Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Blu-ray Cover (2)

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: May 09, 2017

Region: Region Free (A & B)

Length: 86 mins

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Notes: Arrow Video also includes a DVD copy of the film in this package.

SS01

The name, Frank Henenlotter, carries a bit of weight in certain circles. He is the man behind such cult horror favorites as Basket Case, Frankenhooker, and Brain Damage, which is making its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Arrow Video. Elmer is your friendly neighborhood parasite that has the ability to induce euphoric hallucinations in his hosts. But these LSD-like trips come with a hefty price tag. When young Brian comes under Elmer’s addictive spell, it’s not long before he finds himself scouring the city streets in search of his parasite’s preferred food source—brains! Brain Damage boasts some of the most astonishing bad taste gore-gags ever realized, including the notorious ‘brain-pulling’ sequence and a blowjob that ends with a distinctly unconventional climax.

In case the above description doesn’t make it abundantly clear, it should be said that this darkly comic horror confection will divide audiences. It certainly makes a distinct impression on the viewer, but whether this impression is positive or negative will depend on the viewers personal viewing tastes. Just don’t try watching this one with dear old grandma. That would just be awkward.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses their Blu-ray and DVD discs in their usual sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck and the original Manson International one sheet design. This case and its artwork are further protected by an O-Card (or slipcover) with additional artwork that sweetens an already attractive presentation.

Blu-ray Cover

Arrow’s Limited Edition Slip Cover

There is also an attractively illustrated booklet that includes an essay entitled A Mind and a Terrible Thing: The Story of Brain Damage” by Michael Gingold. The essay gives the reader a glimpse into the film’s production as well as an affectionate appreciation of the film that should add to the viewer’s experience (though we suggest watching the film before reading this essay or watching any of Arrow’s supplemental material). Transfer information and production credits are also included amongst a generous helping of production photographs and marketing artwork.

 [Note: The aforementioned booklet and O-Card are only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

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

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s included transfer and restoration information is less detailed than is usual, but it is suggested that some effort was put into this new presentation:

Brain Damage is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with mono sound. The High Definition master was supplied for this release by Mark Holdom/Mackinac. Additional picture restoration was completed by Deluxe, London.” –Collector’s Booklet

The resulting image is an undeniable improvement over previous releases with the film’s vivid colors well realized and a layer of grain that is reasonably well resolved most of the time but can occasionally look a bit awkward. There is a reasonable level of fine detail on display throughout the duration of the film. If there is a deficiency in the level of detail in some of the scenes, this is the result of the lighting design and doesn’t seem to be an issue with the transfer. Unfortunately, clarity isn’t always one of the transfer’s stronger attributes. The darkness inherent in many of the film’s scenes is served well by attractive and inky black levels. The overall result is probably the best that one can reasonably expect from the source material—even if it isn’t as solid as viewers might expect from the Blu-ray format.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow includes two different audio mixes: the original mono mix is presented as a Linear PCM Audio track and a new 5.1 stereo mix is available in the DTS-HD Master Audio format. The independent nature of the film’s production makes for a sometimes flawed audio presentation, but these tracks certainly aren’t responsible for these deficiencies. Both tracks are reasonably solid, though it is unreasonable to expect the 5.1 mix to be as dynamic as one expects from more recent films. The score does seem to benefit from the subtle separations on display in this mix and effects are sometimes well served by this mix as well. However, purists will probably opt for the Mono track.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Frank Henenlotter (Writer and Director)

While the commentary originally available on the previous Synapse release of the film hasn’t been carried over to Arrow’s superior new Blu-ray release, they have made up for this fact by providing this brand new commentary track by Frank Henenlotter that is moderated by Mike Hunchback. The result is a humorously engaging conversation that covers a variety of pertinent topics without ever becoming too dry and pretentious. The track is informative about the production without ever becoming too precious about the film itself.

Isolated Score

Arrow gives fans the opportunity to watch the film with the score highlighted without distraction from the other sound elements. The track is presented in a 2.0 Linear PCM audio transfer.

Listen to the Light: The Making of Brain Damage – (1080P) – (54:13)

The disc’s greatest supplemental attribute is this excellent retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Rick Herbst (actor), Edgar Ievins (producer), Al Magliochetti (visual effects supervisor), James Kwei (editor), Dan Frye (makeup supervisor), and Gregory Lamberson (assistant director). The unfortunate absence of Frank Henenlotter is undeniably awkward, but those who participated in this program do a good job of providing the viewer with an abundance of interesting background information on the film’s production. The interviews are illustrated with footage from the film, video footage from ‘behind the scenes’ of the production, and production stills. Fans will be very pleased!

Q&A with Frank Henenlotter – (1080P) – (20:36)

Arrow makes up for Frank Henenlotter’s absence in Listen to the Light with the inclusion of this informative question-and-answer session recorded at the 2016 Offscreen Film Festival. It covers some of the same information included in his commentary track, but there is plenty of new information revealed here to make it well worth the viewer’s time (especially if they are a fan of the film).

The Effects of Brain Damage – (1080P) – (10:00)

Gabe Bartalos—the man responsible for bringing “Elmer” to life—discusses his excellent effects work on the film in a reasonably in-depth fashion. His interview reveals some interesting revelations about how various Elmers were employed to perform different specific functions throughout the film. The discussion is illustrated with some interesting “behind the scenes” footage.

Animating Elmer – (1080P) (06:40)

Al Magliochetti discusses his contributions to Brain Damage as the film’s visual effects supervisor. His memories of working on the film’s stop motion effects for a few of the shots are especially interesting as is the revelation that he included some subliminal messages throughout the film.

Karen Ogle: A Look Back – (1080P) (04:29)

Slightly less essential is this short interview with Karen Ogle—the film’s stills photographer, script supervisor, and assistant editor. Ogle’s memories of the production were obviously happy ones—even if her multiple jobs created a challenge. She also seems to have a particular fondness for Frank Henenlotter.

Elmer’s Turf: The NYC Locations of “Brain Damage – (1080P) (08:48)

This featurette features Michael Gingold and Frank Henenlotter as they revisit some of the film’s shooting locations. Fans will be grateful to have this included here (even if it isn’t particularly revelatory).

Tasty Memories: A “Brain Damage” Obsession – (1080P) (10:00)

One wonders why Arrow even bothered with this somewhat unusual interview with Adam Skinner—a Brain Damage “superfan” that doesn’t have any real connection with the film’s production. It is somewhat interesting to see his collection of posters, videos, and other oddities—and the interview does reinforce the film’s undeniable cult status. We simply grow weary as he shamelessly hypes his band (The Statutory Apes)—and while we understand its inclusion here, their music video is just too much.

Bygone Behemoth(1080P) (05:08)

Harry Chaskin’s animated short features an appearance by John Zacherle that ended up being his final onscreen credit. Fans of stop-motion will enjoy this short tale about an old dinosaur living in a contemporary urban setting.

Aylmer: The Brain, The Voice, The Worm – (03:40)

This is a silly puppet show performed on a trash can that features Aylmer jamming out to music. Fans will find it entertaining, but it won’t quench one’s thirst for production information or analysis.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (1080P) (01:15)

The very eighties theatrical trailer doesn’t really do proper justice to the film. It focuses more on the silly tonal qualities of the film without hinting at its darker thematic elements that elevate the material and make it interesting.

Image Galleries:

This collection of photographs and marketing art is divided into three separate categories:

Stills – (1080P) (04:18)

Behind the Scenes – (1080P) (01:35)

Ephemera – (1080P) (00:52)

The photographs are a nice way to round out the disc, but one wonders if they wouldn’t have been more enjoyable if they had been included as part of the included collector’s booklet.

SS06

Final Words

Arrows Blu-ray upgrade earns an easy recommendation for the film’s many fans. However, those who haven’t seen the film might want to do some preliminary research before making a blind purchase.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: May 09, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 02:45:15

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 03:36:25

Heroic Purgatory – 01:58:07

Coup D’Etat 01:49:51

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

Main Audio:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Heroic Purgatory – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Coup D’Etat Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 2.35:1

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 2.35:1

Heroic Purgatory – 1.33:1

Coup D’Etat 1.33:1

Bitrate:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 31.88 Mbps

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 25.99 Mbps

Heroic Purgatory – 23.49 Mbps

Coup D’Etat 24.49 Mbps

Notes: This release includes DVD editions of each film. In total, there are seven discs included in this package (three Blu-rays and four DVDs).

SS01

“One could say that in this film there are two times, chronologically speaking: ours and that of fifty years ago—Osugi’s time.  In this sense, one could say that it deals with the problem of time, but for me what’s important is the present. Reflecting on the present is also reflecting on the future: it is at the same time wanting to change the present and seizing a hold of that which will become the future. This is the subject of the film and not Osugi as a historical character per se. The fundamental theme is: how to change the world, and what is it that needs to be changed?  Reflecting on the present situation through the medium of an era already past, I came to believe that Osugi’s problems continue to be ours.

Osugi is very well known in Japan—one could say almost legendary: he is someone who spoke of free love.  He was assassinated in 1923 by an official of the state, massacred by the power of the state. This is what all Japanese historians believe, but this historical estimation only enlightens the past and not the future. In making this film, I wanted to transform the legend of Osugi by means of the imaginary. Sure enough, Osugi was oppressed by the power of the state in his political activities. But most of all, he spoke of free love, which has the power to destroy the monogamous structure, then the family, and finally the state. And it was this very escalation that the state could not allow. It was because of this crime of the imaginary (or ‘imaginary crime’) that the state massacred Osugi. Osugi was someone who envisioned a future…

… I would like to remind you of the murder attempt [during] the second part of the film—the knife penetrating Osugi’s neck, filmed in a realistic manner: this is the plain and simple representation of the narrative.  In filming this attempt a second time, my intention was to destroy this narrative, to deform the actual event, in order to enter into Osugi: I thought that maybe Osugi preferred to be killed—in contrast to what the first version of the attempt showed. It comes right after he starts to consider the destruction of the revolution he desired; it was after this destruction that he began to speak of free love, in other words, of an imaginary crime. In this version of the attempt, then, it should not come about because of jealousy, not due to a psychological element, but from a political cause.  Thus I had Osugi say: ‘Revolution is only the renunciation of the self,’ or ‘in love and terror, there is ecstasy.’ In having Osugi say this, I wanted the spectator to feel the absence of revolution in the present situation. For the third version of the attempt, I tried to show the contrary view, namely Noe, the attacker. In opposition to Kurosawa, it is always the renunciation of the self that is important for me: it is only this way that communication with Noe and Itsuko is possible, and only by means of it that one is able to think the future.” –Yoshishige (“Kiju”) Yoshida (Cahiers du Cinéma, October 1970)

As the above quote about Eros + Massacre—undoubtedly the strongest entry in the director’s trilogy of Japanese radicalism—suggests, Yoshida’s trilogy is both innately political and extremely sexual (not that either of these traits is mutually exclusive).

A contemporary of Nagisa Oshima (Death by Hanging, In the Realm of the Senses) and Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower, Assassination), Kiju Yoshida started out as an assistant to Keisuke Kinoshita before making his directorial debut at age 27. In the decades that followed he produced more than 20 features and documentaries, yet each and every one has proven difficult to see in the English-speaking world.

Perhaps this is because one must have at least a general contextual knowledge of Japan’s socio-political landscape during the nineteen sixties and seventies to fully appreciate his work. Eros + Massacre, Heroic Purgatory, and Coup D’Etat form a loose trilogy united by their radical politics and an even more radical shooting style. Eros + Massacre (presented here in two different versions) tells the parallel stories of early 20th-century anarchist (and free love advocate) Sakae Osugi and a pair of student activists. Their stories interact and intertwine—resulting in a complex work that is arguably Yoshida’s masterpiece. Heroic Purgatory pushes the dazzling cinematic language of Eros + Massacre even further, presenting a bleak but dreamlike investigation into the political discourses taking place in early seventies Japan. Coup d’état returns to the past for a biopic of Ikki Kita, the right-wing extremist who sought to overthrow the government in 1936. Yoshida considered the film to be the culmination of his work and temporarily retired from feature filmmaking following its completion—though he would return to the director’s chair over a decade later to make A Promise in 1986.

SS02

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s packaging for this release will no doubt impress anyone with a fondness for classic Japanese cinema. Four items are held in a very sturdy box featuring an attractive design. Three of these items are clear cases which hold the Blu-ray and DVD discs. Each case features its own reversible decorative sleeve. The first case houses the Blu-ray and DVD Editions of the Director’s Cut for Eros + Massacre, the second holds that same film’s Theatrical Version, and the third actually includes a Blu-ray disc featuring both Heroic Purgatory and Coup d’Etat and two DVD discs (one for each of these two films).

The fourth item included in the box is a small limited edition softbound book featuring essays about Yoshishige Yoshida and the films included in the set. Contributors include David Desser (co-editor of the Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema), Isolde Standish (author of Politics, Porn, and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s) and Dick Stegewerns (author of Kiju Yoshida: 50 Years of Avant-Garde Filmmaking in Post-War Japan). Each of the essays offers instructive information and analysis that should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of these films.

Disc 1 - Menu

Disc 2 - Menu

Disc 3 - Main Menu

Disc 3 - Heroic Purgatory Menu

Disc 3 - Coup D'Etat

All of these discs contain menus that are somewhat different than those on most Arrow releases, but they are all attractive and easy to navigate.

SS03

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

With the exception of the director’s cut of Eros + Massacre, each of these transfers offers equally solid transfers. The director’s cut is more than three and a half hours in length resulting in a slightly lower bitrate than was used for the theatrical version (which was only two hours and forty-five minutes in length). However, we feel that the significant decrease in picture quality is the result of an inferior source print. The longer director’s cut is noticeably too bright and blown out—which reduces fine detail significantly.

The rest of the three transfers are much better with Heroic Purgatory being marginally superior to the others. All feature strong contrast with nice black levels and showcase a fair amount of fine detail. The image isn’t as razor sharp as contemporary films, but one feels that these represent the originals rather faithfully. Coup D’Etat features a few moments of disappointing clarity but it really isn’t anything to complain about.

SS04

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Each film features a solid lossless mono track—with the theatrical version of Eros + Massacre given a slightly more technically robust transfer. Each track represents its respective film nicely and the sound design featured in each of the films is often quite interesting. Some will no doubt lament the lack of a more dynamic mix of these films, but all that matters to this reviewer is that each track is a reasonably flawless reflection of the original source, and these tracks certainly fall in line with those expectations.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

8 Scene Commentary Tracks for Eros + Massacre (Theatrical Version) by David Desser

9 Scene Commentary Tracks for Eros + Massacre (Director’s Cut) by David Desser

10 Scene Commentary Tracks for Heroic Purgatory by David Desser

7 Scene Commentary Tracks for Coup d’etat by David Desser

These scene commentaries by David Desser will fascinate anyone with an interest in Japanese cinema (especially if they also happen to have a fondness for scholarly analysis). Each is highly informative and make valuable contributions to one’s understanding and appreciation of these films.

Yoshida …or: The Explosion of the Story – (30:10)

It is nice to find a documentary about Eros + Massacre included on this set—especially one that features Yoshishige Yoshida himself! This French production also includes contributions from Mathieu Capel and Jean Douchet. It is a very strong addition to the disc.

Introduction to Heroic Purgatory by Yoshida – (06:08)

Introduction to Coup d Etat by Yoshida – (05:22)

Yoshida offers slightly more substantial introductions to Heroic Purgatory and Coup d Etat than one might expect. Introductions usually don’t provide much in the way of valuable information or analysis, but these are actually worth the viewer’s time and the disc space that they occupy.

Eros + Massacre (Theatrical Version): Discussion with David Desser – (11:21)

Eros + Massacre (Director’s Cut): Discussion with David Desser – (09:08)

Heroic Purgatory: Discussion with David Desser – (09:14)

Coup d’etat: Discussion with David Desser – (08:51)

David Desser’s exclusive discussions are also well worth the time that it takes to watch them. Desser is the author of Eros + Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave and obviously has a passion for Japanese cinema (even if he can come off as a bit dry). Much like his scene commentaries, the information that he reveals along with some analysis adds to one’s appreciation of these films.

Eros + Massacre Theatrical Trailer – (03:30)

Heroic Purgatory Theatrical Trailer – (03:04)

Coup d Etat Theatrical Trailer – (02:58)

One always hopes that the original trailers will be included in a Blu-ray package—especially when the films are as obscure and unusual as these happen to be.

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Final Words:

Devotees of Japanese cinema should certainly see this interesting trilogy and Arrow’s wonderful boxed set is currently the only way to make this happen

Review by: Devon Powell

 

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Original Theatrical Version01:53:14

Director’s Cut02:13:53

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate:

Original Theatrical Version34.08 Mbps

Director’s Cut34.04 Mbps

Notes: This title also includes DVD copies of each version of the film.

Tite

Ambiguity is frowned upon by marketing departments…Everyone wants to put something in a box [or] a specific category. And that’s unfortunate because to me the great films break those barriers. They spread far and wide in their reach. So now we’re blessed. It’s been fifteen years and people now just let the film exist. They let it be what it needed to be, which is its own weird self—its own thing. And luckily people have supported it in such a way that now ‘Donnie Darko can just be ‘Donnie Darko.’ It doesn’t have to try and be something else.” –Richard Kelly (Flickering Myth, December 16, 2016)

The “ambiguity” pervading Donnie Darko makes writing about the film almost as difficult as trying to market it—but it also makes for an incredibly rich viewing experience. The film wasn’t the only thing being projected onto that giant screen in October, 2001. The viewer’s own interests, baggage, experiences, and concerns were also projected comfortably into that same space. It allows for personalized interpretation and the result is that the film is still being discussed all these many years later.

“It’s about what each viewer wants it to be about. I like to let people come up with their own answers. I see it as more of a science fiction story. I see it as a superhero story in a lot of ways. Other people see it as a movie about mental illness, or they see it as a film about a dream. They’re all equally valid theories, I guess.” –Richard Kelly (Vice, December 19, 2016)

So ask not what Donnie Darko means, ask what Donnie Darko means to you.

SS01

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

It is impossible to think of a Blu-ray release of a single film with superior packaging to this gorgeous release of Donnie Darko—even if it does include two very different cuts of the same film. Arrow has really gone above and beyond the call of duty with this release, but this is what sets Arrow apart from similar labels.

Limited Edition

Three items are held in a very sturdy box featuring new artwork by Candice Tripp: There are two Digipak cases—one for each of the two cuts of the film—and each case houses both a Blu-ray disc and a DVD containing that particular cut of the film. The third item is a ninety-two-page hardback collector’s book that includes a short “Foreword” by Jake Gyllenhaal, a new four page essay about the film entitled “Donnie Darko, Adolescence and the Lost Art of Remembering and Forgetting” by Nathan Rabin, an archival article about the film and its director from a 2001 issue of Film Comment Magazine entitled “Discovery: Richard Kelly” by Mark Olsen, an archival thirty-page interview with Richard Kelly from “The Donnie Darko Book” entitled “Asking Cosmic Questions” by Kevin Conroy Scott, a new four-page essay about the late Patrick Swayze’s career and his image-bending performance in Donnie Darko entitled “The Cult of Patrick Swayze” by Jamie Graham, and an essay about Richard Kelly’s post-Darko career entitled “After Darko: How Richard Kelly Adapted to the Apocalypse” by Anton Bitel. All of these writings are instructive and add to one’s appreciation of the film, and it is beautifully illustrated with production stills and promotional materials. Candice Tripp’s artwork features prominently on all three of these items.

All of this would be pretty amazing all on its own, but Arrow goes even further by including a few surprise in a folder-like compartment within the Digipak cases. The Director’s Cut includes an envelope addressed to Roberta Sparrow from “Darko” that is labeled as “extremely important.” Inside the envelope is seven art cards. The first art card features the same design that is showcased on the front of the box on both sides. The other 6 cards have different designs on the front and part of a larger image on the back. When they are put together correctly they form that same front cover image. (In short, the cards act as a kind of puzzle—albeit one that is incredibly simple to solve.) The Theatrical Version’s case holds a reversible poster that features the film’s original one-sheet design on one side and Candace Tripp’s new cover artwork on the alternate side. It is a toss-up as to which I prefer because both designs are very good.

Menu - Theatrical Cut

Menu - Director's Cut

Both of the discs include animated menus that utilize footage and music from the film and are easy to navigate. Everything about this release is remarkable and Arrow should be commended for their efforts.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“[I received] a wonderful phone call to get from Arrow. They’re a great company and they take great care of these restorations. I think it was an issue where, after fifteen years, the rights were being renegotiated and had changed hands and Arrow was very aggressive about wanting the film. They campaigned for the right to restore the film and this is something I had always wanted to do.

The movie was never transferred properly. It was a very poor transfer for many years. So I had a window where I could devote time to helping—getting into the restoration in a very deep way. That was a great opportunity because it’s something that the film always needed and it was good that we were able to do it now. Otherwise, it would have been having it done without my input. That would have been so stressful for me. I spent a lot of time obsessed with every shot of the movie, this is very much an approved restoration.” –Richard Kelly (The Hollywood News, January 09, 2017)

Richard Kelly’s enthusiasm for this 4K restoration transfer from Arrow Video is evident in the above quote, and he has every right to be proud of this beautiful work as it is absolutely breathtaking. The technical specifics of the restoration were detailed in the beautiful book that comes with this set:

Donnie Darko has been exclusively restored for this release by Arrow Films… The original 35mm camera negative [from the somewhat grainy 800 ASA 35mm stock] was scanned in 4K resolution on a pin-registered 4K Lasergraphics Director scanner at Deluxe Media, Burbank. Although the original 35mm camera negative served as the primary restoration source for both the theatrical and director’s cut versions, a 35mm digital intermediate element was scanned for some sections unique to the Director’s Cut.

Film grading and restoration were completed at Deluxe Restoration, London. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and light scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools. Additional grading was performed at Deluxe, Culver City, under the supervision of director Richard Kelly and director of photography Steven Poster.” –Arrow Video (Limited Edition Collector’s Book)

The resulting image is noticeably superior to the somewhat disappointing previous transfers of the film—including the problematic Blu-ray editions from Fox Home Entertainment. The two versions of the film are given their own Blu-ray disc allowing for the disc’s maxed out bitrate—and better quality.

It should be stressed that the film was shot on a high-speed film stock that resulted in a rather grainy image and some of the lens filters used by Steven Poster intentionally gave the film a softer look. In other words, viewers shouldn’t expect a grain-less razor-sharp image. This is celluloid—and it is beautiful! The layer of grain simply makes the transfer look more filmic and never gets in the way of fine detail—which becomes all the more impressive when one compares the image with previous transfers. The difference is revelatory! Rest assured that the color grading reflects the filmmaker’s original intentions with fantastic black levels that are deep without going overboard.

The transfer is also relatively free of any noticeable digital anomalies and artifacts such as aliasing, banding, blocking, noise reduction issues, or etcetera. What we get is a perfect 1080p representation of the original photography (which wasn’t always perfect), and this is all that any reasonable viewer should expect.

SS03

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer for the theatrical version of the film is technically superior (48 kHz, 4160 kbps, 24-bit) to the one used for the director’s cut (48 kHz, 2542 kbps, 24-bit)—but neither track is anything to complain about. Both represent the original audio mixes honorably. Dialogue is always crisp, clear, and well prioritized in both versions of the film. Both mixes also have some effective separations and it should be said that the film’s noteworthy music sounds amazing on these lossless tracks. There are certainly differences between these tracks in terms of the music, sound effects, and even the mixing—and both have a slightly different effect on the audience. However, both are excellent even if the director’s cut is more dynamic.

SS04

Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

This release is absolutely stacked with supplemental materials and includes all of the extras from the film’s many previous home video releases along with a few brand new additions from Arrow. There are three feature-length commentary tracks, about four and a half hours of video based material, and even commentary tracks for several of the supplements. It is actually a bit overwhelming!

THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL VERSION – (DISC 1):

Audio Commentary with Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal

Perhaps the best of the three commentaries included in this set is this discussion by Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal. It is conversational and incredibly informal but still manages to relay enough information about the film and its production to make it worthwhile.

Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew

The cast and crew commentary features Sean McKittrick (Producer), Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Holmes Osborne, Mary McDonnell, Katherine Ross, Beth Grant, and James Duval. Each participant reveals fond memories from the set and there are discussions about the film’s meaning—but one laments the time that is wasted on congratulatory praise. The resulting track isn’t quite as informative as the other two tracks but is always engaging. Fans will certainly want to give it a listen.

The Goodbye Place (1996) (08:43)

This was Richard Kelly’s first film effort and was made while attending USC as a class project. Shot in black and white without any traditional dialogue (only voice over is used), the short tells the story of a young abused boy who is offered refuge by a group of mysterious strangers who might be responsible for many unsolved disappearances. There are definitely elements of the film that remind one of Donnie Darko. It is a wonderful addition to this incredible set.

Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko – (01:25:32)

Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko is a brand new feature-length documentary about the making of Donnie Darko and its lasting legacy. The documentary was directed by Daniel Griffith and includes new interviews with Richard Kelly (Writer and Director), Sean McKittrick (Producer), Steven Poster (Cinematographer), Sam Bauer (Editor), Michael Andrews (Composer), April Ferry (Costume Designer), James Duval (Frank), and Robert V. Galluzzo. ‘Behind the scenes’ footage from The Donnie Darko Production Diary, production stills, articles and reviews, and footage from the film itself is utilized to illustrate the various revelations divulged by these participants.

The result is a comprehensive examination of the films making and reception. One is reminded of those incredible “making of” documentaries that were made in the early days of laser disc and DVD—a time when “special features” were actually special and not merely a tired marketing gimmick. This is a documentary with meat on its bones!

20 Deleted and Alternate Scenes – (31:54)

(w/ Optional Commentary by Richard Kelly)

Many of these scenes are included in the director’s cut of the film, but it is nice to have these included if only for the optional commentary track that plays over these scenes. The track was recorded well before the film was given a director’s cut and appeared on the original DVD release of the theatrical cut. It is quite evident that Richard Kelly wasn’t terribly happy about losing some of these scenes.

Those who haven’t already indulged in the director’s cut might wish to watch that particular version of the film before viewing these scenes. One feels that the experience of both will be more rewarding this way.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:28)

It is nice to see the original theatrical cut included here. It isn’t nearly as unique as the film that it promotes, but one can’t have everything.

Director's Cut - SS

RICHARD KELLY’S DIRECTOR’S CUT – (DISC 2):

Audio Commentary with Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith

It is nice that a commentary is included for the director’s cut, but this particular track seems like a missed opportunity. For one thing, Kevin Smith isn’t the best moderator in the universe and many of the questions that one hopes will be answered in this director’s cut track aren’t even discussed. Richard Kelly does reveal some interesting information here (some of it new to this track), but one certainly hopes for more revelatory information.

The Donnie Darko Production Diary – (52:54)

(w/ Optional Commentary by cinematographer Steven Poster)

The Donnie Darko Production Diary is an archival fly-on-the-wall documentary charting the film’s production. It is made up entirely of ‘behind the scenes’ video footage and is completely free of interviews to provide context. The result is an interesting look at the film’s production and this is without any doubt the most significant supplement on this particular disc.

To make this addition to the disc even sweeter, Steven Poster provides an informal commentary track for the documentary that reveals some interesting tidbits of information about the production that is impossible to gather from the raw footage alone.

B-roll Footage (04:37)

Viewers who have a fondness for “behind the scenes” footage will be happy to see these short clips from the set of the film.

15 Archival Interviews: Richard Kelly, Mary MacDonnell, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle and Katharine Ross, producers Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry, Casey La Scala, and Steven Poster (14:20)

These are the standard publicity interview clips that are often sent to the various news (or entertainment news) outlets so that they can edit them into their coverage about the film. Of course, this means that the comments made are somewhat generalized and not very revealing, but they are a nice look at the film’s publicity.

They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of ‘Donnie Darko’ (30:17)

They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of ‘Donnie Darko’ is loosely connected to the inferior They Made Me Do It featurette—but this is less esoteric and more relevant. (See below to read about that particular supplement). This half-hour documentary is an examination of the film’s reception in the UK versus its US release. The film was released much later in the UK giving the film time to gain some word-of-mouth momentum, and this resulted in superior box-office success. Journalists and fans discuss their opinions as to why this happened while also revealing what the film means to them. The “They Made Me Do It” art exhibition is briefly discussed here, but it is simply part of the bigger conversation about the film’s impact on the culture.

4 Storyboard to Screen Comparisons (07:58)

Four storyboarded scenes are compared to the film’s final footage. This feature should be instructive viewing for feature filmmakers.

Mad World by Gary Jules (03:21)

The music video for this hit Tears for Fears cover track (which features at the end of the film) utilizes a generous portion of Donnie Darko footage—and is an essential addition to the disc as the song is very much a part of the film’s success story.

Cunning Visions Infomercials (w/ Optional Commentary) (05:43)

Those who have already seen Donnie Darko will remember the Cunning Vision video that Mrs. Farmer forces on her students. Now you can see this footage in all its glory—and there is even a very silly mock commentary track included for this footage.

#1 Fan: A Darkomentary (13:18)

Apparently, a promotional contest was held to determine Donnie Darko’s biggest fan—wherein various fans submitted videos proving their devotion to the film. The winner would have their video included on the Director’s Cut DVD release of Donnie Darko. This is the winning video and is actually pretty amusing, but it is difficult to believe that it wasn’t staged.

They Made Me Do It (04:48)

They Made Me Do It is a look at a group of graffiti artists and their Donnie Darko inspired artwork. This exhibition of artwork was probably some sort of publicity gimmick for the director’s cut (although this isn’t made clear) and was based in the UK. Some of the artwork is interesting, but this particular featurette isn’t as essential as many of the other supplements included here.

Director’s Cut Trailer (00:55)

The theatrical trailer for the “director’s cut” release is fairly standard but it is nice to have it included on the disc.

TV Spots

This collection of television spots provides the viewer with an interesting look at the film’s marketing campaign which apparently didn’t work incredibly well considering the fact that the film wasn’t a box-office success. The collection includes five separate spots:

Sacrifice – (00:32)

Darker – (00:32)

Era – (00:32)

Cast – (00:17)

Dark – (00:17)

Picture Gallery

This picture gallery is the standard collection of promotional stills and is probably another carryover from the previous DVD release. They probably would’ve been more enjoyable as additions to the included collector’s book, but it is nice that they have been included in some form. 

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Final Words:

Soon after the original theatrical version of the film was released on DVD, Richard Kelly expressed his dissatisfaction with that release and announced his desire to release a director’s cut:

“I kind of hope to assemble a director’s cut. I’d really love to be able to do a Criterion double-disc for this. If the movie ever catches on and earns a degree of success on home video then maybe they’ll let me do that down the road with a slightly longer director’s cut where I can put some of these scenes back in the film. I’d really love to be able to do that if they’d let me have my original poster art and packaging—not the lowest common denominator packaging [that they used for the current DVD edition]…

…I was given pressure to cut 10 minutes from the film… We were having a lot of trouble getting a distributor and they heard through the grapevine that Miramax still wanted the film, but that Harvey Weinstein would only look at the film if it were 10 minutes shorter. That’s his rule. They made me cut 10 minutes because they heard that that was Harvey’s rule. And it probably isn’t even Harvey’s rule, you know? It was almost like they said, ‘We don’t know what to do, but you have to cut 10 minutes.’ And I was like, ‘Why not eight minutes?’ And they said, ‘No, it has to be 10.’ It became idiotic and frustrating.” –Richard Kelly (Stumped Magazine)

Kelly later confessed that he enjoys both versions of the film but insists that the director’s cut of the film “is a lot closer to what premiered at Sundance Film Festival.”

“I don’t favor one cut over the other. That’s why when we decided to do a restoration we decided to do it on both cuts and have both available. I was able to make more enhancements to the director’s cut because there was some stuff that wasn’t finished properly, and we improved the visual effects in some places. I had to spend more time on the time travel book, and I wanted those who wanted to know more to have access to that information. Both cuts have their virtues and I’m not completely satisfied with either of them, but they are what they are. But it was great being able to go back and getting the image re-enhanced. It looks so much better, especially on the big screen. People have never seen it in this way and it’s a significant change.” –Richard Kelly (Culture Whisper)

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which version of the film one prefers—because Arrow Video has included both versions in what may be their best release of a single film so far. That “Criterion” package he mentioned all those years ago has finally seen the light of day—only it is an Arrow Video release! Needless to say, Criterion has some pretty strong competition.

SS06

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:57:07

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish DTS

5.1 French DTS

Dolby Digital DVS (Descriptive Video Service)

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

Ratio: 2.39:1

Bitrate: 34.89 Mbps

Note: This release includes a DVD, a digital, and an UltraViolet copy of the film.

Title.jpg

“What’s really interesting about [Dissociative Identity] Disorder is that it’s controversial. Even in the field, they’re saying I’m not sure any of this is legit. A lot of people. I believe in it, 100%. It’s interesting—it’s almost like what you’re asking is what the field is asking themselves. How much of this is fact? How much of what you’re saying can be proved? … But everything was [taken] from documented cases. The person who was blind and then some of their identities could see. One identity has diabetes but none of the other identities have diabetes. One has high cholesterol, one doesn’t, one is allergic to bee stings, the rest aren’t. Your body chemistry is so affected by your mind. We know this. We just haven’t been faced with this. We know we can give ourselves an ulcer. We know we can raise our blood pressure. We know that we can give ourselves hives. If we can do those things, what other things can your mind do? We know the placebo effect exists. I so much wanted to make a movie about the placebo effect—were all just walking around, accepting the Placebo Effect? Everybody just knows that a certain percentage of us can cure our diseases because we think we have the cure—but it’s sugar? Your cells are cured! You change your cells.” –M. Night Shyamalan (Empire Online, January 24, 2017)

Despite some somewhat ridiculous negative publicity surrounding the film’s portrayal of Kevin’s Dissociative Identity Disorder (for alleged stigmatization of the mental illness), Split can safely be called an enormously successful thriller. It asks interesting questions while also delivering a well-balanced and suspenseful blend of dark comedy and horror. This film is M. Night Shyamalan’s strongest effort in well over a decade—topping even The Visit, which was considered a return to form for the director.

Much has been written about James McAvoy incredible performance in the film but Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Casey Cooke is just as noteworthy. Casey is an outsider dealing with an unknown troubled past. This sounds like yet another genre cliché, but Shyamalan uses this genre trope differently than we have seen it used in the past. He doesn’t use her backstory in order to give the superficial impression of a three-dimensional character. Her backstory is woven into the very fabric of his story and its various themes.

“The conversation was about the things that happen to us, that change us. Is that bad? Is it always true that being normal is the right place? That non-suffering is the way of life, you know? I think Casey’s character feels that as well: she feels detached from everyone because she feels so different. She’s had a different experience. These kind of healthy girls that she’s with, she can’t really relate to them. They’re not mean—they’re actually really nice. It’s the flip of a [conventional] horror movie—normally, they’re bad girls who are having sex and doing drugs, so they get killed. It’s a flip in this movie: you’re in a life—threatening situation because you’re good. I was explaining this to everyone; ‘These are the nice girls.’” –M. Night Shyamalan (Den of Geek, January 17, 2017)

One doesn’t want to be too specific (it would be a crime to give too much away before allowing readers to see the film)—but when one really considers some of the thematic concerns hiding beneath the surface of Split, it isn’t terribly surprising to learn that the roots of the project reach all the way back to Unbreakable.

“I wrote this character [Kevin] and a bunch of the scenes you saw in the movie for the Unbreakable script. He was the original antagonist and David Dunn was going to meet him in the original script. I couldn’t get it right. I couldn’t get the balance right. It just kept wanting to eat away at the other movie, [so] I pulled Kevin out. I wanted a really slow burn movie and Kevin’s not a slow burn. I said, ‘let me pull him out for a second and concentrate on these other two characters.’ I came up with the idea for Elijah [Mr. Glass]. He was always an advisor. The three of them were always in it but he went from benevolent advisor to the opposite of David Dunn! It became so obvious. Then I said I’d do this next as the next piece in this, but I guess I felt that the reaction at the time was weird and wonky to Unbreakable—especially in the United States. ‘What is this? A movie about comic books?’ The studio didn’t want to sell it as comic books because they felt comic books were not sellable… Ironically now, Disney, that’s all they do.” –M. Night Shyamalan (Empire Online, January 24, 2017)

Unbreakable

Bruce Willis as David Dunn in Unbreakable (2000)

It seems that early drafts of Unbreakable found David Dunn (Bruce Willis) bumping into one of Kevin’s alter egos instead of bumping into the man in the orange suit. He then went to save the girls.

“Some of the Kevin Wendell Crumb scenes were already completely written all the way back then. One of the ‘Patricia’ scenes, the ‘Hedwig’ introduction scene—those were written over 15 years ago. I have them written by hand in my notebooks.” –M. Night Shyamalan (Entertainment Weekly)

This is quite a revelation. This reviewer has always felt that Unbreakable ties with The Sixth Sense as M. Night Shyamalan’s best film and it has legions of other fans who bombard the director with questions about a follow-up. After watching Split, the chances of this happening suddenly seem somewhat likely. We only hope that M. Night Shyamalan hires Eduardo Serra as a cinematographer to help him capture the film’s fluid camera style and James Newton Howard to write a follow-up to his original score… I am digressing but this digression is relevant—and those wondering why this is relevant will have to watch the film.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

 Universal protects the discs in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring better than average film-related artwork. The case itself is protected with a slipcover showcasing the same artwork.

Menu

The disc’s static menu features artwork from the film’s original one-sheet accompanied by music from the film. It is both attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Mike Gioulakis’ digital cinematography is perfectly represented here with excellent clarity. Noise is never an obvious issue (even if it is present in a few scenes). Fine detail is always impressive as fabrics, textures, pores, wrinkles and a vast array of minutia are easily visible throughout the duration of the film. Colors accurately reflect those seen in theaters and are mostly subdued with certain exceptions (like the yellow in Hedwig’s jacket). Contrast is accurate and black levels are deep without unintentional crushing. Universal’s maxed out bitrate keeps compression issues from marring the image. This is simply an outstanding transfer from Universal!

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio offers exactly what genre fans desire and expect from a surround mix. It manages to be simultaneously subtle and dynamic while each of the elements including dialogue, effects, sonic ambiance, and music are well prioritized. This is an excellent representation of the film’s theatrical mix and has very much the same effect.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Deleted Scenes – (14:37)

Scenes with optional Introductions by M. Night Shyamalan – (26:37)

This collection of scenes deleted from the final cut of the film (together with the Alternate Ending) is by far the most substantial supplement included here, and the fact that they include short contextual introductions by Shyamalan only sweetens the deal. Unfortunately, it seems that there is quite a bit of deleted footage that wasn’t included here. M. Night Shyamalan has revealed in various interviews that the original rough cut of the film was three-hour hours in length—and it is difficult not to feel short-changed by these fourteen and a half minutes of deleted material. Where are the other 45 minutes?

One of the absent deleted sequences is now legendary in fan circles and would have made Unbreakable fans very happy indeed:

“There was another version of the credit sequence which was [a] comic book, which was graphic images of The Beast and then David Dunn and then Elijah and then them all mixing together. When I saw it done I was like, ‘This is a fucking home run,’ and then when I put it on the movie it didn’t work… It’s one thing to say, ‘You saw an origin story,’ but to go into other characters… David Dunn is reacting to the news of The Horde. End of story. If you keep going it starts to undermine the movie you just saw.” –M. Night Shyamalan (We Got This Covered)

However, even though there is much missing from this collection, the nine scenes included on the disc are both entertaining and instructive:

Casey at Party – (01:14) or (02:52)

This scene originally opened the film and features an out of place Casey at a birthday party. The scene obviously would have led directly to the sequence that ended up beginning the film. It is really a pretty strong character moment.

Meeting Shaw – (02:07) or (04:03)

This scene is one of three deleted scenes to feature Shaw—a character deleted from the film’s final cut. Shaw is Dr. Karen Fletcher’s neighbor and a professor with knowledge of the human brain. Fletcher obviously has an inappropriate crush on Shaw and their scenes together highlight her loneliness. This and the other two scenes also deliver information about the power of the human brain to the audience.

Shaw Has a Party – (02:17) or (03:15)

This scene occurs at Shaw’s apartment during a get-together and finds Dr. Fletcher feeling slightly jealous of three other women while also feeding more information to the audience.

Shaw’s Date – (02:16) or (03:49)

The final scene finds Dr. Fletcher calling on Shaw when he is about to go on a date. His date argues with her about Dissociative Identity Disorder and this leads to an awkward moment between Fletcher and Shaw. All three of the “Shaw” scenes are interesting, but it is easy to see why they were deleted from the film.

Girls Talk – (00:52) or (02:02)

Some of this short scene features in the film’s theatrical trailer (which is inexplicably left off of the disc) and is a short dialogue between the three kidnapped girls about their kidnapper’s intentions.

Patricia Talks Meat – (01:56) or (03:24)

This is an extended scene with new content—including creepy dialogue about the feeding habits of animals and the number of teeth in a tiger’s mouth—but it is essentially about Casey trying to persuade Patricia to let them eat their meal in the kitchen area (so that she can leave the room).

Casey Tells Her Dad – (01:13) or (02:30)

This is a deleted flashback that finds a younger Casey telling her Dad that she doesn’t want her Uncle to go with them on hunting trips.

Hide and Seek with Hedwig – (01:48) or (02:35)

This is an extension of a scene in the film where Hedwig plays “hide and seek” with Casey before leading her to his room.

Maybe We Are Crazy – (01:03) or (02:14)

Dennis questions their plan after attacking Dr. Fletcher.

Alternate Ending – (00:32)

 Scene with optional Introduction by M. Night Shyamalan – (01:37)

The Horde looks down at school children from the top of a building lamenting about “all those unbroken souls.” It is a much darker ending in some ways but it is also a much weaker image than what is in the final film. It is very interesting to see what was originally envisioned.

The Making of Split – (09:50)

This isn’t the comprehensive look behind the making of Split that fans will be anticipating. It is really more of a catch-all general discussion about the film put together from the usual navel-gazing EPK material. One feels that this release really deserves a bit more than a ten-minute discussion that reveals about a minutes worth of worthwhile information.

The Filmmaker’s Eye: M. Night Shyamalan – (03:40)

The Filmmaker’s Eye is a standard EPK promo camouflaged to look like a discussion about M. Night Shyamalan’s working methods—it utilizes some of the same interview clips found in the “making of” featurette and the information could’ve been included as part of the “making of” piece.

The Many Faces of James McAvoy – (05:38)

The Many Faces of James McAvoy is yet another short EPK that repeats a few clips from the other segments and never really delves any deeper than “James McAvoy was perfect casting and gave an excellent performance.” It’s nice to have it here but—like the piece on Shyamalan—this could’ve been included as part of the “making of” featurette.

Someday, we hope that Blu-ray producers will learn that quality trumps quantity. They aren’t fooling anyone.

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Final Words:

Split is a fun thriller that solidifies M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form and Universal’s Blu-ray release contains excellent image and sound transfers of the film!

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Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: April 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Dead or Alive – 105 min

Dead or Alive 2: Birds – 97 min

Dead or Alive: Final – 89 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 Japanese Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio:

Dead or Alive – 1.85:1

Dead or Alive 2: Birds – 1.85:1

Dead or Alive: Final – 1.78:1

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

Like so many of his other films, Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy is something of an acquired taste—and this becomes immediately evident during Dead or Alive’s manic opening montage. The liner notes found on the back of Arrow’s packaging describe it as “an explosive, six-minute montage of sex, drugs and violence,” and this is an apt description. Unfortunately, this is the sort of MTV-music-video-on-acid aesthetic that has become all too common in film editing (especially in the action genre). This is in actuality style in the service of nothing—and even this is probably giving it too much credit.

Made between 1999 and 2002, the Dead or Alive films cemented Miike’s reputation overseas as one of the most provocative enfants terrible of Japanese cinema, and it is easy to understand why the world has taken notice. Each of these three films are fairly standard yakuza narratives but center around truly interesting characters:

In Dead or Alive, tough gangster Ryuichi (Riki Takeuchi) and his ethnically Chinese gang make a play to take over the drug trade in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district by massacring their competition. But he meets his match in detective Jojima (Show Aikawa), who will do anything and everything to stop them.

Dead or Alive 2: Birds casts Aikawa and Takeuchi together again, but this time they portray a pair of rival yakuza assassins who turn out to be childhood friends. After a botched hit, they flee together to the island where they grew up and decide to devote their deadly skills to a more humanitarian cause.

Dead or Alive: Final finds Takeuchi and Aikawa catapulted into a future Yokohama ruled by multilingual gangs and cyborg soldiers. They once again butt heads in the action-packed and cyberpunk-tinged finale to the trilogy. Each story is unique in theme and tone and showcase the director at the peak of his strengths. These are genuinely intriguing films—but they are only at their best when Miike shows restraint and concentrates on the quieter character moments. Unfortunately, these moments aren’t given the same screen time or shown the same attention as the ridiculously bombastic action sequences. Mikke simply seems unable to stay out of his own way and seems to constantly trip over his own “genius.”

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the two Blu-ray discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Orlando Arocena on one side and the film’s original one-sheet design on the other. Frankly, neither design suits this reviewer’s aesthetic sensibilities as both designs are much too busy. However, Arrow’s Orlando Arocena’s new design is marginally superior. The case is protected by a slipcover that features the same newly commissioned artwork.

In addition to the two Blu-ray discs, the case also holds an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring a nine page essay entitled Three Extremes: Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive Trilogy by Kat Ellinger in addition to the usual credits and transfer notes. Ellinger’s enthusiasm for these films is catching and her writing does add to one’s appreciation of these unusual films.

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

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

Picture Quality:

DEAD OR ALIVE

3 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s high definition transfer of Dead or Alive is certainly watchable, but it isn’t one of their better efforts. The quality of the image shifts unpredictably throughout the duration of the film making any analysis of things such as grain structure, fine detail, clarity, color, contrast, and even black levels impossible to accurately discuss in any general way. They simply fluctuate too much to write a truly accurate assessment of the image—but this fact speaks volumes. Unfortunately, compression issues are an issue at times and darker scenes crush an astounding amount of detail. The overall experience is somewhat disappointing.

DEAD OR ALIVE 2: BIRDS

2.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s image transfer for Dead or Alive 2: Birds is every bit as inconsistent as their transfer for Dead or Alive. Actually, certain issues inherent in that transfer are even more problematic here. The coloring is certainly questionable here, and some of these color choices have a negative effect on the level of fine detail (as does the chunky grain pattern that pervades the image). Basically, all the problems in the previous transfer are only exacerbated here.

DEAD OR ALIVE: FINAL

1 of 5 Stars

My grandmother has a unique expression: “You can polish a turd and call it ‘candy,’ but it’s still a turd and it won’t taste any sweeter.” This expression sums up Arrow’s so-called “high definition” transfer of Dead or Alive: Final—which actually an upscaled standard definition image. Arrow could hardly be expected to magically turn a film that was shot in standard definition digital video into a pleasant high definition image, but one wonders if upscaling the image was the proper choice. A super-bit DVD disc might have looked a bit better than this does. It would certainly take care of those unsightly interlacing artifacts found throughout this transfer. Colors aren’t particularly attractive, but this seems to be the result of some of the aesthetic choices made during the film’s production. Obviously, detail is inappreciable and this is alright because the soft image is inherent in the source. Our only real complaint is that Arrow didn’t work out a way of presenting the film without the interlacing issues. Other options were certainly available to them. There are also several Japanese subtitles burnt into the image throughout the duration of the film.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Each film is equipped with 2.0 Linear PCM audio and optional English subtitles. None of the tracks have a shortage of auditory effects as each film in the series fit comfortably into the action genre. Luckily, these 2.0 mixes are up to the challenge. The various sound elements are well prioritized and no unfortunate damage is evident.

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow offers over two hours and sixteen minutes of video based supplements—and this isn’t counting the commentary track. These special features are spread across both discs.

Disc One:

Dead or Alive: Feature Length Commentary by Tom Mes

Tom Mes has written several books—includingAgitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike,” “Re-Agitator: A Decade of Writing on Takashi Miike,” “The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film,” and “Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto.” It is obvious that Mes studies at the altar of Japanese cinema and that he is a faithful disciple of Takashi Miike just by listening to this engaging track. Mes feeds the listener information mixed with a bit of modest analytical insight with an obvious enthusiasm. Even the unconverted will find the track instructive.

Dead or Alive 2: Original Making of Featurette – (10:17)

This archival featurette is standard navel-gazing EPK fluff but it manages to entertain mostly due to the fun behind the scenes footage that features throughout the piece. It is engaging without ever enlightening the viewer.

Dead or Alive: US Theatrical Trailer – (01:42)

The US trailer for the original film is a fairy standard trailer with a lot of frenetic editing and the same annoying music that features largely in the film itself.

Dead or Alive: Japanese Theatrical Trailer – (01:19)

The Japanese trailer is very similar to its US counterpart and features the same editing style and music.

Dead or Alive 2: Theatrical Trailer – (01:25)

The interesting aspect of this trailer for Dead or Alive 2: Birds is how it exploits the first film in the trilogy—even going so far as to utilize footage from the original film. Sometimes the trailer even calls attention to similarities of the shot composition and action of both films.

Disc Two:

The Making of Dead or Alive: Final – (11:25)

Arrow includes a second “standard navel-gazing EPK” featurette that manages to entertain the viewer with behind the scenes footage without ever really revealing anything substantial.

Promotional Interviews for Dead or Alive: Final – (11:00)

These “promotional interviews” follow suit—only this time it appears that these generalized publicity interviews were filmed at one of the film’s premieres. They are worth watching but there isn’t a lot of relevant information divulged.

Toshiki Kimura: Drifting with Miike – (43:43)

This 2016 interview with Toshiki Kimura is the first truly substantial video based supplement included in the package. It acts as a career retrospective and finds the writer and producer reminiscing about a number of pertinent topics that include his how he began his career and his work with Takashi Miike.

Riki Takeuchi: Deadly Outlaw Riki – (30:28)

Arrow’s new interview with Riki Takeuchi is equally instructive and also offers a retrospective discussion about the actor’s career origins in V-cinema with a special focus on his collaborations with Takashi Miike. Fans will certainly be happy to have it included here.

Show Aikawa: Cop, Killer, Replicant – (22:47)

Show Aikawa is also given his moment in the spotlight as the actor discusses the Dead or Alive trilogy. Takashi Miike also makes an appearance. Needless to say, this is one of the stronger supplements included here.

DOA Final: Mystery Trailer – (01:39)

This is probably the most unusual trailer I’ve seen (at least recently). It utilizes animation and might be more properly labeled as a “teaser.”

DOA Final: Theatrical Trailer – (01:07)

The more standard trailer for the film is also included here and is less interesting but more appropriate than its animated counterpart.

Final Words:

Devotees of Takashi Miike’s eccentric cinematic universe will certainly want to own Arrow’s Blu-ray set as it is the best these films have looked on home video—but this isn’t saying very much.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: April 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Theatrical Version – 03:58:16

Television Version – 04:09:11

Episode 1 – 47:45

Episode 2 – 55:29

Episode 3 – 42:56

Episode 4 – 47:58

Episode 5 – 53:35

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Italian Mono Linear PCM Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate:

Disc One – 29.99 Mbps

Disc Two – 34.67 Mbps

Notes: This 4-disc collection includes a DVD edition of the film.

Title

Luchino Visconti is often given credit for announcing the Italian Neorealist movement with Ossessione (1943), which was loosely based on “The Postman Always Rings Twice” by James M. Cain. It would have been impossible to imagine that this same filmmaker would later be responsible for—and indeed known for lush period epics like Senso (1954), The Leopard (1963), and The Damned (1969). With this string of masterpieces behind him, the legendary director turned his attentions to yet another period drama—the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1972.

These efforts resulted in an epic of 19th-century decadence entitled Ludwig (1973). Dominated by Helmut Berger (The Damned, The Bloodstained Butterfly) in the title role, Ludwig nevertheless manages to find room for an impressive cast list: Romy Schneider (reprising her Elisabeth of Austria characterization from the Sissi trilogy), Silvana Mangano (Bitter Rice), Gert Fröbe (Goldfinger), John Moulder-Brown (Deep End), and Trevor Howard (Brief Encounter) as Richard Wagner.

If Ludwig considered one of the director’s best efforts, it should at least be on the list of his most interesting.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Like so many other Blu-ray releases this set is the epitome of gorgeous packaging. One might say that it is fit for a king—mad or otherwise. The box itself—which itself is placed inside a yellow cardboard holder showcasing the film’s title—features one of the many original one sheet designs (which is quite lovely).

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Three major ingredients are included inside the box: Two separate cases (each containing both a Blu-ray and a DVD disc) and a beautifully illustrated paperback booklet containing interviews and essays that will enrich one’s understanding and appreciation of the film. Both of the two cases are decorated with a sleeve utilizing a different one sheet and the cover of the booklet features the same one sheet found on the box itself.

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

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

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s transfer is taken from a 2K restoration taken from a 4K scan of the original film negative and the result is an immaculate image. Colors are richly saturated and fine detail is simply amazing as they showcase a naturally sharp image. There is a very fine layer of grain that never becomes unwieldy and compression issues simply aren’t present. It is simply a gorgeous transfer—and this goes for both versions of the film.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

This set contains both the Italian and English soundtracks in the Linear PCM Mono Audio format. The English track was produced for the 173 minute version of the film and the audio will occasionally revert back to the Italian mix for scenes that were not in the original U.S. release of the film. There are often differences in musical accompaniment between the original Italian and the English version which can result in sudden changes in the background music between the two versions.

This reviewer would suggest watching the Italian version at least once since it represents Visconti’s original intentions for the soundtrack. However, both versions are technically solid and offer an enjoyable sonic experience—even if the English version exhibits a bit more hiss which is nearly imperceptible unless one listens for it. Since this is an Italian film, there is dubbing present in both versions of the film. What’s more, neither track is particularly dynamic and are merely solid representations of both original mixes.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow includes the original full-length theatrical cut and the 5-part television mini-series version of the film. The theatrical version is superior, but it is nice to have both versions for comparison.

The supplemental package might look sparse compared to some of Arrow’s other releases but looks are often deceiving. The supplemental package offers 2 hours, 54 minutes, and 14 seconds of pertinent video based entertainment.

Disc One:

Luchino Visconti – (01:00:35)

Carlo Lizzani’s profile of Luchino Visconti is an incredibly engaging work as it features original interviews with some of the most important figures in Italian cinema: Carlo Lizzani, Claudia Cardinale, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Burt Lancaster, Francesco Rosi, Vittorio Gassman, Massimo Girotti, Luigi Filippo D’Amico, Jean Marais, Enrico Medioli, Piero Tosi, and Franco Zeffirelli. These individuals provide an interesting overview of the director’s life and work. Better yet, archival interviews are also utilized here allowing Luchino Visconti himself to make important appearances along with Silvana Mangano, Alain Fabien, Giuseppe De Santis, and Lina Wertmüller.

The result is a chronological glimpse into the life of one of Italian cinema’s most unique voices. It covers such pertinent subjects as the neorealist movement, his life and politics, his work with Renoir, his stage work, and so much more. It would be easy to fault it for stopping after a mere hour but it really does cover a lot of ground. This is the perfect introduction for cinephiles who have not yet delved into Visconti’s unique cinematic universe.

Helmut Berger: The Mad King – (16:05)

Arrow’s brand new interview (shot in 2016) with Helmut Berger (who portrayed King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the film) is interesting as Berger had appeared in some of  Visconti’s other films. The downside is that his accent has a tendency to drown his English making it somewhat difficult to understand.

Theatrical Trailer – (03:49)

A film’s theatrical trailer is always a welcome addition to a disc’s supplemental package and this one is no exception.

Disc Two:

Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico – (48:12)

This archival interview with Suso Cecchi d’Amico is as engaging as it is instructive. Amico’s screenwriting credits are humbling as she has worked with some of the greatest Italian directors on many of their greatest projects. She worked with Visconti on six of the director’s films: Bellissima (1951), Senso (1954), Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963), Ludwig (1972), and Conversation Piece (1974). Her conversation here discusses her experiences working with the director.

Silvana Mangano: The Scent of a Primrose – (31:12)

The Scent of a Primrose is an excellent profile of Silvana Mangano that was produced for Italian television. It isn’t incredibly comprehensive but does provide a general overview that will be instructive for anyone who isn’t familiar with her work.

Producing Ludwig – (14:16)

Producing ‘Ludwig’ is a pleasant surprise since it isn’t advertised as one of the set’s supplements, but it is actually superior to Helmut Berger’s interview (in this reviewer’s humble opinion). It is a brand new interview with Dieter Geissler and offer’s a producer’s perspective about the production. Those who admire Italian cinema should find it interesting.

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Final Words:

This is an extremely interesting work from one of the masters of cinema and Arrow’s Blu-ray set is simply spectacular. This is an extremely important release and it is nice to see that Arrow has treated it accordingly. We hope that this is an indication of what one can expect from Arrow Academy in the future.

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Review by: Devon Powell

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Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

Betty – 01:43:45

Torment – 01:42:27

The Swindle – 01:45:44

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 French LPCM Audio

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate:

Betty – 32.00 Mbps

Torment – 34.99 Mbps

The Swindle – 34.99 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released in various DVD editions.

claude-chabrol

There is a certain amount of guilt in every individual…” –Claude Chabrol (The Magical Mystery World of Claude Chabrol, Film Quarterly, April 01, 1979)

Claude Chabrol is without a doubt one of the most prolific auteurs to come from the French New Wave and has been often referred to as “the French Hitchcock” due to his tendency towards thrillers exposing mankind’s innate duality. There is usually a dark side lurking just beneath the surface of even his most likable characters.

One understands this comparison. After all, Le Beau Serge (1958) was inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), and Chabrol had written fondly of Hitchcock’s work in Cahiers du Cinéma. However, this label ignores some fundamental differences between Chabrol and Hitchcock. The most obvious (and perhaps the most important) of the differences lies in their approach to similar material.

Hitchcock’s thrillers focus on placing the audiences in the mindset of his various characters, and a subjective presentation always ruled the day. Chabrol, on the other hand, seems to have preferred a more objective approach to his material. The French auteur has even gone on record about this fundamental difference in their approach to cinema.

“I don’t consider Lang and Hitchcock from a thematic point of view. I consider them in terms of style, and in this I’m much closer to Lang than to Hitchcock. Hitchcock tries to convey a story subjectively—everything is based on the subjectivity of the character, while Lang seeks the opposite, to objectify all the time. I try to objectify too. It’s characteristic of Hitchcock— even the titles of his films always bear on his personal psychology: Shadow of a Doubt, Suspicion, Psycho… They all have to do with personal, individual things. In Lang, it’s Human Desire—it’s never individual. Intellectually—in terms of pleasure derived—I was more influenced by Hitchcock than by Lang.” –Claude Chabrol (The Magical Mystery World of Claude Chabrol, Film Quarterly, April 01, 1979)

It is best to experience Chabrol’s work on its own terms and there is much to experience. His career spanned over fifty years leaving over fifty films in its wake. Like all directors, the quality of his work varies but nearly every film has something to offer the viewer. Most scholars consider the films made from 1968-1978 to be the director’s best, but there are some notable titles that stand out that weren’t made during what is often described as his golden era.

These three films from late in Chabrol’s career are good examples of this:

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BETTY (1992)

In one of Chabrol’s darkest dramas, Marie Trintignant gives an astonishing performance as Betty, a woman whose alcohol-soaked life has finally fallen to pieces.  She soon falls under the care of an older woman (Stéphane Audran) with a similar background, but her benefactor’s sympathies may be misplaced. The film was made 12 years after Chabrol’s marriage to Stéphane Audran had ended, and her performance in the film is every bit as good as those she gave in their earlier collaborations.

The film’s loose narrative was the result of a conversation that Chabrol had with Georges Simenon wherein the writer asked Chabrol why film directors rely so much on plots. Simenon theorized that because the director could rely on the mysteries behind a human face, that a plot wasn’t particularly essential. Simenon finished writing “Betty” at around that same time, and Chabrol decided to put his theory to the test with a film adaptation of the novel. The result is a decidedly nihilistic journey into the misspent life of a self-destructive alcoholic who has a tendency to destroy those that have the misfortune of entering her life.

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L’ENFER/TORMENT (1994)

Henri-Georges Clouzot tried hard to bring L’Enfer to the screen in 1964, but the production faced numerous production problems. Actors became sick, locations became unavailable, and Clouzot was finally hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. This served as a death blow to the production, and the film was abandoned after three weeks of hard work.

Chabrol utilized Clouzot’s script to bring his own film to the screen, and the final result explores the point at which jealousy and obsession turn to madness.  François Cluzet plays Paul, a young husband who, along with his beautiful wife (Emmanuelle Béart) runs a country hotel.  Paul soon becomes obsessed with his wife’s flirtations, but is it all in his head? The film’s story is told with amazing economy and spirals rapidly into a state of manic sexual frenzy. The result is classic Chabrol.

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THE SWINDLE (1997)

Rien ne va plus (a.k.a. The Swindle) is decidedly lighter and more humorous than the other two features included in the set, but Chabrol’s fingerprints can be seen and felt in every frame of the film. Betty (Isabelle Huppert) and Victor (Michel Serrault) are a couple of small-time con artists looking for the next big game in this psychological thriller tinged with wry humor.  Into their web stumbles a naïve financial courier (François Cluzet) accompanying what might be their biggest score yet.

None of the three films are likely to be included in anyone’s list of top 5 Chabrol films, but fans of the director should at least agree that they are amongst the better films that the director made during this particular phase of his career.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray discs are protected by the standard Blu-ray case with film related graphics framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. Inside the case is an eight-page booklet that features a few photographs and credits. Those who have indulged in some of Cohen’s other Blu-ray releases will know exactly what to expect here.

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The three menus utilize footage from the films with excerpts from Matthieu Chabrol score. They are each quite attractive and intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

All three of the new 2K restoration transfers are vast improvements over previous home video transfers, and the improvements go far beyond the significant increase in resolution. The high bitrates also allow for considerable depth, and the three films showcase a level of detail and clarity that will astonish fans who suffered through the previous DVD transfers. Colors are also more vivid and seem to reflect Chabrol’s original intention better than those earlier transfers (which often looked washed out). Better yet, there is an increase in information on all four sides of the frame, which suggests that the earlier DVD transfers were heavily cropped.

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Sounds Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

All three of Cohen’s LPCM soundtracks are clean representations of that film’s original mix. The uncompressed nature of these tracks allows all of the elements to breathe. It is admittedly difficult for these ears to judge the clarity of the French dialogue since I am not a native speaker, but there aren’t any noticeable issues. None of the tracks are particularly dynamic, but they represent Chabrol’s original intentions adequately.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

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Disc 1 (Betty)

Re-Release Trailer – (01:34)

This particular disc only offers Cohen Media Group’s restoration trailer for the film. It is a less-than-essential addition that makes one wonder why they couldn’t include the original theatrical trailer instead (or as well).

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Disc 2 (Torment)

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Wade Major and Andy Klein

This scholarly commentary track with Wade Major and Andy Klein is surprisingly informative and covers a wide variety of relevant topics. The information here provides fans with some historical information and insight into the film that should enhance their appreciation of the film.

Re-Release Trailer – (01:24)

Cohen Media Group has again seen fit to include their restoration trailer for Torment, and it again feels like including the film’s original theatrical trailer would have been more instructive.

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Disc 3 (The Swindle)

Feature Length Audio Commentary with Wade Major and Andy Klein

Wade Major and Andy Klein return again to supply viewers with another interesting commentary track that again supplies quite a bit of background information on the production.

Many Forms of Love: Interview with François Cluzet – (42:32)

Kent Jones conducts this incredibly interesting 40-minute interview with François Cluzet. The interview is in French and presented with English subtitles which make the process of absorbing the information a bit more challenging, but those who make the effort will be rewarded as Cluzet’s memories about his work with Chabrol and the director’s filmmaking style is both entertaining and enlightening.

Re-Release Trailer – (02:00)

Here we again get Cohen Media Group’s restoration trailer.

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Final Words:

Three of Claude Chabrol’s late career films have arrived on Blu-ray with solid restoration transfers and it is a revelation to see the films in high definition. This release comes highly recommended!

Review by: Devon Powell