Posts Tagged ‘Blu-ray review’

Blu-ray Cover
Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: July 31, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:17:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1973 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.39 Mbps

Notes: This is the Blu-ray debut of Village of the Damned, but the film was given a DVD release along with Children of the Damned in 2004.

Title

“What interested me was not to make a fantastic film but a film that was very real. To take an ordinary situation and inject extraordinary events into it.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

One could read quite a lot into Village of the Damned. It belongs to a period of horror that preyed on people’s fear of communism. There are two kinds of horror: one group tackles the evil within ourselves while the second preys on people’s natural fear of “the other.” This film fits snuggly in the latter category. The project was conceived at a time when WWII was still very much in the public’s consciousness, and one has difficulty divorcing the image of a group of evil blond children with notions about Aryan youth.

Aryan Youth

“I don’t think any of us were aware of it then, but of course now they remind you of the Hitler youth, blond-haired Aryan children and all that. I’m convinced that was an unintentional subtext; after all, the war was still fresh in our memories. But none of us had any idea of the impact it would make.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

The film’s opening sixteen minutes is really quite terrific—much better than the opening scenes in Carpenter’s remake. It is both efficient and effective storytelling and manages to grab the viewer’s attention. In all fairness, this reviewer has never read John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos,” but most sources suggest that this is a fairly accurate representation of this source novel.

The novel’s title was obviously changed, but it is worth noting that Cuckoo birds would lay their eggs in the nests of other species to the detriment of their own offspring. The parallel will be obvious to those who have seen the film, which unfortunately focuses more on the husbands of Midwich as they try to find a solution to this unusual invasion instead of focusing on the more interesting story of a group of women who have had their bodies invaded and must become mothers to these emotionless children. In essence, the women in the village are the victims of a sort of intergalactic rape. There’s a lot of untapped horror being suppressed here (and in the novel). Frankly, focusing on the men in the village isn’t nearly as effective—even if this did allow for a rather interesting a-typical starring turn for George Sanders.

George Sanders

Village of the Damned gave George Sanders one of his better late-career screen roles.

One imagines that there will also be viewers who are distracted from the less than perfectly rendered special effects, but this particular issue seems forgivable considering the production’s minimal budget and the era it was made. Any time the children used their powers, their eyes glow an eerie white. This was achieved by freezing the frame (or the part of the frame that includes their eyes) and rotoscoping the negative image of their iris over the original image. This works in some shots much better than it does in others. There are conflicting reports as to whether this effect was utilized in the UK prints of the film. There are many that say that they simply used normal shots of the children staring intently for these prints, and some vocal people who dispute this claim. If it is true, it would have been wonderful to have had both versions included here as one wonders if this version might not be superior. However, it is this effect that MGM used to sell the film (at least in the states), and it did a very good job of bringing patrons into the theaters.

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There will also be those who feel that the film’s true villain is the village barber. The children’s haircuts are decidedly awful, and it boggles the mind why the remake didn’t at least improve upon this particular element. One wonders if normal hair would have added another layer to the film. Questions could have been raised as to whether the other villagers were simply imagining that these children were different. The audience could have been allowed to wonder this as well had they not been portrayed as so obviously the product of some malignant hive of alien beings.

All of this probably gives readers the wrong impression. This isn’t a bad film. While far from perfect, Village of the Damned is much better than one would expect. It was simply intended as a low-budget quota-quickie, but it managed to capture the audience’s imagination and still manages to do this 58 years later.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Warner Archives houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring artwork that is taken from the film’s original one sheet (although it has been slightly altered here). Luckily, their alterations have resulted in a superior design.

One Sheet

The American One Sheet

Menu

The disc’s static menu features interesting and attractive artwork as well and is easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Geoffrey Faithfull’s cinematography is allowed to shine. The 2K scan is clean and free of any distracting blemishes. Black and white films look pretty amazing on Blu-ray when the transfer is handled appropriately, and this one is no exception. Fine detail, depth, and clarity are all satisfyingly rendered with an organic layer of grain that adds a filmic texture to the proceedings without muddying the image. There are some density fluctuations during dissolves, but this isn’t really distracting and probably couldn’t have been avoided.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio mix is a good representation of the original mono source and exhibits clear dialogue elements and sound effects. Ron Goodwin’s score also sounds quite clean here. Obviously, this isn’t going to be an immersive sonic experience, but a more dynamic mix would not be in keeping with the film’s original mix or with the intentions of the filmmakers.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary by Author Steve Haberman

One would’ve preferred to hear a director’s commentary with Wolf Rilla or even a commentary with Martin Stephens (or both). Firsthand information always trumps third party information (no matter how well researched the information might or might not be). C’est la vie. What we are offered is at least better than it might have been. One does wonder why the author of “Chronicles of Terror: Silent Screams” was chosen for this commentary track. After all, Village of the Damned isn’t a silent film. Brief biographical information of various participants is given while also offering a bit of production history and appreciative observations about the film. He obviously prepared for the track but still manages to deliver this information in a casual and conversational manner. Interestingly, Haberman disputes the aforementioned claim that the film was released without the glowing eye effect in the UK. There’s more than enough reason to give this a listen if you enjoy the film.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:01)

It’s great to have the film’s original theatrical trailer included here. It’s shamelessly heavy-handed, but that’s part of the fun of watching classic film trailers.

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Final Words:

“I’ve made 27 films and this is the only one people remember.” -Wolf Rilla (The Guardian, December 04, 2003)

Making even a single film that is remembered and admired over a half century later is quite an accomplishment. Forget the remake and pick up this original black and white classic.

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Spine #938

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: July 17, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:40:09

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (96kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 32.18 Mbps

Note: Sony Pictures gave this title a Blu-ray release in 2009, but this new Criterion edition bests it by offering a superior transfer and a wealth of worthwhile supplemental material.

Title

“Video is a way of distancing ourselves from people and events. We tend to think that we can experience things because we watched them on tape. For Graham this was an aspect of myself taken to an extreme measure. He needs the distance to feel free to react without anybody watching, which, I guess, is the definition of voyeurism, even though I think voyeurism has mostly negative connotations. I guess it should. I don’t know.” –Steven Soderbergh (Truth or Consequences, Film Comment, July/August 1989)

Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape ushered in the golden age of independent filmmaking and proved that there is a market for small esoteric films that are aimed at adults. The then 26-year-old director worked from a script that he wrote in only eight days, and it told a rather simple story about the terror of true intimacy. Housewife Ann (Andie MacDowell) feels distant from her lawyer husband, John (Peter Gallagher), who is sleeping with her sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). When John’s old friend Graham (a magnetic, Cannes-award-winning James Spader) comes to town, Ann is drawn to the soft-spoken outsider, eventually uncovering his startling private obsession: videotaping women as they confess their deepest desires. The camera is a wall that Graham builds between him and any possibility of true connection. sex, lies, and videotape isn’t merely notable as the independent debut effort of a maverick filmmaker. It is also a film that holds up to repeated viewings.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Steven Soderbergh’s indie classic has been given the Digi-book treatment with a semi-transparent plastic slipcover that makes the cover image look as if it were captured on an old-school television screen. It’s a nice touch, but it is a far cry from Criterion’s best designs as it employs the same image (only slightly off-center and rendered with less contrast) than the one utilized for the 2009 Sony release. When Criterion announced their July releases a few months ago, they illustrated the announcement with very different artwork. We’re not sure that it isn’t actually better than the final result.

Sony Cover

This artwork was used for Sony’s 2009 Blu-ray release.

Alternate Artwork

This artwork illustrated Criterion’s announcement of their release of sex, lies, and videotape a few months ago. Obviously, they didn’t end up using this design.

To be fair, it should be said upfront that Criterion has given the concept much more thought than standard Blu-ray packages typically receive. It’s no secret that I tend to prefer their standard clear-case packaging to their digipacks, but such issues are subjective and divide collectors. Luckily, this release includes a booklet instead of their standard pamphlet. What’s more, the text contained within this little gem is truly substantial.

An appreciative essay by Amy Taubin offers the reader a decent argument as to the film’s merit and place in independent cinema history, but the included excerpts from Soderbergh’s production diary—which includes an interesting self-penned introduction—is where the book really shines.

Menu

The animated menus feature footage from the film and are exactly in the style one expects from a Criterion release.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“…For this year’s restoration, we not only transferred from the original camera negative but also maintained 4K resolution throughout the whole process. The transfer was done at Deluxe in Culver City, California, and the final timing was done by Joe Gawler at Harbor Picture Company in New York, New York. The work on the dirt cleanup, etc. was redone again, this time at 4K.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Having never seen Sony’s 2009 transfer of the film, it is impossible to state conclusively just how much better Criterion’s 4K restoration looks. However, it comes from a much better source and has been handled with more care. Those involved with the production would prefer that you see this transfer (which is really quite remarkable). The image is pristine with excellent color fidelity and black levels are handled perfectly without crushing any discernable detail—and “detail” is another element that will impress viewers. Density and depth will also impress fans of the film. The transfer maintains a filmic texture that should satisfy purists with its very fine layer of grain.

It can be said that those who own the original DVD edition of this film will be floored. It really feels as if you are discovering the film for the first time. It seems more alive somehow. Criterion earns their reputation with this release.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“When it came time for the 2009 remastering, everyone felt that it was important to step back further to the original 1989 premixes in order to create an updated version of the track. The original 2″ Dolby SR-encoded 24-track analog premixes and the digital multitrack stems were transferred to Broadcast Wave files at the 24-bit/96 kHz standard… Extensive dialog editing was undertaken in Pro Tools to smooth out tone variations among camera angles, and to remove multitudes of snap and pops that we were unable to deal with given our 1989 dialog editing workflow. The music was “up-mixed” to full 5.1 from the original three-track (left-center-right) pre-mixes, although reference was made to the 1989 levels relative to dialog and sound effects…

…As happy as we were with this revision, one problem remained: there were considerable problems with generator noise during production, and we needed to go back to the original edited dialog tracks, before noise reduction and equalization had been applied during the 1989 premixing… The sound restoration took place at my company, Swelltone Labs, in New Orleans.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

Considering the number of masters this film’s audio has been given, it is difficult to judge how close this 5.1 English DTS-HD master audio mix is to the original theatrical version of the soundtrack, but it does seem like those involved have made every effort to be faithful to the original audio—or at the very least to the filmmaker’s original intentions. Apparently, minor improvements have been made in an effort to eradicate some of the blemishes inherent in the original audio. Technological advances have allowed the filmmakers to offer us a product closer to what they originally wanted in the first place.
It’s certainly superior to the DVD edition’s audio track, and the subtle 5.1 mix adds a bit of extra life to the track. Even stringent purists should find themselves in agreement with the changes made here. We graded this audio transfer with an understanding of the limitations that were inherent in the original source elements, and most should agree that it earns its perfect score if they do the same.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

In addition to a feature length commentary track (and a commentary for an additional deleted scene), Criterion offers over 1 hour and 41 minute of video based supplemental material for fans to devour.

Feature Length Audio Commentary featuring Steven Soderbergh & Neil LaBute

Those who have owned the film on DVD will recognize this 1998 commentary track, which finds LaBute leading a conversation with Steven Soderbergh that covers the writing of the script, production stories, stylistic decisions and intentions, the casting, various challenges of working on one’s first feature the film’s unexpected and overwhelming success after Cannes, and more. It’s a pretty decent track and does add to one’s appreciation of the film.

Deleted Scene (w. Optional Commentary by Steven Soderbergh) – (03:20)

The rough quality of this video-sourced footage should not dissuade viewers from checking out this deleted scene which finds Ann confessing to her therapist that she is considering not continuing her therapy after Graham makes a comment about not trusting anyone who he doesn’t know intimately with his problems. The therapist seems annoyed and counters that Graham may have had an agenda and she ends up deciding not to discontinue her therapy sessions. In the included optional commentary track for the scene, Soderbergh claims that the scene was cut because it made Ann appear too “pliable” and due to the fact that it wasn’t needed since the audience was already aware that she had been thinking quite a lot about Graham.

Something in the Air: The Making of sex, lies, and videotape – (28:55)

Andie McDowell, Laura San Giacomo, and Peter Gallagher offer viewers much more than the usual generic navel-gazing comments that one expects from many of the more “making of” programs—but then this one was produced by Criterion. This retrospective look at the film’s production suffers only from the conspicuous absence of James Spader. The remaining three actors give candid accounts of how they were cast in their roles and then discuss their characters in some depth. MacDowell is an especially articulate and thoughtful subject and her presence is probably the highlight. They discuss the boost that the film gave to their careers and what it was like working with Steven Soderbergh on his first feature. This may very well be the crown jewel in this disc’s supplemental package.

1990 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (09:05)

It isn’t clear why this interesting archival footage was originally produced, but it finds a slightly awkward Soderbergh in Washington D.C. discussing sex, lies, and videotape shortly after the film’s enormous success. Topics discussed include the performances of each of the four primary actors, his inspiration for the film, his original trailer and the one eventually used by Miramax, the title, and more.

1992 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (13:31)

This interesting publicity interview is originally from an episode of The Dick Cavett Show and was meant to promote the release of Kafka (even though this film is only mentioned twice). However, Cavett is obviously more interested in sex, lies, and videotape and focuses on this film throughout the entirety of the interview. Fans will be happy to see it here. It adds enormous value to the disc despite the relatively short duration.

2018 Steven Soderbergh Interview – (06:17)

This “interview” or “introduction” is somewhat different from the fan Q&A that Criterion had originally planned. Apparently, Soderbergh was allowed to film this short piece on his own time, and this has resulted in a somewhat rambling fashion. The black and white footage is contains interesting information but is made less palatable by simply jumping topics without notice. The themes and structure of the film is discussed and he offers a comparison of his methodology during the production of this film and his more recent movies.

The Today Show: Interview with James Spader – (05:13)

This archival segment from a 1989 episode of The Today Show finds Gene Shalit and James Spader discussing the film’s enormous success. It is too bad that the interview couldn’t have been a bit longer since it is the only supplement that features Spader.

Cliff and Larry: Beginnings – (19:38)

Larry Blake (sound editor/re-recording mixer) and Cliff Martinez (composer) discuss the film’s music and sound design but get into detail about working with Steven Soderbergh and what they perceive to be unique about him as a filmmaker. It’s a light but revealing conversation that fans of the director and sex, lies, and videotape will appreciate.

Generators, Noise Reduction, and Multitrack Audiotape – (11:58)

Larry Blake’s video essay tackles the interesting subject of the film’s troubled sound mixes throughout the ages. Comparisons between the original Park City festival mix, the re-mix for Miramax’s eventual theatrical release, and this new 2018 mix illuminate just how rough the original location sound actually was before it was cleaned up for distribution and how Criterion’s new audio restoration improves upon the theatrical mix.

Trailers:

Trailer: Soderbergh’s Cut – (01:33)

Miramax’s Final Theatrical Trailer – (01:37)

Interestingly, there are two versions of the trailer included on the disc. The first is the unused Soderbergh cut which was too unique and indirect for marketing purposes. The second is Miramax’s final trailer for the film, which is noticeably more exploitive of the film’s sexual themes.

A Note on the Picture and Sound Restorations

This is a textual supplement that explains the differences in the various home video masters of the film and how each one was created. It is worth reading for anyone who wants to understand why Criterion’s transfer is so special and the ultimate version of this movie on home video.

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Final Words:

“One never says never with restoring films, but this time, we think it’s for real. Steven [Soderbergh] asks that you destroy all previous copies.” –Larry Blake (Notes on the Remastering and Restorations of sex, lies, and videotape)

We feel that this quote says everything. Criterion offers the definitive home video transfer of the film with this release. It has been approved by the director and comes with an overwhelming amount of supplemental material that will add to one’s appreciation of the film. It comes highly recommended.

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Blu-ray Covers
Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: July 10, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:30:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

English Dolby Atmos

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital
5.1 French Dolby Digital
5.1 Portuguese Dolby Digital
English Audio Description

Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

Ratio: 2.40:1

Notes: This package includes a DVD an Ultraviolet copies of the film.

Title.jpg

It’s rare for films produced in this day and age to feature such a simple idea with such an overwhelmingly cinematic vision. A Quiet Place is a film told only with images and sound with only the occasional exception. There is very little dialogue. It was not only unnecessary to tell the story via an endless stream of expository dialogue, it was essential to the film’s story that they didn’t. Other filmmakers could learn a thing or two from the success of this film and make more of an effort to tell their stories without resulting to tired and downright lazy dialogue to tell the audience the things that they need to know (especially since so many screenwriters aren’t very good at this). Those wanting to write and direct movies should at the very least know how to tell a story visually. It’s fundamental to the medium—so much so that it is ridiculous that one feels the need to mention it at all.

This approach is certainly a feather in director John Krasinski’s cap as he goes about spinning this tale of a family who must navigate their lives in silence to avoid mysterious creatures that hunt by sound. Knowing that even the slightest whisper or footstep can bring death, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski) are determined to find a way to protect their children at all costs while they desperately search for a way to fight back.

It’s probably clear to the reader that this reviewer has a fondness for the film, but it is necessary to point out some of the film’s aesthetic flourishes diminish its power. Slight adjustments could have been made to make the film even stronger, and these adjustments aren’t additions but are instead subtractions. The concept is simple: a predatory creature with sensitive hearing will eat those who make a sound. Therefore, the little sounds we make going through our day to day life should be the music of the film. This is a case where adding non-diegetic music actually reduced some of the film’s suspense. The choice of adding Marco Beltrami’s syrupy sentimental passages of music as the characters navigate their lives was at best unnecessary and at worst distractingly inappropriate. The film’s minimal sound design would have sufficed and the result would be a more eloquent and suspenseful experience. Concentrating on the minor noises that we create throughout our day would have also added the graceful poetry that the music is trying so desperately to force upon certain areas of the film. The strongest passages are those without music for this very reason.

We will admit that some of the more suspense oriented music worked much better, but it is impossible not to wonder if the same thing could’ve been accomplished by using only the sounds of the creatures. Alfred Hitchcock used such a technique in The Birds (1963) to excellent effect as he planned the sound design as if it were a film score (even bringing Bernard Herrmann in as a consultant). Relying on music seems to fly in the face of the very concept that this story is built upon. The music was admittedly not as distracting after being acclimated to the unnecessary sentimental melodies (say maybe 20 minutes into it).

There is a moment with the husband and wife dancing with earbuds in their ears, but we are not hearing the music. This was a beautiful moment until they brought the music into the soundtrack as she shared her earbud with him. The point of this seems to be, “I saw them do this on Garden State (2004) and it was really cool. I’ve always wanted to work it into a film.” It would’ve been lovely had they continued to play the scene against the silence. Such brave choices would’ve been true to the concept and added a poignant grace, but this is a film produced by Platinum Dunes and Michael Bay-esque (“boom, boom, boom”) sound design wins out in the end.

The Monster

The creature in A Quiet Place.

In one of the Blu-ray’s supplemental features, they mention that the creature was originally planned to be less visible throughout the film but that they decided to feature them more overtly after falling in love with their design. Frankly, they should have stuck to their original intentions. The creature was too visible towards the latter part of the film. Quick moments of visibility would’ve worked better (and did work better in the film’s earlier scenes). I think that this only becomes more veracious when dealing with CGI creations since they aren’t organic.

I’ll stop here, because these are simply minor blemishes on a very good creature thriller. It’s better than a lot of the horror films that have been released in the past few years. It’s a lot easier to pick apart a film once it has already been made than it is to make even a bad film—and I wouldn’t call this a bad film.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Paramount protects their Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard 2-disc Blu-ray case with film related artwork that blends an image from one of the foreign posters with a still in an obvious effort to include John Krasinski on the cover as if featuring him might result in more sales. That’s ridiculous and only disfigures the more simplistic foreign one sheet design (which was only “okay”). Why do marketing departments do this? It results in ugly artwork. This doesn’t come close to the worse we have seen but is still unnecessary and annoying. Happily, the case is protected by a slip sleeve. Unhappily, the slip sleeve features the same clumsy artwork featured on the insert sleeve.

The disc’s static menu is reasonably attractive and intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

A Quiet Place was happily shot on 35mm but only received a 2K digital intermediate master (according to IMDb and other sources). Having not seen the 4K UltraHD disc, it is impossible to state as to whether it would be a major upgrade from this disc. However, it is relatively clear that it hasn’t been given a true 4K transfer and was instead up-scaled from 2K. One imagines that this would result in only a minimal upgrade from the Blu-ray disc.

The Blu-ray, however, is beyond reproach and probably looks as good as it is going to unless they choose to rescan it in 4K at some point. There aren’t any compression issues to report, clarity is decent, color reproduction is very good with accurate flesh tones (at least within the context of the film’s aesthetic), shadow detail is even better, and the transfer showcases plenty of very crisp fine detail. It’s nice to witness a nice organic layer of light grain on a recent film for a change as the texture takes me back to horror’s glory days (even though I wasn’t really even round for those glory days). Frankly, this is an excellent transfer that is only limited by the production’s post-production workflow. Those purchasing the Blu-ray instead of the 4K release will have no real reason to bicker.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Just in case the five-star rating doesn’t make the brilliance of this mix perfectly clear, be assured that your high end speaker systems will have a chance to shine. The Dolby Atmos track is superb and really places the viewer inside the film’s world, but it should be said that it is during the quieter sequences that the mix really shines. It’s all about contrast and small sounds that will place the viewer on edge. The sound design is without a doubt one of the film’s greatest strengths (even if it is too bad that the music sometimes gets in its way). Both tracks are tremendously dynamic while offering terrific clarity, perfectly rendered low frequency effects, clear dialogue (though this is rather sparse in a good way), and a sonic experience that represents this film perfectly. The separations are beautifully realized and the elements well prioritized. Just keep in mind that it is a good track for the subtleties of sound design and not bombastic activity.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

The materials in the three featurettes included on this disc would have made a more substantial “making of” documentary than what one expects from recent home video releases, but instead of editing them into a substantial program, Paramount separates the material into three less impressive “featurettes” so that they can market the disc as having three supplements instead of just the one. Never mind the fact that if they had included the theatrical trailers and simply included more material, they would have had something that they could market without actually disappointing those who shell out money for the disc. Oh well.

Creating the Quiet: Behind the Scenes of A Quiet Place – (14:45)

While this “behind the scenes” glimpse includes more meaty material than we have come to expect from studio releases, each of the topics discussed could have been explored in more detail. This piece discusses the unusual concept, the genesis of the idea, the development of the project, and the cast in a very general way. It offers more than the typical EPK promotional fluff but lacks the depth that one once expected from their supplemental package.

The Sound of Darkness: Editing Sound for A Quiet Place – (11:44)

More detailed is this piece on the sound design and the score for the film. However, those who (like myself) felt that the sound design could have gone further than it did and not relied so heavily on music might get a headache from rolling their eyes. Don’t worry. This will pass.

A Reason for Silence: The Visual Effects of A Quiet Place – (07:33)

Special effects junkies will be pleased with this examination of the creature CGI that made it possible. At one point, the viewer learns that the filmmakers originally planned to show the creature less but fell in love with their final design and decided to show it more (or in more detail) in the final act. This was a mistake. It is too bad that they didn’t elaborate as to which scenes changed as a result and how these scenes were originally intended to play. This is a good example of the surface nature of the supplemental material. It never probes into the general statements that they make. It’s simply better than average.

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Final Words:

A Quiet Place earns its positive critical reputation but never quite reaches its own potential due to a timidity on the part of the filmmakers. It’s a good B+ movie that could’ve been an excellent A+ film had they trusted the audience a bit more than they did. Fans of the creature sub-genre will want to add this to their collection as it is the best they will have seen in a number of years. The Blu-ray transfer is technically very close to perfect and the supplemental package is better than one usually expects from studio releases. Obviously, this is a release that comes highly recommended.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Release Date: June 12, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:53:28

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 English PCM Audio

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.35:1

Note: This title has been out of print on Blu-ray for quite some time but was released twice before (once by Sony and then by Lionsgate).

Title

“What’s been interesting about [Memento] is the differing reactions to it. Older people are less comfortable with it because the film sides with the idea that we are pretty much living within our own heads. I think that as people get older that notion becomes more frightening.” –Christopher Nolan (BBC)

Before the Dark Knight Trilogy and making his mark with a stream of other huge budgeted blockbusters, Christopher Nolan made a pair of small indie films that played with traditional storytelling structure while simultaneously forcing his audience to question their objective realities (if such a thing even exists). Memento is the second and better of these two efforts, and it’s difficult not to wonder if it isn’t still his best effort. There is always something more to discover with each viewing but is less convoluted than many of his other efforts—including Inception (which feels like two hours of solid exposition).

It’s a simple revenge tale of a man who seeks revenge on the man who killed his wife and left him with a brain injury that makes him unable to form new memories. The structure follows two timelines: one moving forward and the other moving backwards until they converge for the final act. This structure puts us in the protagonists head and forces us to experience the story much like he does, but instead of simply confusing us, it keeps us interested. There are always new questions being raised and then answered. Never are we passive observers simply staring at a screen to pass the time. We are forced to participate.

Nolan’s more recent blockbusters are both interesting and engaging as well, but one wishes that he would occasionally tell stories on a smaller scale as he did with his first two independent efforts. He’s extremely good at it and such stories are incredibly rare in this age of comic book adaptations.

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

This new Samuel Goldwyn Films houses their disc in a standard Blu-ray case and borrows the artwork used for Lionsgate’s 10th Anniversary release, but this new release looks more attractive without band announcing that previous edition.

The disc’s animated menu features are attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

First of all, it is important to be 100% clear about one important point: This film has seen two previous Blu-ray releases and I haven’t seen either of them. It has been out of print and ridiculously overpriced for much too long, so this new release is very welcome. I assume that this is the same transfer that was used for Lionsgate’s 10th Anniversary Edition since they are not promoting this new release as a re-master. However, this is merely a guess as we do not have that earlier disc for comparison. The image is certainly a huge leap forward from the DVD release (but this should go without saying).

Detail is crisp and lives up to expectations as contrast is well rendered and colors seem to represent Nolan’s original aesthetic rather nicely. There are aspects of this aesthetic that may appear harsh to certain viewers, but one feels compelled to give them the benefit of the doubt here, because the look suits the material and is really very nicely done. Depth is also impressive here as is clarity. Compression artifacts are evident but minimal and never distracting. One would have to be looking for it to really be bothered. This is a pretty nice transfer that should make fans who missed out on the previous release very happy.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio mix packs a larger punch than I was expecting. The degree of immersion fluctuates rather wildly depending on the scene and what is needed (as it should) and isn’t exactly a showpiece for your speaker systems, but it does its job rather nicely. It’s dynamic when it needs to be dynamic and subtle when it needs to be subtle. Dialogue is always clear and well prioritized while effects, ambience, and music are used masterfully to pull the viewer into the film’s universe. It is a very nice mix that leaves little room for criticism.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Commentary by Director Christopher Nolan

It is difficult to really discuss this particular commentary track. Nolan is articulate and informative about certain aspects of the film and its production, but for some reason it doesn’t feel like we are getting nearly enough information here. There were so many avenues to explore with this film, and he wastes quite a bit of time describing the action when we’d rather be hearing about the film’s structural differences from other films and the challenges of writing this sort of script, how he was able to get the film produced at Newmarket, reasoning behind his aesthetic choices, and so much more. The technical information he offers is more than welcome and always entertaining, and if this sort of information was all that he wished to discuss here, that would have been wonderful. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of this or anything else. It’s still worth a listen and does manage to add value to the disc, but more information would have added more value.

Anatomy of a Scene – (25:17)

The Sundance Channel’s Anatomy of a Scene was a much too short-lived series that burgeoning filmmakers really need to check out. This episode focusing on Memento is a good example of why it is inspirational as it takes a generalized look at the entire film before concentrating on the film’s opening title sequence. The technical aspects and narrative importance of the scene are discussed by Christopher Nolan, Joe Pantoliano, David Julyan (composer), and Dody Dorn (editor). The focus on this single scene is both the program’s greatest strength and weakness, but the other supplementary material included on the disc covers other areas of the film’s production.

IFC Interview with Christopher Nolan – (23:52)

We have always enjoyed this archival IFC interview, although one certainly wishes that Elvis Mitchell would probe a bit deeper into both the themes and the production of Memento. This was obviously one of Nolan’s stops on his publicity tour for the film, and it is very interesting to see this articulate director at the beginning of what we now know would become an extraordinary career. It’s nice to hear a bit about Following (his first film) as well. This is really quite worthwhile—and may be every bit as informative as the commentary track (which shares some of the information). There is also some overlap with the Anatomy of the Scene program, but none of these three supplements should be skipped.

Remembering Memento – (38:20)

It is nice to have this retrospective post-screening interview and Q&A with Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro included on the disc. It was one of the new additions to the aforementioned 10th Anniversary Blu-ray release and has happily been carried over to this one. Nolan discusses a variety of topics, but some will probably feel that nothing is covered in enough detail to consider it a substantial or truly revelatory addition—especially considering that most or all of the actual information relayed was already discussed in some of the older supplements that are also featured on the disc. It’s simply a missed opportunity, because an in-depth examination of the film and its production would be of enormous value. Having said this, listening to these filmmakers discuss their trade is enormously satisfying. The strengths outweigh the weaknesses.

Re-release Trailer – (01:22)

Most fans would probably prefer to have had the film’s original theatrical trailers included here instead. Oh well.

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Final Words:

Christopher Nolan’s Memento is must-see viewing. Luckily, this Blu-ray re-release offers cinephiles the opportunity to see it on Blu-ray once again and the disc’s supplemental features only expand the viewer’s appreciation of the film. Recommended.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: June 19, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:38:11

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 1.56:1

Note: This release comes with a DVD copy of the film as well as an Ultraviolet version for those who insist on streaming movies.

Title

“I think this is the future… Anybody going to see this movie who has no idea of the backstory to the production will have no idea this was shot on the phone. That’s not part of the conceit… People forget, this is a 4k capture. I’ve seen it 40 feet tall. It looks like velvet. This is a game changer to me.” –Steven Soderbergh (indiewire.com)

Did anyone really believer Steven Soderbergh when he announced his retirement all those years ago? Side Effects (2013) was planned as his last film, but this was soon followed by a decent made-for-cable biopic about Liberace entitled Behind the Candelabra (2013) that same year. He then worked steadily in television while directing every episode of The Knick well into 2015 (when the show was canceled). Perhaps he merely meant that he would be retiring from film. Television is, after all, a different animal. The point is that it was hardly a surprise when he resurfaced with Logan Lucky (2017). One doubts if most people even noticed his absence since his television work kept him in the public consciousness (or at least the consciousness of anyone who cared).

I’m glad that he never made good on his threats to leave the cinema scene because he is one of the more interesting living filmmakers. Unfortunately, his filmography is decidedly uneven due to his tendency to make the occasional experimental feature. These films probably do wonders for his creative evolution but rarely do much for his audience. He calls them “palate cleansers,” but they are usually pretentious and barely watchable exercises that can only be described as masturbatory. Schizopolis (1996), Full Frontal (2002), Bubble (2005), and The Girlfriend Experience (2009) are all examples—although we admit that some of these are more watchable than others.

Schizopolis is a low-budget exercise in incoherent stupidity that stars Soderbergh in two different roles. It was shot on 35mm film with a budget of $250,000, an extremely small crew, and no script. Full Frontal was a Dogma 95-esque effort shot on mini-dv with the Canon XL-1S but featured an all-star cast (with the exception of some very brief “film-within-a-film scenes that were shot on 35mm with traditional lighting). The budget on this effort was 2 million, but it is likely that the majority of this was used up on the actor’s salaries. Bubble is a much more interesting work and was shot on high definition video for 1.6 million dollars in much the same manner he used for Full Frontal. However, this time unknowns were cast and the script was more interesting. The Girlfriend Experience (which starred Sasha Grey) took a similar approach but was shot with a Red One camera which rendered a more polished (but still very raw) image.

When it was revealed that the director had secretly filmed a horror film using only an iPhone 7 Plus and the FiLMiC Pro app, this indicated that we were in for another of these exercises. Luckily, this 1.5 million dollar effort was worth his time and the money that he used to make it. Unsane (2018) features Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project), Amy Irving (Carrie, Traffic), and Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting) and tells the story of a paranoid woman who has become the victim of an obsessed stalker. It is one of those films that puts the audience in the same frame of mind as a paranoid protagonist so that we are unable to determine what is real and what is delusion—but Soderbergh’s approach is always interesting and in the end quite effective. Mystery and tension is built and sustained throughout most of the duration, and this is really all that the viewer really wants from this sort of film. It may not be one of the director’s best efforts, but it is certainly his greatest “palate cleanser.”

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The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Universal protects the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a standard 2-disc case with a sleeve featuring artwork taken from the film’s one-sheet (flipped here and cropped with text in the middle rather than at the top and bottom). We’re not sure why the marketing team found it necessary to make changes, but we can at least give them credit for not using completely different and less interesting artwork. The case is protected by a slipcover featuring the same artwork.

One Sheet

The film’s American One Sheet.

The disc’s static menu features a portion of this artwork and is designed in the same manner as other Universal Blu-ray menus. They are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate but will not win any awards for creativity.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The first thing that needs to be reiterated here is that Steven Soderbergh shot the entire movie on an iPhone 7 Plus with a Moment lens. The surprise is that this approach actually works quite well for this particular film, and the image is reasonably well defined in the film’s brighter scenes. Darker scenes are less detailed and not as attractive in the film’s darker moments, but never to a distracting degree. Colors aren’t quite as vivid as they might. Some of the night scenes were shot day for night with a blue filter while daytime interiors lean towards warm amber hues. Whatever the perceived weaknesses may be, it this transfer almost certainly represents the original image as well as it can be represented on the Blu-ray format. What more can anyone reasonably ask?

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio offers a reasonably dynamic experience that again represents the original source mix as it was intended to be heard. Ambient sounds are well separated and add a bit of depth to the mix as does the sparse musical scoring. Dialogue is consistently clear and well prioritized as well. There are some really interesting sonic collages used to put the viewer in the protagonist’s frame of mind—the most notable example would probably be the scene after she has been given the wrong medication and she freaks out as a result. More subtly nuanced sound designs are also utilized and are well served by this mix.

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Special Features:

0.5 of 5 Stars

Unsanity – (04:26)

What a terribly disappointing featurette. Actually, the word “featurette” is laughable. It is simply a collection of a few behind the scenes snippets that have been cut together with footage from the film without even the usual generic interview comments to add context. The clips aren’t long enough to gather much in the way of information as to how the film was shot (which would have been something worth exploring considering that the film was shot on an iPhone). We really needed a proper “Making of” documentary for this film. Whatever happened to real bonus content? This doesn’t count.

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Final Words:

Those who like Steven Soderbergh probably don’t need to be sold, but this movie also earns an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys diverting psychological thrillers. Unsane probably doesn’t rate amongst the best in this genre, but it is superior to many of the more recent genre titles. It might not become a new favorite, but there are worse ways to spend a rainy afternoon.

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hitchcockmaster

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Kino Lorber

Release Date: June 19, 2018

Region: Region A

Length: 01:57:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1559 kbps, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 35.93 Mbps

Notes:This title was previously given a bare bones DVD release.

Title

Under Capricorn was made for Ingrid Bergman… but if I’d been thinking clearly, I’d never have tackled a costume picture. You’ll notice I’ve never done any since that time. Besides, there wasn’t enough humor in the film. If I were to make another picture in Australia today, I’d have a policeman hop into the pocket of a kangaroo and yell, ‘Follow that car!’” –Alfred Hitchcock (Hitchcock/Truffaut)

Many scholars have pontificated as to why Hitchcock chose to adapt Helen Simpson’s Under Capricorn as what was originally intended to be the première Transatlantic Films production. The major studios had all wisely passed…

View original post 9,112 more words

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: May 29, 2018

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:27:45

Video: 1080P (AVC, MPEG-4)

Main Audio: 2.0 French Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.66:1

Note: Cohen Media Group is also giving the film a separate DVD release.

Banner

“It’s extraordinary to make a film on such a difficult subject. It’s filled with pitfalls—pitfalls for [Claude Berri] and also pitfalls for me. That hooked me in immediately, plus he was so enthusiastic and such a dreamer. I was thrilled that in 1967 there were still dreamers and poets in the streets.” -Michel Simon (1967)

Sometimes films sneak up on you. Claude Berri’s semi-autobiographical debut effort is such a film. In some ways, The Two of Us seems like a rather simple story about a young eight year old’s connection with his new grandfatherly guardian, but such a reading is overlooking the more interesting aspects of Berri’s poignant film. The devil is in the details, and the story doesn’t seem quite as straightforward when one considers that the eight year old in question is a Jewish refugee hiding in Nazi-occupied France and that the “new grandfatherly guardian” happens to be an anti-Semitic Catholic man who is completely unaware of the boy’s Jewish origins. Michel Simon portrays the guardian with a crusty tenderness throughout the duration, but his diatribes about all things Jewish aren’t lost on the young boy. The result is a loving relationship that is laced with acid—but young Claude is a clever boy. He understands that the old man who cares for him is all thunder and no lightning. His bigotry is based on ignorance and his affection for the boy is based on genuine connection. He’s a human being who simply seems to absorb the propaganda that surrounds him. The fact that his dangerous ideals have never been seriously challenged is also significant. (One doubts if he has ever encountered a Jew in his provincial country environment.)

Berri never tries to vilify Pepe. He’s simply portrayed as an imperfect man in an extremely imperfect world, and his humanist approach to the character is refreshing. In fact, this grandfatherly gentleman ends up being the film’s tragic figure when one fully expects that figure will be young Claude. It is easy to relate to their relationship. Most of us have overheard relatives or someone that they love say shockingly hateful things about one group or another and have to settle their disturbed feelings about their attitudes and come to some sort of compromised acceptance in order to continue their relationship with these people. Luckily, the young eight year old is resilient. In fact, Claude manages to forge his affectionate relationship to this man by forgiving Pepe’s obviously ridiculous beliefs. They are, after all, based on ignorance. He even teases Pepe about these beliefs throughout the film while turning these dangerous attitudes into a game. What else can a child do? He has a sense of humor about the old man’s skewed attitudes and enjoys calling attention to the flaws in Pepe’s logic. There’s something extremely hopeful about Claude’s refusal to let these beliefs define him or corrupt their mutual affection for one another.

The film’s autobiographical origins are worth noting as Claude Berri was also sent to live with gentiles during the occupation of Paris in 1944—although these gentiles knew that he was a Jew and guarded him from the Nazi threat because they felt it was the right thing to do. In some ways, I am reminded of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. Both films are brilliant and affecting debut features, both directors borrow from their own childhoods, and both films reveal unchanging unfortunate truths about humanity. It is no wonder that Truffaut was a great admirer of the film. The Two of Us tackles weighty subjects without dragging the film down with excessive melodrama. Instead, there is a sense of frivolity and fun throughout most of its duration.

French 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 infamous Saul Bass poster 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 have made an exception in this case since the Bass artwork should stand on its own. They could at least have made this cover art reversible—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. One wishes that this booklet could have featured the infamous Truffaut essay about the film, but this is a small complaint.

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

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Cohen Film Collection is proud to present a gorgeous new 4K restoration of this world cinema classic. This is the sort of transfer that is great enough to speak about it in extremely general terms, because every single aspect of the image is simply gorgeous and beyond reproach. Cohen’s Blu-ray image is as perfect as anyone has any right to expect from the format. Detail, depth, density, and grain resolution, all perfectly represent the original source (which must have been in surprisingly good condition from the outset). This is a huge improvement over the old Criterion DVD.

Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

It’s always a bit more difficult to rate the audio transfer on these older films, because many audiophiles have ridiculously high expectations. They want a dynamic sonic experience that puts their expensive sound systems to good use. However, it is much more important to have a faithful representation of the film’s original audio mix. Cohen’s Linear PCM mono track is an extremely clean and faithful representation that supports Berri’s visuals admirably. This is a narrow track and isn’t at all dynamic, but these really aren’t fair criticisms.

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

There are a handful of supplements available on Criterion’s DVD release of the film that aren’t included here. The interviews with Claude Berri and his Oscar-winning short, Le poulet (1962), would have added considerable value to this release. Fortunately, the material included in this release is also essential viewing for anyone with an appreciation for French cinema.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Wade Major

Wade Major (film critic with NPR affiliate KPCC-FM and co-host/producer of the IGN DigiGods Podcast) gives a surprisingly instructive commentary that adds to one’s appreciation and enjoyment of the film by contextualizing the film’s story and events, theorizing about certain story elements, providing information about the film’s production, and discussing background information about Claude Berri, Alain Cohen, and Michel Simon.

Michel Simon Discusses The Two of Us – (01:25)

This interview excerpt is too short to provide the viewer with anything more than a few general comments about his involvement with this production and its reception, but it is nice to have it included here as a historical artifact.

Michel Simon and Jean Renoir in Conversation – (06:00)

The same can be said of this excerpt from what looks like a much longer program (though we could be wrong). Simone and Renoir discuss La Chienne in a very vague and general manner while offering each other the credit for the film’s success. Later, we see Simone waxing nostalgic about those he has worked with (with Sacha Guitry receiving and especially affectionate mention). There isn’t anything about the film in question, but fans will probably be glad to have it included here in any case.

Restoration Re-Release Trailer – (01:45)

Cohen rounds out the supplemental package with their restoration re-release trailer. It’s very nice to have it included here, but one wishes that the film’s original trailer could have been features as well.

US One Sheet by Saul Bass

Final Words:

Cohen’s 4K restoration transfer of The Two of Us is a gift to Blu-ray collectors everywhere. It comes highly recommended!

Review by: Devon Powell