Posts Tagged ‘Film Review’

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Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: April 11, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 112 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC

Main Audio: 2.0 English Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: Cohen Media Group is also releasing a DVD edition of this film.

Julie Dash

Julie Dash broke through racial and gender boundaries with Daughters of the Dust when she became the first African American woman to have a wide and general theatrical release. Photo courtesy of Cohen Film Collection

Daughters of the Dust is a post‐slavery narrative about cultural memory, notions of home and belonging, and conflicts of Black female identity.” –Julie Dash (25th Anniversary Press Book)

Set at the dawn of the 20th century, Daughters of the Dust focuses on the members of the multigenerational Peazant family in the Sea Islands’ Gullah community. This community is made up of former West African slaves who adopted many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions but they struggle to maintain their cultural heritage and folklore while planning to migrate to the mainland. On the eve of their departure, an extended family picnic and ritual farewell departure is arranged and “Nana Peazant” (the clan elder) works to keep the family together and pass on the knowledge of their ancestors as they move ever further from their roots.

There are many kinds of films. Most seem to be the equivalent of a short story, others seem to function more like a novel, and then an extremely small fraction are more like narrative poetry. Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust is undeniably poetic—and her liberal use of symbolism only makes this more evident. Of course, this is the film’s greatest strength—but it is also bound to attract a smaller audience. Some will hate it for the same reason others love it, but it should be seen by everyone once if only to determine which category they fall into.


The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Cohen’s two Blu-ray discs are protected by the standard Blu-ray case with the 25th Anniversary one-sheet framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. Those who have indulged in some of Cohen’s other Blu-ray releases will know exactly what to expect here.

The menu utilizes footage and music from the film and is both attractive and intuitive to navigate.


Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Daughters of the Dust received a loving 2K restoration by Cohen Media Group in conjunction with UCLA which was overseen by Arthur Jafa (whose cinematography made Daughters of the Dust such a rich experience). The resulting transfer was well worth their efforts. There is a fine layer of grain which betrays the film’s celluloid roots without ever becoming unwieldy and the image’s color and contrast is just as natural representing the original intentions. Fine detail often impresses but occasionally looks soft, but this seems to be the result of Jafa’s original cinematography. Fabulous!


Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 Linear PCM Audio mix is a solid representation of the film’s original soundtrack. There aren’t any noticeable issues to report—even if some viewers might possibly find the lack of a more dynamic mix disappointing. The important thing is that this is an accurate rendering of the film’s original intentions without any unfortunate anomalies to mar one’s experience.


Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars


Audio Commentary with Director Julie Dash and Michelle Materre

This is an engaging and above average commentary track—albeit sometimes a bit dry in tone. The commentary takes the form of an interview at times, but the questions asked and the answers given often reveal worthwhile production information or astute analytical observations. There is some unfortunate overlap with some of the other supplements included here, but those who admire this unusual film will find that it was worth their trouble.


Interview with Julie Dash – (01:12:08)

Dr. Stephane Dunn (Director of Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies at Morehouse College) conducts this in-depth interview with Julie Dash (Director). Dash is articulate and engaging throughout the duration and reveals a wealth of information about the film and its production. This is a truly substantial and significant addition to this already incredible set.

Q & A with Julie Dash and Cheryl Lynn Bruce – (24:51)

Regina Taylor moderates this Q&A session between Julie Dash and Cheryl Lynn Bruce which was held at the Chicago International Film Festival and is another interesting interview session—this time bringing an actor’s perspective to the conversation. (Bruce portrayed Viola Peazant in the film). It makes a nice companion to the other interviews found on the disc.

Interview with Cinematographer Arthur Jafa – (25:23)

Considering that the film’s cinematography is one of the film’s strongest and most important attributes, this interview isn’t merely welcome—it is essential. Jafa reveals instructive information about the film’s production as well as his career. It is the perfect way to round off this excellent collection of interviews.

25th Anniversary Re-Release Trailer – (01:35)

It is nice to have this re-release trailer included here, but one wishes that the film’s original marketing materials were included as well (or even instead) of this one.

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Final Words:

Daughters of the Dust is a classic of independent cinema and this new restoration release gives those who haven’t had the chance to see it yet a good excuse to remedy this issue. Meanwhile, those who love it will certainly wish to add it to their collection as it has never looked this good on home video.

Review by: Devon Powell




Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:41:05

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC Video)

Main Audio: 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio (3584 kbps / 48 kHz / 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.94 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released on DVD but this is the film’s Blu-ray debut in North America.


“The remake thing did not happen just for Asian horror remakes, Hitchcock remade [one of] his own British thrillers. Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo were well re-made—or cleverly adapted. In that sense, I am honored that three of my films, Jyoyu-rei, Ringu, and Dark Water were re-made. At the same time, I did have mixed feelings like, “Why can’t my Japanese original films [sic] be released in the US first?” –Hideo Nakata (, April 29, 2011)

Personally, it is difficult not to agree with Nakata—especially considering the fact that his originals work quite well on their own. This is especially true of Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara). Nakata’s original film towers high above the re-make which is barely even remembered by audiences today. It is merely a footnote in J-Horror history (and Hollywood’s J-Horror remake craze). Actually, it wouldn’t be completely inappropriate to give Nakata the lion’s share of the credit for ushering J-Horror into America’s collective consciousness. In any case, it was after terrifying worldwide audiences with the blockbuster classic Ringu and its sequel that the director returned to the genre with Dark Water—another highly atmospheric tale of the supernatural. It became yet another critically acclaimed hit. However, it did not earn the same level of worldwide praise. David Kalat wrote of this in the limited edition booklet included in this Arrow release:

“Good as it is—brilliant, heart-aching, and anguished—by 2002, Dark Water was simply one of many. Ring [Ringu] had changed the world. And in the world that it had changed, it was no longer possible for one lone movie to stand out so distinctively. J-Horror had successfully littered the world with numberless copies of itself.” – David Kalat (Dead Wet Girls, Liner Essay, 2016)

Even a surface level examination will uncover many obvious connections to Ringu. In addition to the fact that Hideo Nakata was the primary creative force behind both projects, Dark Water was based upon “Fuyu suri mizu” (“Floating Waters”) which was a short story by Koji Suzuki (who had written the novel that Ringu was based upon). The film and was also beautifully shot by Jun’ichirô Hayashi—the same cinematographer who shot Ringu (not to mention Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse). However, Dark Water is an entirely different kind of thriller.

The story follows Yoshimi, a single mother struggling to win sole custody of her only child, Ikuko. When they move into a new home within a dilapidated and long-forgotten apartment complex, Yoshimi begins to experience startling visions and unexplainable sounds, calling her mental well-being into question, and endangering not only her custody of Ikuko but perhaps their lives as well. Dark Water successfully merges spine-tingling tension with a family’s heart-wrenching emotional struggle. The result is a subtly unsettling Japanese horror film that mixes psychological terror with the supernatural in interesting ways.


The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses their Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with reversible film-related artwork. There is a newly commissioned Manga-book style cover by Peter Strain that actually surpasses the film’s original one-sheet (this is rare). This is one of Arrow’s best designs but it is nice that Arrow has also offered fans the opportunity to utilize alternative artwork that makes use of one of the film’s original one-sheet design. This reviewer usually opts to flip the sleeve to feature the one sheet art, but this is a rare exception. There is also an attractive booklet that includes an interesting essay by David Kalat (author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge, and Beyond) and an examination of the American remake by Michael Gingold. These essays are enhanced with a number of production stills.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]


The animated menus utilize footage from the film and music from the score. They are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.


Picture Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

Dark Water is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio… The high-definition master was made available by Kadokawa Pictures. Additional restoration work was performed at Deluxe Restoration, London to remove dirt and debris and improve overall picture stability.” –Liner Notes

It is impossible to know to what extent the film has been cleaned up but it must be said that Arrow’s “restored” transfer looks less than completely satisfying. It is difficult to judge if the issues are due to inadequacies in the original source print or if they are the result of an older high definition transfer that was never meant for Blu-ray release. Detail is limited and less striking than one expects from Arrow but the relatively high bitrate used for the image transfer has kept distracting compression anomalies at bay.


Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc’s robust 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio mix showcases the film’s impressive yet understated sound design masterfully without showing its seams and Kawai’s score is given not only room to breathe but space to play with the viewer’s mind. It is quite difficult for this English-speaking viewer to testify about the clarity of the Japanese dialogue but it should be said that it is well mixed and prioritized. The overall experience of this solid sound transfer is most effective.


Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow has provided over 1 hour and 38 minutes of video based supplemental material here for fans of the film to enjoy and although the merit of these short programs vary, each is a welcome addition to the disc. Upon final analysis, one feels that the disc might not live up to some of Arrow’s other releases but this might be because they have set the mark so high in the past. In any case, there isn’t any doubt that the disc offers more than most Blu-rays.

Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings, and Water – (26:03)

Those initially reluctant to indulge in Hideo Nakata’s interview because it is in Japanese will be pleasantly surprised. While watching an interview in a foreign language can be more challenging than watching an image driven film, Nakata is consistently engaging as he speaks about his career as a film director, working on Ringu and Dark Water, and his feelings about the horror genre in general.

Koji Suzuki: Family Terrors – (20:20)

Koji Suzuki’s interview is equally engaging. Japan’s “preeminent horror novelist” discusses his writing career and how he became known as a horror author. He also talks at length about his work with Hideo Nakata on both Ringu and Dark Water. This interview should thrill fans of either one of these films (and fans of Suzuki’s writing).

Junichiro Hayashi: Visualizing Horror – (19:16)

Also engaging—though admittedly to a lesser degree—is this interview with Junichiro Hayashi about his career as a cinematography, the methodology of being a cinematographer in Japan, his collaboration with Hideo Nakata, and his aversion to horror films. There is quite a bit of good information here, and it is well worth the viewer’s effort.

The Making of Dark Water – (15:51)

The strongest of the archival supplements is this “making of” featurette. It consists of behind the scenes production footage and forgoes the usual surface level interviews that usually accompanies such footage. The result is an objective glimpse behind the curtain that should please fans of the film and anyone interested in filmmaking in general.

Interview with Hitomi Kuroki – (08:00)

This archival interview with Hitomi Kuroki (who portrayed Yoshimi Matsubara) barely manages to go beyond the usual EPK commentary that one expects from such interviews but she does manage to divulge some interesting information here. In any case, it is nice to have the interview included on the disc.

Archival Interview with Asami Mizukawa – (04:39)

The most interesting aspect of this archival interview is Asami Mizukawa’s audition footage. The actual interview is somewhat standard EPK material but it is an interesting artifact nonetheless.

Archival Interview with Shikao Suga – (02:55)

Shikao Suga discusses the pop song he wrote for the film’s final credits. This is standard EPK material and is obviously geared towards promoting one’s interest in seeing the film. Interestingly, the song discussed here feels oddly out of place in the film. One is thankful that it is only featured in the end credits.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:13)

For the most part, this Japanese theatrical trailer isn’t much different than those made for most domestic horror films. Unfortunately, the inappropriate pop song (by Shikao Suga) featured in the opening moments of the trailer doesn’t establish the appropriate mood for what is about to follow. The rest of the trailer plays out as anyone might expect and showcases a few of the film’s creepy moments. Having said this, one cannot say that the result does the film justice. However, it is nice to have such marketing materials included.

Theatrical Teaser – (00:37)

The teaser trailer is a slight improvement over the previous trailer and features much of the same footage.

TV Spots – (00:50)

Some of these TV Spots also include Shikao Suga’s inappropriate pop song and suffer from its inclusion, but one cannot say that seeing these promos isn’t interesting.


Final Words:

Fans of J-Horror will no doubt wish to indulge in this terrific release of one of this subgenre’s seminal works. In many ways, the simple premise allows for a more consistent tone than Ringu enjoyed. It is certainly less convoluted than that earlier effort and the relative simplicity allows for a more consistent tone.

Review by: Devon Powell


Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures

Release Date: September 13, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 73 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: 2.0 English LPCM (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 29.88 Mbps

Notes: This title has also been given a DVD release.


“I knew about historical cases of hysterics and had always been interested in the broader phenomenon of contagions. The ‘Dancing Plague of 1518’ and ‘Lisztomania’ were some of the most fascinating cases to me, big cultural moments. I read long-form nonfiction articles on a daily basis and came across some more recent accounts about these episodes with groups of teenage girls in the United States. I obsessively researched these mysterious cases and started looking for narrative patterns. The majority of the episodes I learned about took place in tightknit groups of girls with a strong hierarchical structure. I was also surprised that none of the cases ever seemed to be formally resolved or cell phone videos online that girls had recorded of each other’s ticks, fits, and fainting. Re-imagining these subconscious movements as choreographies provided the foundation of the film.” -Anna Rose Holmer (Topics of Interest, Press Book)

Holmer’s debut film heralds an exciting new voice in filmmaking that is as disciplined as it is audacious. Her decidedly spare aesthetic is appropriate for the film’s relatively spare story, which relies more on character and behavior than it does on plot. Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an eleven year old tomboy who trains as a boxer with her brother at a community center in Cincinnati’s West End, but she becomes fascinated by the dance team that also practices there. Enamored by their strength and confidence, Toni eventually joins the group, eagerly absorbing routines, mastering drills, and even piercing her own ears to fit into the group. As she discovers the joys of dance and of female camaraderie, she grapples with her individual identity amid her newly defined social sphere.

Shortly after Toni joins the team, the captain faints during practice. By the end of the week, most of the girls on the team suffer from episodes of fainting, swooning, moaning, and shaking in a seemingly uncontrollable catharsis. Soon, however, the girls on the team embrace these mysterious spasms, transforming them into a rite of passage. Toni fears ‘the fits’ but is equally afraid of losing her place just as she’s found her footing. Caught between her need for control and her desire for acceptance, Toni must decide how far she will go to embody her new ideals.

The film’s themes are examined in a decidedly original manner, as one has the feeling that they are eavesdropping on real people and events. This is largely the result of Holmer’s documentary approach and interesting casting decisions.

“I fell in love with drill and the Q-Kidz simultaneously. We never considered any other team.  From the film’s conception, I wanted to cast a real community of girls for the film. Casting all of the girls from the same real life drill team meant that we could emphasize the authentic sisterhood that young women experience when they bond on a team. There is this texture or underlying current that I knew we couldn’t pull off otherwise. So we knew when we approached the Q-Kidz that we were looking to cast not only a few of the leads, but really cast the entire team in our project. The founder of the Q-Kidz, Marquicia Jones-Woods, immediately understood the film and supported the vision. She was on board before the first draft of the script and worked closely with us as an Associate Producer. Ms. Quicy (as she is known) played an integral role in the filmmaking process. We cast about 45 of the girls from her team of over 200 to be part of the film. The only role we considered casting outside of the team was Toni; however, we fortuitously found Royalty on day one of the Q-Kidz casting.” -Anna Rose Holmer (Topics of Interest, Press Book)

Some cinematic experiences are nearly impossible to encapsulate in even the most succinct review. This sort of film must be experienced and absorbed to truly be understood, and each viewer will process it quite differently. The Fits, for example, will seem a different film to each individual who watches it (mass hysteria be damned). Viewers will either love it or absolutely loathe it.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Fits is given a somewhat special release in that the Blu-ray disc is housed in an unusual digipak. Unfortunately, Oscilloscope Pictures doesn’t utilize the standard plastic tray for this release. Instead, the disc rests in a sort of folder or sleeve. This isn’t the best choice, because it doesn’t really protect the disc very well. Disc protection should always be priority one. However, it is a rather attractive package that showcases the film’s one sheet artwork.

The disc’s menu utilizes one of the film’s many silent scenes and the result is an attractive and easy to navigate disc experience.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The excellent video transfer is rich in both detail and clarity with natural colors throughout. Contrast is also well handled as the black levels are appropriately deep without crushing. The disc’s bitrate is relatively high, but it seems as if it could be much higher considering the extremely short length of the film. However, it is still difficult to imagine the image looking much better.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Both tracks included here are quite wonderful with the 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio being the most immersive and the obvious choice for anyone with a proper sound system. Both tracks are free from anomalies and mixed well. These are surprisingly dynamic sound options for what is essentially a small and intimate film.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Anna Rose Holmer (Director/Writer), Lisa Kjerulff (Producer/Writer), and Saela Davis (Editor/Writer)

It is evident from listening to this commentary that all three participants are proud of the film, but there is little in the way of actual production information, character insight, or analysis. Everyone has been with friends that insist on recounting memories that aren’t shared by them personally. This track feels like a walk down memory lane, but with the viewer somehow stuck in the middle without any context for the conversation.

Dreams Come True – (HD) – (11:41)

“Behind the scenes” and audition footage illustrates a number of exclusive interviews with the Q-Kidz Dance Team founder, choreographers, and cast members “Beezy” “Legs” and “Karisma.” This is only slightly more substantial than the typical EPK fluff that one suspects to find on more recent Blu-ray releases, but viewers are given some interesting information and an authentic glimpse behind the scenes of production.

Presenting Royalty Hightower – (HD) – (04:44)

This exclusive on-set interview with Royalty Hightower feels as if it could have been woven into the “Dreams Come True” featurette, and this interesting (but less than comprehensive) footage would be all the better for it. The “behind the scenes” and audition footage make this a worthwhile five minutes.

Outtakes – (HD) – (04:34)

This “behind the scenes” footage should be a fun glimpse behind the proverbial curtain for the film’s fans, but there isn’t a great deal of revelatory substance here. One wishes for a more in-depth glimpse at the production methods utilized by the filmmakers.

Theatrical Trailer – (HD) – (01:22)

It is nice to find that the theatrical trailer is also featured as a supplement here. It seems like fewer and fewer home video releases include the original trailer, and this is unfortunate.

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Final Words:

The Fits is singular film experience and this Blu-ray from Oscilloscope Pictures offers viewers the best viewing option.

Review by: Devon Powell

Spine #63

Carnival of Souls - Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA

Release Date: July 12, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 1:18:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 32.37 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD edition from Criterion, and can also available in an unimpressive DVD release from ‘Off Color Films’ (which also includes a dreadful colorized version). It should be mentioned that both of these editions include the famous “Director’s Cut” of the film, which is eight minutes longer than the film’s theatrical release.


“It was sunset, and I was driving back to Kansas from California when I first saw Saltair, an abandoned amusement park located at the end of a long causeway into the Great Salt Lake. The lake had receded, and the pavilion, with its strange Moorish towers, stood silhouetted against the red sky. I felt I had been transported into a different time and dimension. I stopped the car and walked out to the pavilion. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck. The stark white of the salt beach, and the dark quiet of the deserted buildings created the weirdest location I had ever seen. When I got back to Kansas I discussed Saltair with my friend, coworker, and writer, John Clifford. We agreed [that] with the Saltair location and others we had scouted locally, we could develop a script for a very eerie feature film.

Well, John wrote the script for Carnival of Souls in three weeks, and our crew spent a week in Salt Lake City filming Saltair, and two weeks in Lawrence Kansas filming the rest of the movie. We were naïve enough to hope for the look of a Bergman film and the feel of a Cocteau. When a preview was shown in Lawrence in the fall of 1961, the audience’s reaction was mixed. The Bergan look and the Cocteau feel were a little too far out for the time and place. That year, Carnival of Souls was shown in shortened form primarily in the south in drive-ins as part of a double bill, and then it went underground.

Making the film had been exciting. Distributing the film had been agonizing… But Carnival of Souls had affected more people during its short run than we thought. Through magazines, books, and television, it has become a cult classic…” –Herk Harvey (Video Introduction)  

Saltair Resort Postcard

This is a vintage postcard that features the Saltair Resort.

Herk Harvey’s description of the film’s strange journey from a low budget passion project to a celebrated cult classic should be encouraging to any future filmmakers who are currently saving their pennies in an effort to make their dreams come true. Carnival of Souls is required viewing for these individuals. However, it also works as an eerie mood piece. Sure, it is a low budget film with many obvious flaws, but there are many people who might argue that these flaws actually add to the surreal nature of the film. Whatever category readers of this review might fall into, it is recommended that everyone see the film once so that they can make an educated decision for themselves (because it could easily go either way).


The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. Edward Kinsella’s original artwork is brilliantly conceived and probably surpasses the film’s original one sheet artwork. An added bonus is the wonderful fold out pamphlet featuring an essay by Kier-La Janisse.

The disc’s menus utilize eerie footage from the actual film coupled with Gene Moore’s organ score.

Menu 1Menu 2Menu 3Menu 4

It is an elegant menu that is quite easy to navigate. All of this makes for an extremely attractive presentation.


Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has given viewers an outstanding high definition transfer of the film’s original theatrical cut of the film that looks incredibly clean. Their transfer of the 4K restoration of the film is a marvel to behold. As always, the film’s restoration was explained in technical detail in the leaflet provided in the disc’s case:

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

The resulting image is incredibly detailed with remarkable clarity and depth. Contrast is also beautifully rendered while blacks are deep without crushing. Meanwhile, the rich and always consistent grain textures add a beautifully organic quality to the proceedings. One could easily argue that seeing this new restoration of the film gives fans of the film an altogether new experience. It is impossible to find anything to criticize! This is a gorgeous transfer.


Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s uncompressed sound transfer is perhaps the most surprisingly immaculate element on this disc. The film’s famous organ music is finally given enough room to breathe while allowing the dialogue to be as crisp and clearly defined as the film’s ambience. As is usual with Criterion discs, steps were taken to ensure that the sound isn’t marred by any distracting anomalies.

“The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4.” –Liner Notes


Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has included a near-perfect supplemental package for Carnival of Souls. It is as close to perfect as anyone has a right to expect. There are those who may fault Criterion for not including the infamous “Directors Cut” of the film, but this was probably excluded because this version has always been sourced from a one-inch video copy. It would be pointless to release such a copy on Blu-ray (although, a DVD copy of this version could have made a very nifty second disc). Only the most ungrateful cinemaphiles should allow this omission to affect their opinion of this sensational package.

We are given over five hours of material, and all of it is well worth watching.

Audio Commentary with Herk Harvey (Director) and John Clifford (Screenwriter)

This selected scene commentary with the film’s director and writer is taken from a 1989 retrospective interview with the two gentleman. It was edited to create this sparse commentary track (which is always informative and engaging). It is really to bad that it doesn’t fill the entire length of the film.

Deleted Scenes:

Those who haven’t already seen the film’s director’s cut should find these three deleted scenes fascinating. They were cut from Carnival of Souls before the 1962 release of the film. Unfortunately, the best available source for the deleted footage was a one-inch analog videotape.

Organ Factory – (01:17)

This is a scene that suffers from awkward dialogue (or perhaps wooden delivery of “on the nose” dialogue), but it is a scene that has certain virtues. However, one wonders if the film didn’t benefit from its omission.

Running – (01:00)

While this scene doesn’t seem to add much to the film, the inclusion of this footage did make for a more effective edit.  Out of the three deleted scenes, this is the one that comes the closest to being missed (even if it seems to be the most insignificant).

Doctor’s Office – (01:45)

This scene has a creepy quality that adds to both the film’s tone and story, but it seems to work better in its shorter form.

Outtakes – (27:09)

This lengthy collection of outtakes are accompanied by Gene Moore’s organ score, and there is so much here that it might actually overwhelm the average viewer. While this footage might not be as engaging without any context provided to help guide the viewer, it is certainly a generous offering that fans should find interesting. More supplemental packages should include such a feature.

The Movie That Wouldn’t Die! – (32:13)

This 1989 reunion documentary was made in an effort to celebrate and promote the film’s 1989 theatrical release. Herk Harvey and John Clifford are on hand to explain the conception of the film’s story, the process of funding their project, the location shooting, and the initial reception of the film during its original release. Candace Hilligoss (actress), Glenn Kappelman (one of the investors), Tim DePaepe (filmmaker), and Mark Syverson (fan) also lend their voice to the proceedings. The program was created by Bill Shaffer for a television station in Topeka, Kansas (KTWU – Channel 11), and it is without a doubt one of the better features included on the disc.

Hidden Featurette: The Carnival Tour

Those who wait for the credits to roll on “The Movie That Wouldn’t Die” will discover this tour of some of the film’s locations. (The tour took place in 2000, and the locations have probably changed a bit in the past 16 years.) It is interesting to see what these locations looked like so many years after the release of the film.

Regards from Nowhere – (23:36)

David Cairns (Film Critic) offers a slightly more scholarly appreciation of the film as he discusses various aspects of the film including the unusual netherworld featured in the film. One might call this a video essay or an appreciation instead of a proper documentary, but it is a creatively rendered essay that includes excerpts from interviews with various other participants that appreciate the film, snippets from some of Harvey and Clifford’s industrial shorts, background information, and an impressive presentation. This is exactly the sort of scholarly material that Criterion fans have come to appreciate.

Final Destination – (22:41)

One wonders if Dana Gould (Comedian) can really be seen as a serious authority on Carnival of Souls, but it must be said that his enthusiasm for the film is contagious. He discusses his love for the horror genre and favorably compares Carnival of Souls with The Night of the Living Dead. His discussion of the production is both informative and entertaining.

[Note: He does give the viewer one small nugget of false information. It was not released the same year as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which was released in 1960.]

Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City – (26:00)

This 1966 documentary about the Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City (where the most iconic scenes in the film were shot) was created by Ed Yates for a Salt Lake City television broadcast (KCPX-TV). It presents the rather sad story behind the spooky pavilion seen in Carnival of Souls. It is one of the highlights of this supplemental package (even if the image and sound quality is lacking).

 The Centron Corporation:

Herk Harvey and John Clifford were both working at this industrial film company (which was based in Lawrence, Kansas) when Carnival of Souls went into production. This collection provides a glimpse at some of these industrial films, which provide a kind of context for the production of Carnival of Souls.

The following clips are included:

 The Centron Corporation: Historical Essay – (09:57)

This audial history of the Centron Corporation originally appeared in Ken Smith’s Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1979. Dana Gould lends his voice to the text, which turns this informative excerpt into an effective video essay.

Centron Commercial (1967) – (02:13)

Rebound (1954) – (21:15)

Star 34 (1954) – (12:37)

To Touch a Child (1966) – (12:01)

Case History of a Sales Meeting (1963) – (05:32)

Signals: Read’em or Weep (1982) – (05:24)

Theatrical Trailer – (02:17)

The campy theatrical trailer used to market Carnival of Souls doesn’t do the film justice, but it does provide an interesting look at how the film was positioned upon its original release.


Final Words:

Carnival of Souls is one of those cult films that divides audiences. Those that love these quirky little B-movies will agree that Criterion has provided them with a spectacular Blu-ray release that does the film justice. Others will argue that the film has received a better release than it really deserves. Either way, it is difficult to argue against the quality of this incredible disc.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Oscilloscope Pictures

Release Date: June 21, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 125 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 Spanish, Huitoto, Latin, Okaina, Portuguese, Tikuna, Wanano, and German DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: 2.0 Multi-language LPCM (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 27.00 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD edition.

Colombian One Sheet

This is the original Columbian one sheet that was used to promote the film.

“…The explorers have told their story. The natives haven’t. This is it…” -Ciro Guerra (Press Book)

Embrace of the Serpent is an unusual film that often feels like a fever dream. The stunning 35mm monochrome photography adds to this effect as we follow Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman, and the two scientists who build a friendship with him over the course of 40 years. The story was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers (Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes) who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred Yakruna plant. All of this takes place during two different periods of time as if everything were happening at once.

“There’s an idea in many of the texts that explore the indigenous world that speaks of a different concept of time. Time to them is not a line, as we see it in the West, but a series of multiple universes happening simultaneously. It is a concept that has been referred to as ‘time without time’ or ‘space without space.’

I thought it connected with the stories of the explorers, who wrote about how one of them came to the Amazon following the footsteps of another explorer before him, and when he would encounter the same indigenous tribe, he would find that the previous explorer had been turned into myth. To the natives, it was always the same man, the same spirit, visiting them over and over again. This idea of a single life, a single experience, lived through the bodies of several men, was fascinating to me, and I thought it would make a great starting point for the script. It gave us a perspective of the indigenous way of thinking, but also connected with the viewer who could understand these men who come from our world, and through them, we could slowly begin to see the vision of the world of Karamakate.” -Ciro Guerra (Press Book)

This Amazonian concept informs the film’s structure at nearly every level. The screenplay was mostly written by Ciro Guerra during the course of four years, with cowriter Jacques Toulemonde coming on board for the final drafts, helping to shape a non-western tale for audiences used to western storytelling. It’s worth noting that, of the very few films that have been shot in the Amazon, almost all of them are told from the explorer’s point of view, and Amazon natives are often seen as primitive savages. This certainly isn’t the case here, and this fact makes all the difference in the world.

The Amazon has never before been quite this mystical. There are moments when one almost feels as if they are falling under some sort of spell (or perhaps becoming intoxicated by the psychedelic properties of the Yakruna). This is the film’s greatest strength, but one has to wonder if it isn’t also its largest weakness. The film never really touches ground. We are stimulated visually and taken across the threshold of what might as well be another world.

Many of the best films are powerful in their ability to take the audience to places that they have never been before, but is it possible for the subject matter to be too far removed from the viewer’s experience? The answer to this question probably depends on the sensibilities of each individual viewer.

Photo by Andrés Córdoba - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

This is a posed production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andrés Córdoba. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with a slightly altered version of the film’s American One Sheet artwork. Oscilloscope Pictures should be admired for not attempting to utilize different artwork for the film’s Blu-ray cover. (One Sheet artwork is nearly always superior to home video artwork, which usually ranges from cheesy to completely inept.)

The menu utilizes footage from the film’s dreamy cinematography with accompaniment from the score. The result is an attractive menu that is quite easy to accommodate.

Photo by Andres Barrientos - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

This is a posed production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andres Barrientos. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

David Gallego’s monochrome cinematography is faithfully rendered in this beautiful image transfer that showcases impressive detail and clarity. Contrast is wonderfully on point while blacks are deep without crushing. The layer of fine grain adds a cinematic texture to the proceedings. This is yet another wonderful example of how fabulous black and white translates on Blu-ray.

Photo by Andrés Córdoba - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories - 3

This is a posed production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andrés Córdoba. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Sound Quality:

 4 of 5 Stars

 Oscilloscope’s lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA transfer is an extremely modest mix, but one cannot say that it doesn’t faithfully translate the film’s original theatrical sound elements to Blu-ray. The track is a quiet affair with a quiet ambience that works well for the film. One can hear the Amazon’s creepy insect life in the background, and other (less identifiable) jungle life also make their presence known. This never interferes with the film’s dialogue, which is presumably quite clear. (Although, one cannot say this with complete certainty. This reviewer isn’t a native speaker of any of this film’s identifiable languages.) Sound effect are well mixed and come to vivid life at the appropriate moments as well. Music seems to be given room enough to breath in the mix, and this all adds up to a perfectly fine mix (even if some might complain that it doesn’t give their sound systems much of a workout).

Photo by Andrés Córdoba - Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories - 2

This is a production still from the film. The photograph was taken by Andrés Córdoba. – Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Making Embrace of the Serpent – (1080p) – (23:45)

While this short book behind the scenes is hardly comprehensive and somewhat more difficult to digest, viewers are given a glimpse behind the scenes of a film that seems to have an unusual production history. The interviews with the cast and crew provide some interesting nuggets of information, but it is the location footage that really makes this program worth watching.

Adventure, Culture, History, Magic: In-Depth Behind the Scenes – (1080P) – (09:36)

We are also given four EPK promos that are labeled as being “In-Depth Behind the Scenes” featurettes. The truth is that there is absolutely no depth to these short clips at all. However, they are worth watching because the footage gives viewers a chance to see some “behind the scenes” footage (even if the interview narration isn’t particularly informative). As a matter of fact, some of this footage is in color, which adds to the novelty of these promos. A play all function is also included.

Lessons from the Amazon: New Interview with Brionne Davis – (1080P) – (15:03)

This interview with Brionne Davis is much more than the usual EPK promotional nonsense one usually expects to be included as a supplement. Not only does Davis discuss the preparatory chores that informed his performance and his experience shooting the film on location, his memories provide insights to the film as a whole. One’s appreciation for the film is enhanced after watching this fifteen minute interview, and most viewers should find that it gives them a new lens in which to view the film a second time. However, it must be said that the interview isn’t likely to convert those who didn’t enjoy the film in the first place.

Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) – (02:09)

The theatrical trailer is reasonably effective in its ability to get across the mood and tone of the film, and it is nice to see it included here.

American One Sheet.jpg

Final Words:

Colonialism takes a gut punch in Guerra’s mystical excursion into the vast reaches of the Amazon rainforest. This is required viewing for anyone looking for a truly unique cinematic experience, but it isn’t for everyone. Oscilloscope’s Blu-ray release offers a solid transfer and is probably the best way to see the film in one’s own home.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

Release Date: June 21, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 105 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Norwegian Dolby Atmos

Alternate Audio: 5.1 English Dolby True HD (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English, English Narrative, English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Bitrate: 31.01 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD edition.


This is the original one sheet that was used to promote the film.

“There are registered more than 300 unstable mountainsides in Norway. One of the largest is “Åkerneset.” It’s a system of cracks 800 meter long that keep expanding up to 15 cm per year. When, not if, it falls 7 million cubic meters of rock will crash into the fjord below, creating an 80-meter high tsunami that will hit the local community of Geiranger after just 10 minutes. It was the perfect starting point for the first ever-Scandinavian disaster movie.” –Roar Uthaug (Press Book)

The Wave (or Bølgen, if one prefers the film’s original title) may be the first Norwegian disaster film, but it should be mentioned that the filmmaker’s seem to have taken notes from the countless disaster films that have been made by Hollywood. All of the expected tropes of the genre are here, but Uthaug puts them to smarter use.

“With THE WAVE I wanted to bring a traditional Hollywood genre closer to home. Moving away from president’s speeches and megacity mayhem, I wanted to experience the destruction through a normal family and the small community they live in. Working from the thought that the closer you feel to the characters, the more impact the imposing disaster will have… And although we of course wanted to create spectacular action sequences through practical and visual effects, the biggest impact should always come from the emotions of the human drama.” –Roar Uthaug (Press Book)

It is this focus on character that helps to set The Wave apart from the typical disaster spectacle. Hollywood films often spend so much time planning the spectacle that they neglect character. Viewers are left with mere outlines of “types.” The audience has no one to sympathize (or empathize) with, so the spectacle doesn’t serve anything but the director’s ego.

All things considered, the film’s story isn’t particularly groundbreaking. Nestled in Norway’s Sunnmøre region, Geiranger is one of the most spectacular tourist draws on the planet. With the mountain Åkerneset overlooking the village (and constantly threatening to collapse into the fjord), it is also a place where cataclysm could strike at any moment. After putting in several years at Geiranger’s warning center, geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) is moving on to a prestigious gig with an oil company. But the very day he’s about to drive his family to their new life in the city, Kristian senses something isn’t right. The substrata are shifting. No one wants to believe that this could be the big one, especially with tourist season at its peak, but when that mountain begins to crumble, every soul in Geiranger has ten minutes to get to high ground before a tsunami hits, consuming everything in its path. All of this has the kind of high-concept extravagance that one might expect to find in the cheesiest Michael Bay production, but the filmmakers understand that character development matters.


Silje Breivik and Kristoffer Joner in THE WAVE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected by a standard Blu-ray case with film related artwork, and the case is protected by a special hologram slip cover.

 The menus utilize beach footage of the seascape as this environment slowly and subtly becomes more ominous. They are appropriate, attractive, and easy to navigate.


Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

It is always nice when a film’s Blu-ray transfer lives up to the format’s potential for clarity and detail, and this particular transfer is a good case in point. John Christian Rosenlund’s digital cinematography shines here. Actually, I would say that the overall effect is gorgeous. The lad and seascapes are nothing short of spectacular, and they are rendered with incredibly sharp detail. Contrast seems to be accurate as well. Solid blacks never seem to crush, and the image is clean and noise-free. If certain viewers disagree about this 5-star rating, it is probably because of the opening archival news footage. It is certainly of lesser quality, but this is intentional. It seems unfair to hold this against the film.


Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The star track on this disc is definitely the Dolby Atmos track, which is a transfer of the film’s original theatrical mix. This is an incredibly immersive track that almost warrants the purchase of a top quality sound system (just to hear it at in the best environment possible). To call the track “dynamic” might very well be an understatement. Disaster films are known for their engulfing sound mixes, and this is a film that doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The water sounds that make up the film’s primary atmosphere wraps around the viewer from every direction, and one feels that they are there with the characters. Even the more subtle sounds in the track are given resonance in this mix. It is quite an experience. The English-dubbed track is slightly less impressive than the two Norwegian options, but it is nice to have this included on the disc.


Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Behind the Scenes of “The Wave” – (1080P) – (04:29)

One would be daft to expect a proper “behind the scenes” look at the film after noting the four and a half minute runtime, but the viewer is given a very brief glimpse at some relatively interesting on-set footage. It is somewhat difficult to digest some of the interview blurbs (via subtitles) while attempting to view the footage, but this manages to marginally rise above the level of EPK fluff.

The Wave Visual Effects Breakdown: Part 1 – (1080P) – (03:14)

Lars Erik Hansen (VFX Supervisor) discusses the CGI creation of the film’s rockslide sequence, and the initial location scouting necessary to plan them.

The Wave Visual Effects Breakdown: Part 2 – (1080P) – (03:09)

Lars Erik Hansen (VFX Supervisor) discusses the CGI effects necessary to bring the film’s most famous sequence to life.

The Wave Visual Effects Breakdown: Part 3 – (1080P) – (03:06)

This final featurette concentrates on the effects created to bring the destruction of Geiranger to life on film.

Interview with Director Roar Uthuag – (1080i) – (04:29)

This English language interview with the film’s director isn’t very comprehensive, but some of Uthag’s remarks are interesting enough.

Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) – (02:09)

The film’s trailer features some of the film’s more sensational moments and it is easy enough to understand why. It isn’t the most interesting trailer in the universe, but it manages to get the job done. It is nice to have it included here.

That wraps up Magnolia’s supplemental package (unless one wishes to include the standard trailers for other Magnolia releases). The featurettes might have been marginally superior if the material had been edited as a single featurette with a twenty-something minute runtime, but this wouldn’t allow the packaging to promise five separate special features.


This is the American one sheet used to promote THE WAVE.

Final Words:

It is safe to say that fan of the disaster film genre will want to watch The Wave, and this exceptional Blu-ray is a near perfect way to view the film in one’s home environment. The disc more than makes up for its merely average supplemental package with an incredible image transfer, an excellent Norwegian sound mix, and the film’s dubbed-in-English soundtrack.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: June 28, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 1:32:37

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 Icelandic DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.39:1

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


“Conflicts between neighbors are very common in the countryside in Iceland.  Personally I know of many instances where people living side by side fall out and still have not spoken a word to each other many decades afterwards.  Often they even forget why they are enemies in the first place.  Icelanders are stubborn and autonomous people, they want to stand on their own two feet and they distrust everything that comes from the outside.  There’s a streak of independent thinking that sometimes goes beyond all logic…

… It’s a very tragic state of affairs when people are living in very isolated places, part of very small communities, but can’t speak to their closest neighbor.  And at the same time I find this situation quite comical.” -Grímur Hákonarson(Press Book)

Dry humor is peppered liberally throughout the length of Rams, and these comedic elements element keep the viewer interested in a story that might have otherwise been to recondite to engage the average viewer. However, it is the dramatic and somewhat suspenseful nature of this unusual story that makes the largest impression on its audience.

The story is really rather simple. In a secluded valley in Iceland, Gummi and Kiddi live side by side, tending to their sheep.  Their ancestral sheep-stock is considered one of the country’s best and the two brothers are repeatedly awarded for their prized rams who carry an ancient lineage.  Although they share the land and a way of life, Gummi and Kiddi have not spoken to each other in four decades.

When a lethal disease called “Scrapie” suddenly infects Kiddi’s sheep, the entire valley comes under threat.  The authorities decide to cull all the animals in the area to contain the outbreak. This is a near death sentence for the farmers, whose sheep are their main source of income, and many abandon their land.

Apparently, Grímur Hákonarson (the film’s writer and director) had first-hand knowledge about the disease that his plot hinges upon.

“Scrapie (BSE) is the most harmful disease the Icelandic countryside has ever had to face.  It’s an incurable virus that attacks the brains and spinal cords of sheep and is highly contagious.  The disease originally spread to Iceland through British sheep that arrived in the late 19th century.  So far it has not been possible to eradicate it completely.  This winter we saw at least three cases of scrapie in Northwest Iceland, so it’s very current and still scares people.  I know farmers who have suffered because of scrapie and I know the mental trauma that results when the entire stock needs to be slaughtered…

… Scrapie infected my niece’s sheep stock and it was a big emotional shock for her and her husband.  I experienced firsthand how this affected them psychologically… I started to think how it would feel for someone who lives alone, and who only has sheep, to be forced to slaughter an entire stock.” -Grímur Hákonarson(Press Book)

None of this should lead anyone to believe that the two brothers are willing to give up their land, their livelihood, and their heritage without a fight. Each brother tries to stave off the disaster in his own fashion: Kiddi by using his rifle and Gummi by using his wits.  As the authorities close in, the brothers will need to come together to save the special breed passed down for generations, and themselves, from extinction.

None of this really hints at the sort of cinematic experience that one can expect from Rams. Hákonarson has a way of lulling his audience into an easy state of amusement. One watches the film without realizing that they are being led down a dark alley… and there are many interesting things down this alley, but some of these things have sharp teeth. I believe that Tom McCarthy (director of Spotlight) said it better: “At first it charmed me and then it snuck up and punched me in the gut emotionally. That doesn’t happen a lot. It really caught me off guard.”

This one is really worth checking out if you haven’t already. It is a nice alternative to all of the comic book films floating around.

Screenshot 1.jpg

The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected by the standard Blu-ray case with a slightly altered version of the film’s one sheet artwork framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. Inside the case is a small booklet that features a chapter menu and film credits. The pages of this booklet is illustrated with various stills and screenshots from the film.

The animated menus utilize footage from the film with music from the film’s score. They are attractive and easy to navigate.

Screenshot 2.jpg

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Cohen Media Groups remarkably crisp image transfer showcases an exceptional level of detail with nice color balancing and appropriate contrast levels. Blacks are reasonably rich without seeming to crush detail, and digital anomalies never become a problem. This seems to be a relatively accurate reproduction of the HD source (though this reviewer didn’t have the pleasure of experiencing the film in theatres).

Screenshot 02

Sound Quality: 

4 of 5 Stars

Cohen’s 5.1 Icelandic DTS-HD Master Audio mix isn’t particularly dynamic, but it certainly serves the film admirably. The subtle scoring has room to breathe, and dialogue is always clear and appropriately mixed. Meanwhile, the sheep farm ambience is appropriately placed in the mix.

Screenshot 4

Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Wrestling (A Short Film by Grímur Hákonarson)(22:26)

Wrestling is Hákonarson’s second short film. It premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in 2007 and went on to win 25 festival prizes around the world. It is also one of the most successful short films from Iceland. The story concerns two gay wrestlers who carry on a secret relationship with one another but might be facing the end of their affair. One’s enjoyment of this film will probably depend as much upon their personal feelings about the subject matter as any aesthetic tastes.

It is always nice to have a director’s early short efforts included in a Blu-ray package. It is too bad that this doesn’t happen more often.

Interview with Grímur Hákonarson (Director) – (04:44)

This is merely a short promotional piece. Don’t expect a comprehensive look into the making of Rams or even a proper discussion about the film. Instead we are shown an edited compilation of interview clips and footage from the film (most of which was included in the trailer). The information provided is interesting but not particularly enlightening.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:28)

A film’s theatrical trailer is always an essential Blu-ray ingredient, and it is especially interesting to see how Rams was marketed to American audiences.

Screenshot 5

Final Words:

This eccentric film should be enjoyable viewing for anyone who loves offbeat cinema, and Cohen Media Group’s Blu-ray release is the perfect way to experience it.

Review by: Devon Powell