Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: September 05, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:52:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.33:1

Bitrate: 34.96 Mbps

Title

“The struggle for self-determination, the struggle for what a character wants his life to be…I look for characters who feel strongly enough about something not to be concerned with the prevailing odds, but to struggle against those odds.” -Robert Aldrich

“The struggle for self-determination” pervades The Big Knife, a film based on a relatively successful play by Clifford Odets that made its Broadway debut at the National Theatre on February 24, 1949. Under the direction of Lee Strasberg, the stage production would last for 109 performances. The screenplay for the film by Robert Aldrich would be adapted by Odets and James Poe.

Aldrich follow-up to Kiss Me Deadly (which was made that same year) finds Charles Castle (Jack Palance), one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, at a crossroads in his life. His marriage is falling apart and his wife is threatening to leave him if he renews his contract with a philistine producer named Stanley Shriner Hoff. Meanwhile, Hoff knows of several incriminating skeletons in the actor’s closet and threatens to expose them to the world if he doesn’t sign on for future productions with his studio.

The film won the Silver Lion award at the 1955 Venice Film Festival, but the film wasn’t an overwhelming success in its day—and this is despite an excellent tile design by Saul Bass and a strong cast who gives excellent (if sometimes overwrought) performances. The theatricality of both the story and the performances is what ultimately dates the film, and it isn’t one of Aldrich’s best efforts. It is, however, an enjoyable diversion and a solid entry in the filmographies of every participant.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. There is also an attractive booklet that features an essay written by Nathalie Morris and a number of archival stills.

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

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s 2K restoration transfer looks incredible but unfortunately falls short of absolute perfection due to variances in clarity, a few anomalies created by the ravages of time, and what many will perceive to be a thicker than usual layer of grain. However, none of this gets in the way of the transfers strengths. For instance, the level of fine detail is still pretty impressive, contrast is well rendered, and there aren’t any unfortunate compression issues to distract the viewer.

This transfer does seem to have one curious and unfortunate negative aspect in that there is approximately sixty-six seconds of missing footage. This isn’t noticeable unless one compares it to other releases of the film.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

No one should expect this talky film to feature a truly dynamic experience, but the Linear PCM track is reasonably solid despite its narrow range. Dialogue is certainly clean and clear, and there aren’t any age related issues. It might not impress modern viewers, but it serves the story.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Commentary by Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton

As I am not usually a fan of third party commentary tracks, this discussion between Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton has limited appeal despite the fact that they cover a lot of information here. It is better than many similar tracks, but it isn’t as instructive as it might have been if it featured one or some of the actual filmmakers. We do, however, get a lot of general information about such topics as Robert Aldrich’s filmmaking legacy, comparisons to the play, background information about the cast, and other pertinent subjects. It is nice that Arrow goes to the trouble of producing commentaries for these older films (even if some of the participants featured in them can seem rather arbitrary).

Bass on Titles (1977) – (33:46)

If this interesting documentary hadn’t been included, the rating for this aspect of the disc would have been 2 or 2.5 stars. Needless to say, it is the disc’s best supplement. It finds Saul Bass discussing some of his title designs before that particular title sequence (or a clip of that sequence) is shown. Unfortunately, many of his titles aren’t included here at all. This is the programs largest weakness. It feels like a missed opportunity.

Television Promo – (04:59)

Also interesting is this vintage television EPK that serves as a glimpse behind the scenes—but only in the most superficial manner. It is basically an introduction to the film’s distinguished cast, but it is much more interesting than it would be if it wasn’t produced in 1955.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:28)

The trailer typically exploits its successful stage origins and the more sensational elements of the story, and the result is a trailer that never really distinguishes itself. It simply tries to appeal to the more sophisticated “high-brow” viewers who enjoy literate stage plays as they cater to the least common denominator by exploiting the more scandalous plot points. By covering all exploitable territories in a single trailer, the film in question seems to have no distinguishable personality. However, it is certainly interesting to watch.

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Final Words:

The Big Knife isn’t one of Robert Aldrich’s better films, but it is a diverting adaptation of the Clifford Odets stage play. Meanwhile, Arrow’s Blu-ray release is the best it has looked on home video.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: September 05, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 140 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 Linear PCM Audio

Alternate Audio: 5.1 English Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.66:1

Original One Sheet

“The thing that marks Maurice as a gay film is that its story has a happy ending. Forster always wanted that. He wrote about it and said that. Most gay stories, at least back then, ended with some very bad thing. In that way, it was maybe ahead of its time. And also, I was lucky with my actors, because they weren’t frightened of it. All three guys were straight, but they kissed lustily, and they weren’t afraid of intimacy. Even today, the physical closeness often puts many actors off. And remember that Maurice came out at a time of great tragedy and unhappiness, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. There was no cure yet, and people were losing their lives, and their family and friends.” -James Ivory (The Village Voice, May 15, 2017)

Set against the stifling conformity of pre-World War I English society, Maurice is a moving story about coming to terms with one’s sexuality and identity in the face of disapproval and misunderstanding. It is based on E.M. Forster’s novel, which was written at the height of his career—although he withheld it from publication until after his death due to England’s obscenity laws.

His book and this film adaptation centers on Maurice Hall (James Wilby) and Clive Durham (Hugh Grant), who find themselves falling in love at Cambridge. In a time when homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment, the two must keep their feelings for one another a complete secret. After a friend is arrested and disgraced for “the unspeakable vice of the Greeks,” Clive abandons his forbidden love and marries a young woman. Maurice, however, struggles with his identity and self-confidence. He even seeks the help of a hypnotist to rid himself of his undeniable urges. But while staying with Clive and his wife, Anne, Maurice is seduced by an affectionate and yearning servant named Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves).

Maurice was originally released in 1987 and was the second of James Ivory’s three acclaimed adaptations of E.M. Forster novels (arriving between A Room With a View and Howards End). It was extremely controversial but managed to win three major awards at the 1987 Venice Film Festival: Best Actor (shared by James Wilby and Hugh Grant), Best Director, and Best Music. Those who are familiar with other “Merchant Ivory Productions” will know precisely what to expect, and can probably use their experiences with their other films to judge whether this particular movie will appeal to them—that is if the subject matter hasn’t already dissuaded them. Needless to say, this isn’t a movie that just anyone can enjoy.

The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray discs are protected by the standard Blu-ray case with the film’s 30th Anniversary Re-release poster artwork framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. It is nice to report that the case is further protected by a slip cover that features the same artwork without the “C” logo framing the artwork. One wishes that the original one sheet artwork could have been utilized as it is more elegant.

The animated menus utilize footage from the film with music from the film’s score.

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Cohen’s new 30th Anniversary Edition of Maurice features a gorgeous new 4K restoration transfer taken from the film’s original 35MM negative. This work was overseen and approved by director James Ivory and cinematographer Pierre Lhomme. The resulting image is pristine and doesn’t show any signs of age. There is a nice and organic layer of film grain throughout the film, though it might be a bit heavy for certain viewers. One can assume that the colorists have rendered the image in a manner that is in keeping with the filmmaker’s original intentions since both the director and cinematographer supervised and approved the transfer. It is really a very attractive image—even if (like most films) there are some slight discrepancies in terms of clarity and fine detail. Some scenes simply look slightly superior to others. Contrast is nicely handled and black levels seem to be well handled for the most part. This is a very nice transfer that beats all previous home video releases in terms of quality.

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Cohen Media Group has included two quality sound mixes. The first option is a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio mix that was created as part of the film’s restoration at Audio Mechanics (Burbank) from the original 35MM magnetic track held at the George Eastman Museum. The film’s sound design isn’t overwhelmingly dynamic in nature and this surround mix isn’t either, but why would anyone expect a 5.1 mix to be anything other than a good (albeit slightly updated) rendering of the filmmaker’s original intentions? The film’s music certainly benefits from the surround as does the well placed atmospherics. This is especially apparent in exterior sequences. It might not be a showy track, but it supports the film admirably. Dialogue is consistently clean, clear, and well prioritized throughout the duration. The restoration team has done an admirable job at cleaning the track of any anomalies such as pops, crackle, hum, and hiss.

The 2.0 Linear PCM Audio track is also quite solid, but one wonders why Cohen has even bothered with the 5.1 Dolby Digital track when the two lossless choices are more than adequate.

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Cohen Media Group offers over 2 hours and 44 minutes’ worth of informative supplemental entertainment that is sure to thrill admirers of both this film and James Ivory. It looks as if this release also contains the most robust supplemental package on a home video release.

Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes (with Commentary by James Ivory) – (SD) – (39:03)

Perhaps the strongest and most illuminating of the bonus material included here is this collection of deleted and alternate scenes. James Ivory even offers some interesting commentary to provide contextual information to sweeten the deal.

A Director’s Perspective – (HD) – (40:08)

It’s always fun to hear filmmakers talking shop, and this conversation between James Ivory and Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) is one of the best supplements included in this package.

The Story of Maurice – (SD) – (30:29)

This is a kind of “making of” featurette that includes interview footage with Kit Hesketh Harvey, James Wilby, and Hugh Grant. It isn’t a comprehensive overview and doesn’t delve that much deeper than the standard publicity piece, but it is still a diverting viewing experience.

Q&A with James Ivory and Pierre Lhomme – (HD) – (22:59)

Nicholas Elliott (US Correspondent for Cahiers du Cinema) moderates this Q&A event held at the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF). It is an instructive conversation that should appeal to fans of Maurice and James Ivory.

James Ivory and Pierre Lhomme on the Making of Maurice – (HD) – (15:44)

James Ivory and Pierre Lhomme team up again for this discussion held at Cohen’s New York facility. It is enjoyable but slightly less informative than their Q&A.

Conversation with the Filmmakers – (SD) – (12:51)

James Ivory, Ismael Merchant, and Richard Robbins discuss the film in this archival featurette that is illustrated with footage from the film. It isn’t terribly comprehensive, but it is interesting and worthwhile. This is the only feature on the disc that features Ismael Merchant, so it is nice to have here for this reason alone.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (HD) – (00:27)

The original theatrical trailer is short but sweet and is extremely welcome.

30th Anniversary Re-release Trailer – (HD) – (02:21)

Cohen Media Group’s 30th Anniversary Re-release trailer is also here for good measure and is a nice way to round out the disc. It captures the tone of the film rather gracefully.

Re-release One Sheet

Final Words:

Liberal minded viewers with a fondness for stately costume dramas, Merchant-Ivory Productions, or LGBT subject matter will probably want to pick up this excellent 30th Anniversary Edition of Maurice from the Cohen Media Group.

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: August 29, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:29:55

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 37.70 Mbps

Note: This package includes a DVD copy of the film.

Title

Here’s another post Halloween slasher knockoff that calls the protagonist’s reality into serious question. It is something of a rarity on home video and is therefore somewhat obscure, but there is a small cult following amongst diehard horror fanatics who will certainly be celebrating this release.

The story is typical: Two young couples set off to a secluded island for what promises to be a restful retreat… Do you really need to know anything more? If so, you must be new to the slasher genre. But okay… Their peaceful holiday fun is short-lived. Kay (one of the four vacationers) has been experiencing horrifying nightmares and begins to sense that a malevolent presence is on the island and stalking them at every turn. Is she losing her mind, or are her childhood nightmares of a demonic assailant coming to terrifying life? The answer to this question isn’t really important. A body count is a body count.

I must admit to being somewhat disappointed by this film. For one thing, the “twist ending” wasn’t really very effective and was incredibly predictable. Worse, J.S. Cardone doesn’t seem to have even a rudimentary knowledge of how to build suspense or maintain a consistent tone. These two skills are essential to the construction of any horror movie. Needless to say, The Slayer isn’t one of the better eighties slasher titles—but it does make for interesting viewing if you happen to have a special fondness for the genre. My advice is to gather the wittiest of your friends together so that you can all make fun of the movie (sort of like a makeshift Mystery Science Theatre 3000). This will ensure that everyone has a great time.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. This reviewer prefers the original artwork to the new design, but it is always nice to have a choice. There is also an attractive booklet that features an appreciative essay by Lee Gambin entitled “‘If Someone Else Should Die before I Wake’… Demons and Dream Logic in ‘The Slayer.’” It makes for light but interesting reading and adds a bit of extra value to the package.

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

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s transfer was taken from a new 4K restoration and the result is simply the best that this film has ever looked. According to the transfer information included in Arrow’s collector’s booklet:

“The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution on a pin-registered Arri-scan at OCN Digital. The film was graded and restored on the Nucoda grading system at R3store Studios, London. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches and other instances of film wear were repaired or minimized through a combination of digital restoration tools and techniques…” –Collector’s Booklet

Their efforts were not in vain (although some might argue that other films deserve this kind of attention more than The Slayer). One can certainly see a dramatic difference when comparing this with previous home video releases. For one thing, this transfer looks much better in motion. The biggest issue here seems to be with consistency. Both the grain structure and the pictures clarity vary wildly throughout the film’s duration, which is probably an issue that was inherent in the source materials. However, there are times when it becomes rather difficult to determine the reason behind these weaknesses. Detail is rather remarkable throughout the film despite what might be described as a “noisy” grain structure, and colors are natural and vibrant in the tradition of the 1980s—which basically means that they are often intentionally lurid. Film damage has been diminished significantly and there aren’t any distracting age related anomalies to distract viewers.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The original mono soundtrack was also given a restoration (which utilized the optical negative held at the BFI National Archive), and this cleaned up version of the films soundtrack is represented by a Linear PCM audio transfer. It is a surprisingly solid track that features robust low to mid-range sound that supports the film’s various elements nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear and the music and effects showcase a bit of depth. Anomalies such as pops, crackle, hums, and hisses have been eliminated. It isn’t the sort of polished track that high budget contemporary films enjoy, but it does represent the original source admirably.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary with J.S. Cardone (writer/director), Carol Kottenbrook (actress) and Eric Weston (executive in charge of production)

The disc’s best commentary offering (assuming that the viewer listens to these tracks for actual information and not to hear the commentators make stupid wisecracks) is this track finds three key participants discussing the production. They are all somewhat in denial about the film that they have actually made as they are emphatic that while the film was influenced by the slasher genre, it is so much deeper because of the psychological aspects of the story. They are delusional. There is nothing terribly deep here (despite obvious pretentions throughout the film that attempt to convince the audience otherwise). The track was moderated by Ewan Cant and should please those who enjoyed the film.

Audio Commentary with The Hysteria Continues

Arrow also includes a track with ‘The Hysteria Continues’ (podcasters who covered the film in one of their episodes). They try very hard to relay pertinent theories about the film while keeping things light and humorous, but it all grows rather old pretty fast. Their insights aren’t particularly revelatory. The strongest attribute to this track is their rundown of the film’s release history.

Isolated Score Selections and Audio Interview with Composer Robert Folk

This track is a sort of hybrid. It combines an interview/commentary with Robert Folk with what is essentially an isolated score. It should appeal to anyone who has an interest in the art of film scoring, but one wishes that it had been organized a bit differently. Instead of interspersing the interview with the music throughout the film, Arrow puts the interview at the beginning before the score takes over at approximately 50 minutes into the film. Unfortunately, the score doesn’t proceed until the end of the film. The regular soundtrack kicks in long before the track is over. This doesn’t really seem like the best way for these elements to be presented.

The Tybee Post Theater Experience:

Event Introduction – (02:38)

Audience Participation Track

Post Screening Q&A with Arledge Armenaki and Ewan Cant – (17:50)

You have to love an audience that has a personal connection to a film. They always treat it with a lot more love than it might actually deserve. This 3 piece supplement gives fans a glimpse of a screening of The Slayer held in the Tybee Post Theater and includes a short Introduction that doesn’t add much to the disc, an Audience Participation Track (so that fans can pretend they are watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show), and a Post Screening Q&A with Arledge Armenaki and Ewan Cant that actually provides something in the way of actual information (though not an overwhelming amount).

Nightmare Island: The Making of The Slayer – (52:24)

Nightmare Island is by far the most substantial and instructive of the supplemental offerings. The retrospective “making of” look at the film features interviews with J.S. Cardone (Writer/Director), William Ewing (Producer), Karen Grossman (Director of Photography), Robert Short (Special Effects and Make-up), Arledge Armenaki (2nd Unit DOP/Still Photographer), Carol Kottenbrook, Eric Weston, and Carl Kraines as they discuss their experiences on the production. It is nice to have their interviews edited into a proper documentary instead of simply including individual interviews on the disc. It makes for a much better and more organized experience.

Return to Tybee Island: The Locations of The Slayer – (13:18)

Return to Tybee Island features Arledge Armenaki as he revisits the various locations on Tybee Island, Georgia. It is a sort of guided tour (complete with low-fi shots similar to those featured in the film). Fans will be quite interested in this one.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (01:56)

This is really interesting and simultaneously upsetting. It seems like a huge error to utilize the Bernard Herrmann score for Vertigo on a film that couldn’t hope to live up to the wonderful Hitchcock classic. Actually, even mentioning that film in this review feels wrong somehow. Oh well. It’s certainly an interesting artifact from the film’s publicity campaign.

Still Gallery – (09:55)

The standard still gallery with quite a few interesting stills and other marketing elements are a nice way to round out the disc.

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Final Words:

Throw away those truncated and old school “full screen” versions of The Slayer! Arrow has given the film a 4K restoration and the result is the definitive home video release of the film.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Olive Films

Release Date: August 29th, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:16

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1978 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.35:1

Bitrate: 25.48 Mbps

Note: Other Blu-ray editions of this title exist, and each has its own collection of strengths and weaknesses.

Title

“I wished to show people that I didn’t glow in the dark, you know. That I could say ‘action’ and ‘cut’ just like the rest of the fellows.” –Orson Welles

Welles probably did agree to direct The Stranger as a way to prove to Hollywood that he could play by their rules and bring a mainstream film in under schedule and under budget, but his claims that there is “very little” of him in the final picture is an obvious fabrication. The film is saturated with personal “in-jokes” and seems to have been built from the ground up as a Welles picture. His fingerprints are simply all over it.

Unfortunately, his attitude seems to have spilled over into Welles scholarship and criticism and this is a terrible shame. One hates to argue with an established “genius” but this is not one of his worst films. In fact, it’s one of his three or four best films. (Readers can probably guess the other three.) This tautly paced noir-esque melodrama features Welles as Franz Kindler, a Nazi who is being hunted so that he can be made to pay for his atrocious war crimes. Kindler, as it happens, is posing as Professor Charles Rankin and living in the picturesque town of Harper, Connecticut. Of course, his new wife, Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) is clueless about her husband’s past—a past that is about to catch up with him when Mr. Wilson of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (Edward G. Robinson) closes in on the sleepy hamlet.

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The story was much better when Alfred Hitchcock made the film three years earlier as Shadow of a Doubt (it’s the same premise with a few altered details). For one thing, Joseph Cotton’s “Uncle Charley” manages to be much more charming and all the more menacing due to his dual nature—and Hitchcock manages to subtly add subtext that hints at the same “superman” mentality that is at the heart of The Stranger. This is especially true in his infamous dinner table speech… but I am digressing more than is necessary.

Welles suffered the same compromises that he always suffered (with the exception of Citizen Kane). A lengthy opening sequence was cut, Robinson was cast in a role that he had wanted Agnes Moorehead to play, and thirty-two pages were excised from Welles’ revised script (sixteen of these pages were the aforementioned opening sequence) at the suggestion of Ernest J. Nims—the film’s editor. Even so, The Stranger doesn’t seem to suffer much from these changes. It stands the test of time with its use of noir tropes, Russell Metty’s (Touch of Evil) chiaroscuro photography and the bold decision to incorporate footage of actual Nazi atrocities into its plot to moving effect. What’s more, it is the director’s biggest box-office success, and it deserves more respect than Welles and his followers have given it.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

Olive Pictures protects their Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case with somewhat disappointing film related cover art. It would’ve been much better if they had simply utilized the film’s original one sheet design, but one assumes that they wanted to distance themselves from the HD Cinema Classics release (which contained a decidedly poor image transfer due to inferior source materials). In any case, there were still better options available to them.

Worse, the blurb on the back states that The Stranger is Orson Welles’ fourth outing as a director, which is a careless inaccuracy. It is possible that they were including Too Much Johnson, but this silent short was: a.) not completed, and b.) was shot as part of one of Welles’ stage productions. (It was to be a film within the narrative of the play.) It needs to say that it is his “third feature film as a director” just for clarity’s sake. Such issues seem rather careless and could easily be avoided given the proper care.

On a positive note, the case also contains an illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker (author of The Aesthetics of Antifascist Film: Radical Projection) entitled “The Stranger: Murderers Among Us” and some interesting production stills—some of which might have made a superior cover with a few creative alterations.

Menu

The static menu is reasonably attractive and features music from the feature. It’s exactly what one has come to expect from a menu and is therefore intuitive to navigate.

SS02

Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Most fans probably own one of the previous releases and are wondering whether this Olive Films edition is an upgrade, a downgrade, or a rehash. It can be said upfront that it isn’t a rehash of any of the previous Blu-ray releases. It is leaps and bounds better than the atrocious HD Cinema Classics release, which should be replaced immediately. However, the Kino Classics edition competes with this transfer—and some will prefer it to this new release. It just depends on each viewer’s preferences.

Some will like this new transfer’s filmic qualities. There seems to be less grin manipulation here. Other releases saw an artificially sharpened image and/or grain filtering, while this looks a bit more organic (albeit much less sharp than the earlier Kino release). It looks a bit smoother in motion too—and unlike the earlier Kino release, this disc has significantly less damage. The lack of blemishes inherent in the earlier Kino release is one of the major positive points of this newer release. However, this release seems to have been minimally cropped at the sides. There is less information on both the left and right sides of the frame. The ‘International Films’ logo at the beginning of the film has also been removed, and the end of the film cuts out at the “The End” title card (which is bound to irritate most people). This new Olive Films release also suffers in the areas of depth and clarity due to the source being utilized. These issues seem less apparent in the Kino release. Fine detail suffers a bit too, but this wasn’t an element that has been impressive in any of the film’s releases.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The included 2.0 English LPCM audio track is serviceable, but one does feel that there is room for improvement. The source obviously had flaws, but few viewers will ever become distracted by these. A proper restoration would have been nice, but this is a solid representation of the source’s sound.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Nora Fiore

Nora Fiore’s scholarly commentary is more informative and insightful than many third party “scholar” commentary tracks, but less essential than those that include the actual participants. However, this was admittedly impossible. Viewers will enjoy hearing a basic history of the film’s production in any case.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:09)

Those who love vintage trailers will be pleased to learn that the film’s original theatrical trailer is included here in all its glory.

“The Stranger: Murderers Among Us”

It seems rather superfluous to include Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker’s text based essay on the disc when it is included in the collector’s booklet but here it is again on the disc itself.

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Final Words:

It is difficult to decide whether this or the previous Kino release is the better transfer, but The Stranger is essential to cinephiles who have a high regard for the work of Orson Welles.

One Sheet

 

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Cohen Media Group

Release Date: August 29, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:43:16

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 French DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio: 5.1 French Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 2.39:1

Title

“I discovered Maylis de Kerangal’s novel when it came out in January, 2014. The book immediately captivated me. I couldn’t put it down and was totally shaken by the story it tells. The migration of one heart towards another, beyond the sheer dramatic power inherent in such a circumstance, opens up scientific, poetic and metaphysical perspectives.” -Katell Quillévéré (Press Book)

According the official synopsis, Heal the Living follows three seemingly unrelated stories that carefully weave together.” However, this isn’t a particularly accurate description. This really isn’t that kind of film, because at no point does the viewer wonder how these various characters are connected. Their connection is immediately obvious, and the plot is actually astonishingly simple.

Following a morning of surfing the swelling waves off the port city of Le Havre, France, 17 year-old Simon (Gabin Verdet) and his friends get into a severe car crash, sending Simon into a coma. His estranged parents, Marianne (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Vincent (Kool Shen), are alerted and make their way to the hospital only to learn from the senior surgeon Pierre Révol (Bouli Lanners) that their son, who is entirely hooked up to a life-support system, is brain-dead and has no hope of recovery.

A sensitive medical specialist, Thomas Rémige (Tahar Rahim), approaches Simon’s parents and broaches the delicate subject of donating Simon’s organs to the hospital. At first shocked by the enormity of the request, Marianne and Vincent decide that their son would have wanted to proceed with a life-embracing gesture of this sort and they give their consent.

At the same time in Paris, Claire (Anne Dorval), a fragile former musician and the mother of two loving college-age sons, learns that her disabling heart condition is worsening. Claire has been waiting for an organ transplant that will give her a new lease on life, and via the work of Thomas, her medical needs are matched up with Simon in Le Havre. Following the delicate transportation of the healthy organ by both plane and motorcycle, a dedicated and talented team of medical experts and surgeons conduct an operation to place Simon’s heart in Claire’s body.

The finished product has a lot going for it. There are a number of great performances, a beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat, and incredible cinematography by Tom Harari. The beginning of the film is absolutely breathtaking and is rendered with a kind of restrained poetic grace, but this isn’t maintained throughout the entire length of the film. When all is said and done, the experience doesn’t quite live up to the promise made during those opening moments. It’s a very good film and well worth seeing, but it might have been so much more.

SS01

The Presentation:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray and DVD discs are protected by the standard Blu-ray case with the film’s American one sheet artwork framed by the Cohen Media Group’s “C” logo. Inside the case is a small booklet that features a few photographs, chapters, and cast credits.

The animated menus utilize footage from the film with music from the film’s score.

SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Cohen Media Group’s transfer of the film is simply gorgeous. The film was shot digitally on a Red Epic camera and has an extremely crisp image that showcases an extraordinary amount of fine detail. Depth and clarity are also amazing, and the footage looks wonderful in motion. Color are incredibly vibrant while remaining natural. This is an incredible representation of the film’s original elements.

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The .1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer is also excellent—one might even say that it seems to be a perfectly rendered representation of the source audio. The various elements are well mixed and subtly dynamic (although it isn’t likely to give speaker systems much of a workout). Alexandre Desplat’s music is the star of this track, but effects and dialogue are clear and nicely prioritized.

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Special Features:

1.5 of 5 Stars

Interview with Katell Quillevere – (14:53)

Katell Quillevere discusses the origins of Heal the Living (it was adapted from a novel by Maylis De Kerangal) and some of the central themes. It is interesting to hear her discuss the reasoning behind some of her decisions, but it isn’t quite long enough to be the comprehensive examination of the film that many fans will be hoping for.

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Final Words:

These themes have been handled better elsewhere, but Heal the Living is certainly worth watching and this Blu-ray transfer is incredible.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: August 29, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 02:01:34

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

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

English 2.0 Linear PCM (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 34.43 Mbps

Title

Dictionary

This film’s title might suggest a Kurosawa-esque samurai epic, but the term is really more of a metaphor for Robert De Niro’s character—and indeed a few of the other characters—in what is essentially a caper film directed by the late-great John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) and written by David Mamet. If these two credits aren’t enough to arouse one’s interest, then the incredible array of wonderful actors featured in the film should certainly do the job. The film stars Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver), Jean Reno (Léon: The Professional), Stellan Skarsgård (Breaking the Waves), and Natascha McElhone (The Devil’s Own).

Perhaps all of this talent raises one’s expectations a bit too high because the story itself isn’t particularly special: On a rain-swept night in Paris, an international crack team of professional thieves is summoned by a shady crime syndicate fronted by the enigmatic Deirdre. Their mission is deceptively simple: they are to steal a heavily guarded briefcase from armed mobsters. It would be reasonable to ask what the briefcase contains, and various characters raise the question throughout the film. This would be the film’s MacGuffin. The contents are a secret that will remain undisclosed because it isn’t really important to anyone other than the characters—except that in this case (no pun intended), the issue is raised so often that the audience will naturally become curious. In any case, what begins as a routine heist soon spirals into chaos spawned by a series of double-crosses and constantly shifting allegiances. It will all fall to world-weary former CIA strategist Sam (De Niro) and laconic Frenchman Vincent (Reno) to hold the mission together.

The entire film is a series of secret meetings, car chases, and shootouts that never distinguish themselves from earlier (and better) films that were made in the seventies. It maintains the viewer’s interest admirably, but the truth of the matter is that this reviewer can’t remember very much about it after having seen it twice! It’s the cinematic equivalent of a light pastry. It’s very tasty, but I’m still hungry after eating it. It certainly isn’t nourishing. I’m simply left unsatisfied.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray disc in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of the film’s original one sheet and newly commissioned artwork. This reviewer prefers the original artwork to the new design, but it is always nice to have a choice. However, this particular release comes with a protective slipcover that features the newly commissioned artwork, so the choice is slightly less significant. There is also an attractive booklet that features an appreciative essay entitled Full Throttle Fin de siècle by Travis Crawford. This adds a bit of extra value to the package.

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

Menu

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

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow once again offers an awesome 4K restoration transfer that is a substantial improvement over previous home video releases. Their restoration was taken from the original camera negative and was supervised and approved by the director of photography Robert Fraisse. All of these efforts were done exclusively for this release, and the results are amazing. The aesthetic of the film called for a rather muted color palette, and the transfer reflects these original intentions admirably without sacrificing natural skin tones. Fine detail impresses and the image is rather sharp throughout the film’s duration. There is an organic layer of grain that betrays the film’s celluloid source, but care must have been taken to ensure that this never became an issue. It remains natural throughout and never becomes unwieldy. There might be some minor crushing in the darker areas of the image in a few scenes, but it actually looks rather natural. One even feels that this might be an intentional choice made by the filmmakers because many of the scenes enjoy admirable shadow detail. Clarity is also quite admirable, which is certainly important here due to the deep focus cinematography. There might be the occasional speck of dust here and there, but the image is remarkably clean for the most part. This is another winning image transfer from the folks at Arrow.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Both of the disc’s lossless options are sufficient representations of the film’s original audio, but fans will probably be divided on which one they prefer. The 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio mix was originally featured on the earlier MGM disc, and isn’t nearly as dynamic as what most audiophiles have come to expect from a 5.1 mix of an action film—but it does pack a punch during a few of the film’s celebrated car chases. There are also some nice panning effects throughout the film that will immerse the viewer in the world of the film. One assumes that the solid 2.0 Linear PCM mix is probably more faithful to the film’s theatrical presentation, but this might not be the case. In any case, it is a solid option (and will probably be the preferable choice for those that do not have 5.1 speaker systems).

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Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by John Frankenheimer

The late John Frankenheimer provides this archival commentary track that focuses on the production as well as the film’s style. It is a modest but interesting conversation that should interest both Frankenheimer fans and those who enjoy the film.

You Talkin’ To Me? – (SD) – (27:01)

Arrow’s best video based supplement is this episode of Cinefile that profiles Robert De Niro, and one of the more surprising aspects of the program is the interview footage of Quentin Tarantino! It’s an enjoyable half hour that adds quite a bit of value to the disc (even if one does wish that it was more comprehensive).

Close-Up – (HD) – (31:27)

This new half hour interview with Robert Fraisse finds the cinematographer reflecting on his career. It is as entertaining as it is instructive.

Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane – (SD) – (17:45)

The included ‘behind the scenes’ footage is the most interesting aspect of this featurette. It’s only marginally more interesting than most standard EPK reels, but fans will probably watching the archival publicity interviews.

Through the Lens – (SD) – (17:57)

Through the Lens is another interview with Robert Fraisse that focuses on his process and his collaborative relationship with John Frankenheimer.

The Driving of Ronin – (SD) – (15:29)

This archival featurette focuses on the film’s car stunts. This could’ve probably been more comprehensive considering the fact that Ronin is saturated with car chases and vehicular stunt work. However, this shallow examination still remains one of the more interesting of the archival featurettes included here.

Natascha McElhone: An Actor’s Process – (HD) – (13:57)

Natascha McElhone discusses her contribution to the film. It’s nice to hear from one of the film’s cast members, but the disc would include interviews with Robert De Niro and Jean Reno in a perfect universe.

Composing the Ronin Score – (HD) – (11:52)

Elia Cmiral discusses his score for the film. It’s a short interview but it is nice to hear from the film’s composer.

In the Cutting Room – (SD) – (18:56)

Considering the major role that editing plays in this particular film, this interview with Tony Gibbs about his approach to editing is essential viewing for fans of the film.

Venice Film Festival Interviews – (HD) – (20:41)

It’s nice that we have these archival interviews with De Niro, Jean Reno, and Natascha McElhone from the Venice Film Festival as it allows the audience to hear from the film’s two main actors. One does wish that the interview was a bit more probing, but this is probably an unrealistic desire.

Alternate Ending – (SD) – (01:49)

Most viewers will be happy that the filmmakers didn’t use this ending. It is interesting but a bit darker than the final ending. Having said this, it is great to have it included here. A lot of people are fascinated to see deleted and alternate scenes and these often end up being the best supplemental features on a disc (although this isn’t the case with this particular release).

Theatrical Trailer – (HD) – (02:28)

The most interesting aspect of the trailer is when shadows of the various characters turn into the title of the film. Other than that, this is a rather standard and uninteresting piece of marketing that relies on the solid cast to sell the film. However, it is always nice to have a film’s trailer included on a Blu-ray to indulge the viewer’s curiosity.

Still Gallery

The disc is rounded out with an image gallery. It’s exactly what collectors have come to expect and isn’t anything special, but fans should enjoy having these photographs included here.

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Final Words:

This is the ultimate home video edition of Ronin. Those who love it will probably want to upgrade.

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Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: July 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 93 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 English Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.19 Mbps

Title

In 1988, Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas, Timecode) made his feature directorial debut with Stormy Monday, a taut, noir-influenced gangster movie that drew on his key formative influences, including his youth in the Newcastle of the late ’50s and early ’60s, and the city’s vibrant jazz scene. Interestingly, Figgis was also responsible for the film’s “seductive jazz score.”

The story itself is rather thin and uninteresting as it focuses on a character named Brendan (Sean Bean)—a young loafer taken under the wing of jazz club owner Finney (Sting). Finney is under pressure from American mobster Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) to sell up in exchange for a cut of a local land development deal. Brendan just wants to earn an honest crust, but his burgeoning relationship with Cosmo’s ex-lover Kate (Melanie Griffith) threatens to drag him into the middle of the impending showdown.

To call the film a slow burn would be quite the understatement, but the interesting cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Village, No Country for Old Men, Prisoners, Sicario, and too many other great titles to mention) and solid performances are just enough to demand the viewer’s continued interest.

Unfortunately, the seemingly inevitable payoff isn’t really forthcoming, and the entire film remains a mere exercise in style. Figgis is a well-respected filmmaker, and he certainly has talent. Unfortunately, this talent is rarely in the service of a worthwhile cinematic experience.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. This reviewer prefers the original artwork to the new design, but it is always nice to have a choice. There is also an attractive booklet that features an appreciative essay by Mark Cunliffe entitled Mike Figgis: Renaissance Man that delves into such topics as the film’s initial reception (including Roger Ebert’s review for the film). It adds a bit of extra value to Arrow’s relatively modest package.

[Note: The aforementioned booklet is 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

The liner notes claim that Arrow’s transfer is sourced from a 2010 master provided to them by Pretty Pictures, and not much more is said about these materials. This is usually an indication that the resulting image will not be overwhelmingly impressive. Luckily, Stormy Monday manages to look relatively nice and offers up a nice image (even if it is far from perfect). Colors are especially vibrant and attractive, though skin tones can sometimes be less than perfectly natural. The cinematography boasts a slightly soft image that limits the amount of fine detail that can be seen, but one feels that this is in keeping with the original source. Clarity is quite pleasing and close-ups can look especially crisp in high definition. Grain is a bit uneven and this sometimes causes minor compression issues (or compression causes minor grain issues). Black levels often pleases but there are some times when they are less than completely solid. An extremely clean print must have been used for the initial scan, because there aren’t any noticeable blemishes. It isn’t the best Blu-ray image in the universe, but it is certainly the best home video transfer the film has ever received.

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Sound Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s DTS-HD Master Audio track isn’t quite as strong as what one might expect from Arrow, and it is difficult to articulate the precise problem here. It simply doesn’t sound quite right, and this might be the result of the source elements (but we cannot say for certain). Dialogue is quite clear and never presents any issues, but other sounds seem to have trouble with reverberation and have a slightly wet presence. This could easily be source related, but it is noticeable to discerning ears. The music is also problematic and can sound gaunt and slightly processed. None of the aforementioned issues are terribly distracting, but they are real issues that will likely not go unnoticed.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Audio Commentary with Mike Figgis (Writer & Director) and Damon Wise (Film Critic)

This is a meat and potatoes track that discusses a good many “behind the scenes” aspects of the production. It seems to be an older track (probably recorded for one of the film’s earlier DVD releases). Figgis is a rather dry commentator but manages to keep the listener engaged as he goes into detail about such subjects as the challenges he faced due to the film’s low budget and the initial insecurity he felt as a green director. His anecdotes are often interesting (and will hold special interest for any future filmmakers).

Just the Same: Stormy Monday 30 Years On – (HD) – (33:15)

Neil Young (film critic) offers this informative video essay that finds the commentator discussing the practical locations and acts as a sort of affectionate appreciation. Those with a fondness for “then and now” location comparisons are likely to enjoy this feature, but one never feels that his comments are terribly instructive and most will be grateful that Young’s contribution to the disc is in the form of this half hour essay instead of a two hour commentary track.

Theatrical Trailer – (HD) – (01:29)

Arrow includes the film’s original theatrical trailer which simply oozes all sorts of 1980s vibrations but tends to overplay the film’s marketable attributes in a manner that likely lead to a great deal of disappointment in anyone who paid for a ticket after seeing it.

Image Gallery

This brief image gallery contains only 12 photos but one doubts if the marketing department had much more to work with.

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Final Words:

Mike Figgis devotees should be happy to add this unusual film to their collections, but the everyday Joe looking to kick back with a beer for two hours might wish to skip this one.

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Review by: Devon Powell