemental features. It comes highly recommended for anyone with even a casual interest in the director’s career.

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One Sheet

 

Blu-ray O-Ring

Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Region: Region A

Length: 02:10:52

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital

Subtitles: None

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 19.53 Mbps

Notes: Mill Creek Entertainment previously released this title without the “Retro VHS” O-Ring.

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It is bound to happen in all of our lives. We see an old movie that we once saw as a child being sold at a ridiculously low price. We remember laughing with friends, sipping sugary sodas, and stuffing our faces with pizza and popcorn as we watched the film with the sort of elation only a child can muster. It’s not beyond the realm of reason to expect that revisiting this same film might recreate some of that fun. After all, we tend to carry our affection for the films we loved as children into adulthood (even when they aren’t particularly good). Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.

Re-watching Last Action Hero was an embarrassing experience. Did I really enjoy this movie as a child, or does pizza magically make terrible movies watchable? Maybe it lost its magic because it wasn’t a favorite. I merely had a good time when I saw it one night at a sleepover. Those poor little kids. Poor past me. I just didn’t know any better.

A description of the basic concept actually sounds promising: Danny Madigan (Austin O’Brien) is a boy who escapes the harsh realities of his life by watching movies. His favorites are the three “Jack Slater” films. The series stars his favorite actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the titular role and could easily be compared to the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon films. When young Danny is given an opportunity to see an advanced screening of the upcoming fourth entry (along with a “magical ticket”), he ends up being transported into the movie. He ends up being partnered with Slater because of his knowledge of the film’s villain (he had already seen the film’s first act before being sucked into the film’s universe). The plot eventually thickens when said villain gets his hands on Danny’s magic ticket and escapes out of the movie into the real world. Now Danny and his hero Jack Slater must chase the arch villain in the real world, a world where “the bad guys” can actually win.

At the time, meta-movies were actually quite rare. This send-up could have been great. It had Hollywood’s biggest action star, the director of Die Hard, and a promising premise. What it didn’t have was a good script.

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment protects the Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case and protects the case with an O-Ring featuring “Retro VHS” artwork meant to resemble the video rentals of a past generation (the same generation who would remember the theatrical release of Last Action Hero). The Blu-ray’s slip-sleeve features normal artwork that was taken directly from the film’s primary one sheet.

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The animated menu uses the same one sheet design and video of explosive flames that play on a loop. Since there are no subtitles, alternative audio options, or supplemental features, “Play Movie” is the only button that appears.

Picture Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

He’s Mean . . . And He’ll Blast through Your Screen! Now In High-Definition! That’s the promise that Mill Creek’s packaging screams at us from the confines of the slip-sleeve. Unfortunately, the high definition transfer isn’t terribly impressive. It isn’t terrible and certainly beats a DVD-quality image, but any objective analysis is bound to result in a bit of disappointment in discerning viewers. The quality of the image varies wildly. There are moments where fine detail is on par with what one expects from Blu-ray and moments where it falls short. The same can be said about depth, black levels, contrast, and just about everything else. The transfer also seems to suffer from excessive DNR and faces can sometimes appear waxy as a result.

Sound Quality:

2 of 5 Stars

Why are we not given a DTS-HD Master Audio mix of this film rather than this 5.1 Dolby Digital track? It seems like this disc could have made up for many of its deficiencies in regard to its image transfer by simply offering up a high definition audio track. This is an action film! One’s inevitable disappointment is exacerbated by the fact that there are no English subtitles available. There were moments of dialogue that were less than coherent (although, this is probably not the fault of the actual mix). Subtitles would have helped to clarify them.

Special Features:

0 of 5 Stars

No supplemental material is included on this disc.

One Sheet

Final Words:

Last Action Hero is one of those movies that should appeal to pre-adolescent viewers, but it is unbelievably clumsy in a great many ways. Meta-movies are a dime a dozen at this point, and there are plenty of better choices if one finds that they are in the mood to see such a film. Mill Creek offers a similarly disappointing audio/visual presentation of the film. It’s probably safe to pass on this title.

Spine #950

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 13, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 02:02:18

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 29.83 Mbps

Notes: MGM released a Blu-ray edition that included a 1.66:1 transfer of the film. While the transfer was rendered with a slightly higher Bit-rate (31.99 Mbps), it was made from a 1080P scan. Needless to say, Criterion’s 4K restoration transfer is superior.

Title

“Very early in the structure of that picture my friend Mr. Diamond very rightly said, ‘We have to find the hammerlock. We have to find the ironclad thing so that these guys trapped in women’s clothes cannot just take the wigs off and say, “Look, I’m a guy.”

It has to be a question of life and death.’ And that’s where the idea for the St. Valentine’s Day murder came. If they got out of the women’s clothes they would be killed by the Al Capone gang. That was the important invention. When we started working on the picture I had a discussion with David O. Selznick, who was a very fine producer, and I very briefly told him the plot.

He said, ‘You mean there’s going to be machine guns and shooting and killing and blood?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He said, ‘It’s not going to be funny. No comedy can survive that kind of brutal reality.’ But that’s what made the picture. The two men were on the spot, and we kept them on the spot until the very end.” –Billy Wilder

Only Billy Wilder would think to blend genres like the gangster film and the burlesque comedy. Some Like It Hot is one of those films that should really date terribly—especially in this era of enlightened social understanding, but Wilder’s deft storytelling prowess and unique comic sensibilities have guaranteed the film’s longevity.

As Criterion’s packaging deftly announces: Some Like It Hot is “one of the most beloved films of all time, this sizzling masterpiece set a new standard for Hollywood comedy. After witnessing a mob hit, Chicago musicians Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) skip town by donning drag and joining an all-female band en route to Miami. The charm of the group’s singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) leads them ever further into extravagant lies, as Joe assumes the persona of a millionaire to woo her and Jerry’s female alter ego winds up engaged to a tycoon. With a whip-smart script co-written by I. A. L. Diamond, and sparkling chemistry among its finely tuned cast, Some Like It Hot is as deliriously funny and fresh today as it was when it first knocked audiences out six decades ago.

“The whole trick in the picture is that, while the two were dressed in women’s clothes, their thinking processes were at all times a hundred-percent male. When there was a slight aberration, like Lemmon getting engaged, it became twice as funny. But they were not camping it up. They never thought of themselves as women. Just for one moment Lemmon forgot himself — that was all. The rest of the time, Curtis was out to seduce Monroe, no matter what clothes he was wearing.” –I.A.L. Diamond

Of course, Monroe’s Sugar Cane isn’t the only one being seduced. Most of the film’s viewers also fall under their spell. Lemmon is especially delightful in his portrayal of Jerry/Daphne. In fact, this may very well be Jack Lemmon’s most hilarious performance. He really runs away with the entire film. Of course, he had the guidance of an excellent director. Nobody does it like Wilder.

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection houses their disc in the same sturdy clear case that has become the standard for their releases (we prefer this to their digipaks). The cover sleeve includes thematically appropriate artwork by F. Ron Miller. It’s a decent design that adequately captures the zany qualities of Wilder’s film. Another very different design was considered that showcased Marilyn Monroe much more prominently. One imagines that it was abandoned so that all three of the primary characters could be featured with equal prominence (but this is merely conjecture).

Unused Blu-ray Cover

Criterion’s abandoned cover artwork.

Also included in the case is a pamphlet that includes an appreciative essay by Sam Wasson entitled, “How to have Fun.” Information about the transfer and technical credits are also included in its pages along with various stills from the film.

Menu

Criterion’s menu features film-related art and is in the same style that collectors have come to expect from Criterion’s Blu-ray releases. It is attractive and should be intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

It won’t come as much of a surprise for our readers to learn that Criterion’s 4K image restoration looks incredible on Blu-ray and easily outclasses the earlier MGM transfer. This restoration was actually a collaboration between Criterion, MGM, and Park Circus. Cinephiles will be pleased to learn that the original 35mm camera negative was used as the primary source for their work, but it became necessary for them to also utilize scans of the 35mm duplicate negative and a 35mm fine-grain positive for footage that was missing from the negative.

The first immediate difference that springs to mind is that Criterion showcases the film in its original theatrical aspect ratio (1.85:1) as opposed to the 1.66:1 ratio employed for the earlier MGM release. This does result in less detail at the top and bottom of the frame, but this is in keeping with how the film would have been projected during its original theatrical release. Criterion’s image is also more stable in terms of density, is much cleaner, looks better in motion, exhibits more a much more impressive level of fine detail, and contrast is more expertly handled. Better yet, there aren’t really any moments where the level of quality drops due to the restoration team’s use of multiple sources. It all flows as organically as if they had used a single source (and this is incredibly rare). There may be a few incredibly brief moments that are less impressive, but they certainly don’t stand out in any obvious way. Finally, we should mention a noticeable improvement in this transfer’s dynamic range and the more naturally resolved grain. This is an upgrade on every level.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Those who appreciated the 5.1 audio track that was included on the MGM release may be disappointed with this release, but purists will understand why Criterion has chosen to include a lossless PCM rendering of the film’s original monaural mix. Frankly, we found the forced 5.1 re-mix a bit unnatural without really offering a more dynamic sonic experience. This transfer presents the film’s audio as it was originally intended in a clean restoration that is free of distracting age related anomalies (such as hiss or hum) with impressive fidelity for a film of this vintage. The Wilder/Diamond dialogue is allowed to clearly flourish throughout the duration, and the film’s music has plenty of room to breathe. Of course, things are a bit flat—but what do you expect from a movie released in 1959. Be happy! This is as good as one can reasonably expect.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Most of the supplemental material from the 2011 MGM Blu-ray has been carried over to Criterion’s disc, with the Paul Diamond, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel commentary track being the single exception. The stills gallery on that earlier disc was also left off of this release, but this is hardly worth mentioning. Criterion makes up for not including these features by including their own 1989 commentary and several other programs and interviews that weren’t on the earlier release.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Howard Suber and Jack Lemmon

This is an older Criterion commentary from 1989 that features Howard Suber’s scholarly observations in conjunction with some pre-recorded memories from Jack Lemmon. It is on par with the MGM commentary and it touches on many of the same topics. If there is a downside, it is that it is less conversational and therefore feels a bit more like a lecture. The film’s production is discussed as is the film’s overall structure. Suber’s obvious Monroe obsession is both a positive and negative attribute as he has plenty of Monroe trivia and discusses the actress with enthusiasm but sometimes his infatuation disturbs his ability to discuss her contributions to the film in a sober and unbiased manner.

Billy Wilder on ‘The Dick Cavett Show’ (1982) – (55:36)

The crown jewel of Criterion’s supplemental package is undoubtedly this two-part interview with the legendary director (who certainly knows how to tell a story). It was conducted on January 14 and 15, 1982 and finds Wilder in great form as he discusses his personal history (including his early years in Germany) with an earnest openness that endears him to the viewer immediately, and he does so without surrendering his acidic humor. He discusses an encounter with Sigmund Freud, his evacuation to America during the dark years of Nazism, the magnificence of pre-war Berlin, relearning to write in English, and some of the various actors he had worked with throughout his career. We hope that Criterion continues to include these Cavett Show interviews on their future releases. They always add enormous value to their discs.

The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot – (25:45)

This documentary short has been carried over from the earlier MGM Blu-ray and it is nice to see that it has been included. The program includes an array of archival interviews with the likes of Billy Wilder, I.A.L Diamond, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, and several others and some extremely precious color footage that gives the viewer behind the scenes of the film’s production. While one wishes that this were more comprehensive, it is great to hear the various participants discussing the film’s script, cast, production, and release. Of course, a great deal of time is devoted to the late Marilyn Monroe (who was not particularly easy to work with and rarely arrived to the set on time). It is an engaging and informative glimpse into the film’s history that fans will be thrilled to have included here.

The Legacy of ‘Some Like It Hot– (20:21)

The Legacy of ‘Some Like It Hot’ makes a great companion to The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot’ as it discusses the film’s lasting legacy. It utilizes footage shot at a screening of the film in 1984. Those who appeared in the previous program are back for this one while new voices are added. (It’s difficult to imagine why we really needed to hear from Hugh Hefner and Curtis Hanson, but they are included here in any case.) It’s not a terribly insightful look at the film’s lasting appeal, but it manages to engage the viewer in any case.

A Nostalgic Look Back (2001) – (31:12)

Fans will be pleased to see that Criterion also carried over Leonard Maltin’s “nostalgic” interview with Tony Curtis from MGM’s earlier Blu-ray (actually, this actually goes back even farther to one of the early DVD editions). Their conversation covers his memories of being cast, the film’s production, his experience working with Monroe, his approach to the role, and some amusing anecdotes—but there is something about Curtis that strikes one as incredibly narcissistic and his navel-gazing does grow a bit tiring after a few minutes. I notice that Jack Lemmon tends to discuss and praise Billy Wilder and his fellow actors, but Curtis is a bit more enamored with his own contributions. It is still worth seeing as it adds another perspective and his stories about Monroe are incredibly interesting.

French Television Interview with actor Jack Lemmon (1988) – (09:49)

While this excerpt from an episode of Cinema cinemas (which originally appeared on French television) is much shorter than Maltin’s interview with Curtis, it is also more amusing. It repeats some of the same information included in some of the other programs included here, but it is certainly worth watching.

Memories from ‘The Sweet Sues’ – (12:02)

Memories from ‘The Sweet Sues’ is another featurette that originally appeared on MGM’s Blu-ray release of the film, and it definitely brings something worthwhile to the table as the actresses remember the various members of the cast and their experiences during the production.

Orry-Kelly’s Costumes – (18:57)

Deborah Nadoolman Landis (Costume Designer) and Larry McQueen (Costume Historian and Archivist) discuss Orry-Kelly’s career and legacy and dissect his costumes in Some Like It Hot. This is more of an “appreciation” than a career history or comprehensive examination of his costume work in this film, but it does offer a few truly interesting nuggets of information while always engaging the viewer. Most importantly, it is bound to enhance the viewer’s appreciation of Kelly’s costumes. It is also very nice to see one of the dresses worn by Monroe in the film (which is now owned by McQueen).

Radio Interview with Marilyn Monroe (1955) – (08:44)

In a radio interview with Dave Garroway that predates the film by a few years (it was recorded on June 12, 1955), Monroe discusses her hopes to become a better actress. She seems incredibly personable here, but there is a perceptible sadness to her voice that is impossible to overlook in retrospect. Other topics are also discussed, but the information relayed is trivial. What lingers after these nine minutes is the aforementioned sadness.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:18)

The original vintage theatrical trailer rounds out this incredible supplemental package rather nicely.

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Final Words:

Do you like to laugh (or at least smile)? Well, if the answer to this question is yes, Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot earns an easy recommendation (even if it is decidedly old-fashioned in some of its attitudes regarding gender). The Criterion Collection’s new 4K restoration transfer is vastly superior to the earlier MGM disc and might even be worth an upgrade if the film is one of your favorites.

SS06

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: October 30, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:40:10

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 French Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Notes: A DVD edition of this title is also available.

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“[Les Parents Terribles] is doing less well abroad than my other films. This is because the French language plays the leading part in it. The genius of the actors cannot overcome that difficulty.” -Jean Cocteau

Cocteau fans rejoice! There is a new film (or at least an old rarity) for you to discover. Adapted from Cocteau’s own successful play and starring the same actors featured in the initial stage production, Les Parents Terribles may be best described as a melodramatic farce.

The story is centered on a decidedly dysfunctional family unit: Yvonne (Yvonne de Bray) is a neurotic but doting Mother, who neglects her husband Georges in order to devote herself entirely to her son, Michel (who is portrayed by Cocteau’s muse, Jean Marais). Also on hand is Yvonne’s sister, Léo (Gabrielle Dorziat), who had been engaged to Georges but gave him up for his sake years ago when he fell in love with Yvonne. When Michel meets and falls in love with Madeleine (Josette Day—who had previously worked with Cocteau in Beauty and the Beast) and announces his engagement, Yvonne flies into a rage and refuses to support his decision. But things are only complicated further when his father is informed of the situation—it seems Madeleine has also been his lover and has made plans to end the relationship later that evening. Yvonne and Georges team up to break up young Michel and Madeleine (with the help of Léo).

Those who have seen Orpheus (or Beauty and the Beast for that matter) may be alarmed that Cocteau keeps his story grounded in reality in Les Parents Terribles—but the film’s lack of fantastic mythology cannot hide the story’s Greek origins as there is a fairly large debt owed to “Oedipus Rex.” It received extremely positive notices when it was released at the end of 1948, and Cocteau shared their enthusiasm claiming that it was his greatest success. Whether this is actually true or not is up for debate, but at least it is now available for comparison.

2K Restoration One Sheet

The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is protected by the standard Blu-ray case with insert artwork that features the 2018 re-release one sheet framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. It seems poor form to criticize their practice of branding their films by framing their art in this manner, but one does wish that they would make the occasional exception—especially when the artwork is as attractive as what is used here. As a compromise, they could even make their covers reversible (one side without the “C” logo framing, and the other with the “C” logo framing)—although this would’ve made it impossible for them to feature the still that decorates the interior of the case. Cohen also includes a small booklet that features cast and crew credits and film related photography.

The disc’s menu features footage from the film and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Cohen’s transfer of a perfectly respectable 2K restoration is decidedly attractive but never achieves the brilliance of some of their other restoration releases (such as their gorgeous transfer for The Two of Us). It is difficult to put one’s finger on the shortcomings in the image, but this reviewer feels obliged to admit a certain amount of disappointment. The black and white image is free from all possible issues and is only limited by: a.) the film’s original production elements, and b.) the nature of a scan rendered in 2K resolution. One can only imagine how glorious a 4K rendering would have been, but these results are more than satisfactory given the fact that this is a 1080P release.  Cocteau and Michel Kelber chose to shoot much of the film in depth and yet this transfer seems to be up to the challenge in terms of clarity and fine detail (especially considering that the scan was only rendered in 2K).

Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Cohen’s uncompressed dual French mono transfer has all of the vibrancies inherent in the film’s original sound elements and all of the deficiencies as well. In other words, this is a good representation of the original mono mix. Limitations should be expected from a French film that was released in 1948. Obviously, it would be unreasonable to expect the track to exhibit the same dynamic and fidelity one expects from modern mixes. Age related anomalies (such as his, hum, pops, and clicks) were absent enough to go unnoticed by these ears, and it seems as if all of the elements were clearly represented as well (though it is difficult to judge the clarity of dialogue spoken in French when one doesn’t actually understand the language).

Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Introduction by Richard Peña – (04:50)

Richard Peña is a professor of film studies at Columbia University and was once the program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and his introduction to Les Parents Terribles gives a scholarly overview of the film’s production without ever becoming overly analytical. He merely sets the stage with an introduction to Jean Cocteau’s incredible background (he was a respected author and visual artist in addition to his incredible film work), his original stage play from which this film was adapted (the cast of the original stage play was carried over to the film), and some words about his approach to filming his play (he decided not to open it up). This reviewer isn’t usually a huge fan of “introductions” since they tend to bring very little in the way of information to a supplemental package, but Peña’s short discussion adds to one’s overall appreciation of the film. It is really nice to have it included here.

Camera Tests – (16:26)

It is surprising that these old screen tests even exist, and Cohen should be commended for including the footage on the disc. Perhaps even more astonishingly, most (but not all) of the footage is shown here with sound (though slightly out of synch at times).

Unfortunately, there is no contextual information provided to frame the viewer’s understanding of what they are seeing. An optional contextual commentary track, an introductory video, or even a screen including text explaining the footage may have added even more value to this particular addition. A subtitle track would have also been useful.

Interview with Claude Pinoteau (Assistant Director) – (09:14)

Claude Pinoteau was Jean Cocteau’s assistant director during the production of Les Parents Terribles, and his discussion about his experiences are more detailed than one might think (considering the interview’s relatively short duration). The footage mostly consists of Pinoteau sitting in a chair as he remembers working with a man he obviously admired a great deal but footage from the film is also utilized. The visual content may not be particularly extraordinary, and it is more difficult to absorb subtitled interviews given in a foreign language—but it is worth the viewer’s effort to indulge as the information given by Pinoteau is interesting (especially if you enjoyed this film or admire Cocteau).

Original Trailer – (03:06)

It is nice to see that Cohen has decided to include the film’s original trailer here (even if it doesn’t include subtitles). Their usual practice is to include only their re-release trailer…

Re-release Trailer – (01:15)

…which is also included.

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Final Words:

If the name Jean Cocteau doesn’t make you curious about seeing this rare film, you may not be the right audience for it. However, it must be said that the film isn’t rare because it is inferior to his more popular efforts. Unlike his classic fantasy films, Les Parents Terribles is more grounded and perhaps even more accessible. Luckily, it will be easy for discerning readers to form their own opinions as to where it stands in the director’s filmography now that Cohen Media Group has made their 2K Restoration transfer available on Blu-ray. It is an easy recommendation for anyone fond of Cocteau or classic French cinema in general.

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Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment

Release Date: September 25, 2018

Region: Region A

Length:

Strait-Jacket – 01:32:52

Berserk! – 01:36:18

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 1.0 English Mono Uncompressed PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: “Strait-Jacket” was recently given its own individual release from Shout! Factory (which used a slightly different encoding of the same transfer). The biggest difference between the two discs is that Shout! Factory included supplemental features and this disc includes “Berserk!”

STRAIT-JACKET Title

Strait-Jacket (1964)

Strait-Jacket proves once again that William Castle has nothing in common with Alfred Hitchcock. Robert Bloch was commissioned to write the screenplay, but it never approaches the brilliance of Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock’s cinematic prowess elevated the material contained within Bloch’s novel, and Castle simply doesn’t have what it takes to elevate the pedestrian nature of Bloch’s screenplay for Strait-Jacket. They are obviously making a terrific effort to capitalize on the enormous success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—but Robert Aldrich’s cult classic is also far superior to anything that Castle ever directed. However, Strait-Jacket is much better than most of his other horror endeavors. The viewer is spared the ham-fisted gimmickry that tended to interrupt the flow of his films, and Crawford’s performance is (at the very least) interesting. There is quite a bit of campy fun to be had in these ninety-two minutes.

Berserk - Title
Berserk! (1967)

The same cannot be said for Berserk! This is the sort of easy-to-solve “whodunit” that one might expect to see on episodic television (or in a made-for-television movie), but the real trouble isn’t the paint-by-numbers nature of the mystery formula. It is the filmmaker’s complete disregard for tone and pacing. Jim O’Connolly seems much too enamored with the circus acts as countless routines pad the film’s length to approximately 96 minutes. Sure, it is nice to see the trained poodles, elephants, lions, and other diversions out of context, but this slows the story down to an infuriating crawl. Of course, it is quite possibly just as well that these interruptions were included. Some of these acts were more engaging than the film’s plot.

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek Entertainment houses their Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case that features a sleeve with reasonably attractive film-related artwork.

Menu

The disc’s static menu is also attractive and should be intuitive for the viewer to navigate.

Picture Quality:

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Strait-Jacket: 4 of 5 Stars

Two different Blu-ray releases of Strait-Jacket hit shelves within weeks of one another, and the good news is that both of these discs used the same high definition image master (albeit with slightly different disc encoding).

The biggest difference between these two transfers is that Mill Creek has presented the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio while Shout! Factory offered a 1.78:1 transfer. This means that the top and bottom of the image contains a bit more information on the other disc, but this is more in line with what the audiences saw in theaters upon its release. An occasional blemish (usually white speckling) can be found throughout both transfers, but this is never distracting. Grain resolves adequately here on this disc, and the backs seem darker throughout the film. Contrast is reasonably well handled here, and the overall image showcases more detail than could be found on previous DVD releases.

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Berserk: 3.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek’s master for Berserk! appears to be less attractive but it is certainly watchable. One does at least feel that they are watching a Blu-ray. There is a decent amount of fine detail, contrast is reasonably well handled, and clarity is okay (though not particularly impressive). Color seems accurate but one wonders if the film wouldn’t have been better in black and white. There is some dirt and white speckling evident, but neither issue is ever distracting.

Sound Quality:

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Strait-Jacket: 3.5 of 5 Stars

Mill Creek includes a Linear PCM audio track in the film’s original mono, and the result is a solid rendering of the film’s original mix. It is obviously somewhat flat, but it would really be unreasonable to expect anything better. Those who refrain from comparing it with more recent sound mixes should find no fault here as all of the various elements come across clearly (including the music) as the lossless nature of the transfer gives it plenty of breathing room.

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Berserk: 3 of 5 Stars

Berserk! is also given a Linear PCM audio track in its original mono, but it doesn’t come across as strongly as the one for Strait-Jacket. It sometimes sounds boxed-in and seems to need more breathing room. It is impossible to say whether this is an issue with the transfer or if the original sound elements leave something to be desired. It never really becomes a problem in any case.

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Special Features:

0 of 5 Stars

There are no supplemental features included on the disc.

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Final Words:

Wouldn’t Strait-Jacket and I Saw What You Did make a more appropriate double feature? Both films were directed by William Castle and star Joan Crawford in “over the top” performances, and Mill Creek has released at least two double feature discs devoted to William Castle in the past. This could have fallen in line with those releases. Neither of these films could be called a “masterpiece,” but Strait-Jacket does at least engage the viewer. The same cannot be said for Berserk! This disc is worth the money if you happen to be a fan of either Joan Crawford or William Castle.

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