Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Spine #856

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Region: Region A

Length:

Before Sunrise – 01:41:05

Before Sunset – 01:20:31

Before Midnight – 01:48:57

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

Before Sunrise – 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Before Sunset – 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Before Midnight – 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate:

Before Sunrise – 35.34 Mbps

Before Sunset – 35.20 Mbps

Before Midnight – 34.05 Mbps

Notes: These titles were previously released in various DVD editions, and Before Midnight was previously available on Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Classics.

One Sheets

“We’re lucky on these films because the construction of it is going for a certain kind of honesty. So many romantic films—they’re kind of built on an artifice that we have tried never to really abide by too much. We have some mythic audience in our mind that would appreciate the unvarnished honesty of the darker moments of a relationship. I’d say we can do things that another kind of film couldn’t support.” –Richard Linklater (Backstage, December 06, 2013)

That Linklater should use the word “honesty” so often in his interviews discussing this one-of-a-kind trilogy shouldn’t surprise cinephiles. If a single word could be used to describe The Before Trilogy, that word would probably be “honest.” The cornerstone of the career-long exploration of cinematic time by Richard Linklater, this celebrated three-part epic romance chronicles the love of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), from their first meeting as idealistic twentysomethings to the disillusionment they face together in middle age. These three films also stand as a document of a boundary-pushing and extraordinarily intimate collaboration between Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke. It is more than evident that these films are very personal documents to all three participants.

“The lack of vanity with Ethan and Julie is important. In the films—we’re all three of us doing this—we’re taking where we are at that moment and whatever life has thrown at us in the past nine years [and] using that as the clay for what we’re sculpting.” –Richard Linklater (Way Too Indie, May 21, 2013)

Attuned to the sweeping grandeur of time’s passage as well as the evanescence of individual moments, the Before films chart the progress of romantic destiny as it navigates the vicissitudes of ordinary life. It might seem extraordinary to imagine that this near-perfect trilogy wasn’t planned as a trilogy at all. Each film is a singular entity that captures two characters at a very specific juncture of their lives. They stand alone as wonderful films in their own right but expand into something even greater when all three films are united as a singular unit.

“They all feel like they’re of one piece. It was wonderful being in Vienna nineteen years ago. It was wonderful being in Paris making a movie, and Greece was just incredible.” –Richard Linklater (Parade, October 23, 2013)

However, even those who prefer to experience all three films as “one piece” will probably agree that it is impossible to discuss Jesse and Celine’s journey as a couple without examining each film individually.

Before Sunrise Cover

BEFORE SUNRISE – Spine #857

“The movie’s about crossing paths with someone who needs the same thing you do. The question is, could this really be something more, something bigger, eternal? I think it’s something they’ll both know at some point in the future.” –Richard Linklater (Interview, February 1995)

On the surface, Before Sunrise seems to be an extension of Richard Linklater’s independent debut effort. Slacker had a unique structure that found a group of marginalized outsiders talking about a variety of subject. However, Slacker finds its characters talking at each other without ever really interacting. In Before Sunrise, both Jesse and Celine give long philosophical monologs that seem to have much in common with Slacker—but these characters are actually connecting. They listen to one another and relate to what the other is saying.

“I was going for a sincere communication. I felt I had bounced around between no communication and an interior monolog communication that arguably doesn’t stick or only communicates to a certain extent, maybe only makes sense later. I think I liked the idea, starting with Before Sunrise, of people who were trying to connect. It was about being understood…” –Richard Linklater (Film Comment, July/August 2006)

It is evident while watching the film that Jesse and Celine understand one another—even as they might disagree. Their conversation is the basis of their romance, and this might be why the film resonates with audiences. The film opens with a chance encounter between two solitary young strangers. After they hit it off on a train bound for Vienna, the Paris university student Celine and the scrappy American tourist Jesse impulsively decide to spend a day together before he returns to the U.S. the next morning. As the pair roam the streets of the stately city, Linklater’s tenderly observant gaze captures the uncertainty and intoxication of young love, from the first awkward stirrings of attraction to the hopeful promise that Celine and Jesse make upon their inevitable parting.

It is a scenario that was actually inspired by a formative experience that Richard Linklater shared with a woman named Amy Lehrhaupt in 1989 (after shooting Slacker). As a matter of fact, Before Midnight was even dedicated to this woman.

“The whole plot for Before Sunrise was inspired by a woman I met in Philadelphia. I was just hanging out with my sister—who used to live near Rittenhouse Square—and I met this woman at a toy store. I just got to talking to her and then we went out later and hung out the whole night. We walked around downtown from midnight until six in the morning. It was our own nooks-and-crannies tour of Philadelphia. But all the time I was thinking, `There’s a movie here.'” –Richard Linklater (The Morning Call, May 10, 1997)

Unlike Jesse and Céline, Richard and Amy actually exchanged phone numbers—but the different dynamic of their telephone conversations formed an invisible barrier between them.

“It sort of did the fizzle… So in the first movie that was a thing, the idea that they would intellectually kind of get beyond that and say ‘Well, we’re on different continents. What are the odds that it’s gonna work? Let’s just commit to this night.’” –Richard Linklater (Slate, May 30, 2013)

Linklater later learned that she had died tragically before the film even entered production.

“I just found out a couple years ago that she had died young, in a motorcycle accident. I didn’t know… She wasn’t even alive when we shot in Vienna. She died that Mother’s Day weekend. It’s just so sad.” –Richard Linklater (Moviefone, April 23, 2013)

A script had already been written by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan before Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke was signed to the film, but it was reworked after they came onto the project.

“I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really [the] first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.” –Richard Linklater (NPR, May 30, 2013)

This collaborative process between Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy would extend to the film’s two sequels and this is probably what sets these three films apart from other films. There is a sincerity inherent in the trilogy’s very design that most films could never hope to emulate—and this is a direct result of the collaborative nature of these works. The director and actors have each poured part of themselves into these projects, and their passion and sincerity can be felt in every frame.

Before Sunset Cover

BEFORE SUNSET – Spine #858

“We made the first film and no one ever asked ‘is there going to be another film?’ That was not a logical question. When we were making the second film in Paris, every day we looked at one another and asked ‘how are we getting to do this? This is amazing!’ We’re getting to make this very personal film that no one really even cares about except for three people, and you’re in a good spot if you can ever be making a film like that.” –Richard Linklater (We Got This Covered, 2013)

Before Sunset wasn’t expected and raised a few eyebrows upon its release. Before Sunrise was certainly successful, but it wasn’t the sort of success that demanded a follow-up. Perhaps this is the reason why the film actually works. In the words of Richard Linklater, “Jesse and Céline kind of reared their heads and had something to say.” The film wasn’t made to exploit the first film’s success or to make a lot of money. As a matter of fact, Linklater went forward with the project with a healthy dose of anxiety and doubt about its potential.

“Fear is a real obvious emotion. Leave it alone. Yeah, I know. That was the temptation, I think that’s why it took so long. I’m not going to say the first film’s perfect or anything, but to us, it was really special. So you realize, ‘Oh, you could not only screw that up, you’d screw up the film you’re working on, but [also] screw up the first one.’ But, you know, it’s good. If you’re afraid of something and still compelled to do it, in the arts at least, you should probably still do it.” –Richard Linklater (IGN, July 01, 2004)

Before Sunset again benefits from Linklater’s collaboration with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, but this project allowed the two actors to work with Linklater on the film’s original script instead of altering an already prepared script as they did on Before Sunrise.

“The three of us wrote it. We all [put the pen to paper]. First, we talked about it for years, and then we took a lot of thought and building there, and then we sat down, the three of us in a room, for like three or four days, and worked on a very, very specific outline. I mean, the beginning, the end, what happens in every scene, all the emotional beats. It was very worked out. And then we kind of went our separate ways for almost a year. Julie would send 20 pages, Ethan would send monologs. I was re-writing and writing stuff. It was all on my laptop ultimately. If you did a word count, they would probably exceed me. At some point, we didn’t, if one of us had an idea we were trying to squeeze in the movie and the other two didn’t want to do it, or didn’t understand it or didn’t get traction in it, then it disappeared.” –Richard Linklater (IGN, July 01, 2004)

This method obviously worked for them, because Before Sunset is actually superior to the original film. The story follows Celine as she tracks down Jesse at the tail end of a book tour in Paris, with only a few hours left before his flight back home to the States. Their chemistry is rekindled by increasingly candid exchanges about professional setbacks, marital disappointments, and the compromises of adulthood. Impelled by an urgent sense of the transience of human connection, Before Sunset remains Linklater’s most seductive experiment with time’s inexorable passage and the way love can seem to stop it in its tracks. The entire film has a nuanced sense of urgency and desperation as we find that both characters are less than content with the current state of their lives. Experience has made both characters more interesting, and there is much more for each character to lose (and gain) by being together.

Before Midnight Cover

BEFORE MIDNIGHT – Spine #859

“We didn’t know if we were making a mistake there or not, but we were just compelled to do it. We created these characters, Jessie and Celine, they seemed to be living this parallel life with us but the fact that we did a second film and the way it ended, that ending kind of begs the question. So the three of us, everywhere we’ve gone in the last nine years it’s always that last question on the interview. ‘Oh, one more, do you think Jessie and Celine will ever get together?’ It’s a question that we all lived with. No one wanted the second film or asked about it really. But this one they wanted.” –Richard Linklater (SBS, June 12, 2013)

This bittersweet third entry in Linklater’s Before Trilogy finds Celine and Jesse several years into a relationship and in the midst of a sun-dappled Greek retreat with their twin daughters and a group of friends. The couple soon finds their vacation upended, however, by the aggravations of committed monogamy, which have long since supplanted the initial jolt of their mutual seduction. Marked by the emotional depth, piercing wit, and conversational exuberance that Linklater and his actors had honed over two decades of abiding with these characters, Before Midnight, grapples with the complexities of long-term intimacy and asks what becomes of love when it no longer has recourse to past illusions. There are moments when the film feels like an Edward Albee play, but these darker elements never feel at odds with the earlier films in the series.

“It’s harder to express something interesting and cinematic about being 41. And that territory that we were getting into was just a deeper, touchier subject matter that didn’t lend itself to what the other two films had, which was this kind of connection. This wasn’t about that; it was something else.” –Richard Linklater (The Star, June 06, 2013)

Jesse and Celine spend the majority of the film trying to avoid the ultimate confrontation that serves as the film’s climax—or perhaps they are merely attempting to prolong the inevitable.

“The whole movie builds to that moment. That fight’s been coming the whole movie, and, probably, for nine years. If you really go back, the fault line in their relationship leads to that. But I always call it the ‘hotel-room scene,’ because it doesn’t start off a fight. It’s quite the opposite; it starts off as a love scene, a sex scene. And the pace of the fight was very important. You know, people don’t just start to fight. They try not to fight. They try to resolve it. But they both want to be heard. Jesse and Celine are two master manipulators, and I often make the analogy that they’re two prizefighters; they’re very evenly matched. Slightly different styles, but ultimately, they’re gonna go all 15 rounds. So many times that fight could have ended—if one person would just eat a little crow and end it. But they have to keep going. They have to say one more thing. That’s the difference between courting someone and spending the rest of your life with someone. You can dig in on a subject that’s bugging you, and it can escalate into a fight, or you have to negotiate that space that you’re occupying together. That’s the challenge, and that’s what the movie [is] really about.” –Richard Linklater (Slant Magazine, May 22, 2013)

Before Midnight is the strongest entry in the series—not despite the film’s darker tone but because of it. It is ultimately very rewarding to discover that each film in the trilogy is better and more nuanced than the last. What’s more, the films seem to enrich one another other in a very honest and organic manner. This might be the best character-based trilogy ever produced.

Art

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

The Criterion Collection includes three different Digi-packs for each of the three films in the trilogy, and each film is given its own respective artwork that is simple but attractive. These Digi-packs are held in a sturdy box with its own artwork. An attractive booklet with an essay about the trilogy by Dennis Lim is also included and can be placed in the Digi-pack for Before Sunrise (the first film in the series). This essay is entitled “Time Regained” and it is an interesting read. The overall effect isn’t unlike the films themselves as the package appears to be quite simple and modestly designed, but the combined effect is surprisingly beautiful.

Menus

The menus for the three discs utilize footage from their respective film with music and sound clips from that particular film. Most will agree that all three of them are simple but attractive.

SS01

Picture Quality:

BEFORE SUNRISE & BEFORE SUNSET

4.5 of 5 Stars

According to the included booklet, the transfer of Before Sunrise and was “created from 35mm interpositives and scanned in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner. Thousands of instances of dirt and debris were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.” Criterion makes the most out of their painstaking work by utilizing a maxed out bitrate and the results are impressive. This is especially true of the daytime exteriors which exhibit a respectable level of clarity and a reasonable level of sharpness. There are no unsightly DNA issues and there is a healthy level of grain that remains stable throughout the duration of both features.

There is a significant increase in visual information at the left and right edges of the frame when one compares the transfer to the previous DVD releases. The level of fine detail is also dramatically increased, and the look of the nighttime scenes in Before Sunrise are dramatically improved upon.  There is no noticeable dirt or film damage to distract the viewer either. Density is improved as well and colors are well rendered and stable (although there might be some slight fluctuation that never becomes distracting). These are solid representations of the original film elements and the shortcomings of this transfer merely reflect those inherent in the source materials.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s booklet tells us that Before Midnight was “shot in 2K resolution on an Arri Alexa camera.” Criterion’s transfer looks to be sourced from the same elements that was used for Sony’s 2013 Blu-ray release (which was apparently supervised by Richard Linklater). Frankly, every aspect of that disc was incredibly satisfying and it is nice to see that Criterion represents it here with an even higher bitrate. Clarity is outstanding and the image looks great in motion. Fine detail is remarkable as well and the image displays strong depth. The picture is stable and has a crispness that should please fans of the trilogy (even those of us who miss the more organic look of the film). If the transfer has a weak point, it is the shifting shadow detail. However, few are likely to notice of be bothered by this as it isn’t at all distracting. This is simply a result of the production elements and should not be blamed on Criterion.

SS02

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

While Before Sunrise (2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio) and Before Sunset (5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio) are sourced from their original 35mm magnetic tracks and were cleaned of any anomalies such as hiss, hum, crackle, and etcetera, the audio for Before Midnight (5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio) was recorded digitally and mastered from the original audio master files using Pro Tools HD. Despite the discrepancies in the nature of their sources, each track seems to accurately represent the respective film in the matter that Linklater intended without any technical issues to mar one’s listening enjoyment.

SS03

Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion has spread nearly four and a half hours of supplemental features across the three discs (and this doesn’t even take into account the commentary track provided for Before Midnight).

Before Sunrise Title

DISC 1: BEFORE SUNRISE

The Space In Between – (43:39)

The highlight of the first disc is without a doubt this discussion between Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy. The conversation is moderated by Kent Jones, who does an excellent job of focusing the conversation while remaining invisible. When Kent contributes to the conversation, it is always interesting and pertinent to the conversation. The conversation was recorded in New York in 2016, with Julie Delpy participating via satellite from Los Angeles. Linklater discusses the encounter with Amy Lehrhaupt that planted the seed for the original film, and they all discuss the collaborative nature of the three films in an extremely relaxed and informal manner. These 44 minutes simply fly by in what seems like an instant. Time is, after all, relative.

3×2 – (39:49)

Dave Johnson (author of Richard Linklater: Contemporary Film Directors) and Rob Stone (author of The Cinema of Richard Linklater: Walk, Don’t Run) have a contagious enthusiasm for their subject that carries the viewer through this scholarly discussion about the three Before films. Even those who disagree with some (or most) of their theoretical insights are bound to find a newfound appreciation for Linklater’s work.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage – (05:57)

While the brief glimpses of “behind the scenes” footage is nice to see, this is really just EPK material built from on location interview footage of Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy delivering the typical general navel-gazing statements about the film. It’s nice to have this included here, but it isn’t particularly insightful or entertaining.

Before Sunset Title

DISK 2: BEFORE SUNSET

Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny – (01:29:52)

What a gift this is for anyone who appreciates Richard Linklater’s cinema! It can be said without any reservations that this feature length documentary about Linklater’s career (up to this point) is the star attraction of this set’s supplemental package. The film was directed by Louis Black and Karen Bernstein as part of the PBS series American Masters. New exclusive interviews with Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Sandra Adair, Matthew McConaughey, Jack Black, Chuck Linklater (Linklater’s Father), Tricia Linklater (Linklater’s Sister), and a number of other participants mingle with archival interviews and footage to paint a more interesting portrait of the director than one expects from such programs. Especially interesting is a glimpse into some of Linklater’s journals, writings, and even financial logs. Less interesting is input from other filmmakers such as Kevin Smith—but this may be due to my innate dislike of this particular filmmaker.

Linklater // On Cinema & Time – (08:28)

This video essay by :: kogonada is certain to divide viewers as to its value. It is certainly enjoyable as a kind of tonal montage of visuals and sound with Linklater’s use of time as its main concern. A telephone interview with Linklater serves as the guiding vehicle, but at no point does it feel as if this essay is intended to inform the viewer or propose any theoretical rhetoric. This telephone audio plays over footage from various Linklater films and other cinema classics from around the globe. Examples include Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (as well as other films in the Antoine Doinel cycle), and several others (we remember spotting some Godard and Ozu thrown in for good measure). The fact that Linklater’s voice has been filtered through the telephone adds to the aesthetic in interesting ways. It works as a celebration of Linklater’s special brand of cinema, but it is bound to disappoint anyone hoping for a scholarly examination of this particular theme.

Behind-the-Scenes Footage – (09:44)

This “behind the scenes” featurette is essentially EPK material, but it does provide more sustenance for information hungry cinephiles than the one provided for the first film. Here, we see glimpses of the cast and crew working behind the scenes mingled with the standard publicity interviews, but these interviews actually manage to be genuinely interesting. This shouldn’t imply that they delve any deeper than is usual, but they do manage to hide the fact that their commentary never really reveals anything terribly worthwhile.

Before Midnight Title

DISK 3: BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Commentary with Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke

This 2013 commentary track was recorded for the Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray release of Before Midnight—and it was the disc’s most significant supplement. Criterion has wisely carried it over to their release, and fans will agree that it was well worth their effort. The relaxed conversational nature of the conversation makes the information related therein more digestible (despite the fact that much of what we learn here is related elsewhere on the disc). The strength of the track lies in its ability to zero in on specific scenes and details in the film.

After Before – (30:41)

Athina Rachel Tsangari’s After Before is the set’s second best supplement (after Richard Linklater: Dream Is Destiny) as it provides viewers with a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the actors as Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke develop their scenes. It really is an invaluable documentary despite its relatively brief duration. One can listen endlessly as these collaborators discuss their creative approach to the three films in this set, but to actually see this work in action is much more revelatory. The “behind the scenes” production footage also adds to the experience. As a side note, Linklater seems to have suffered some sort of foot injury, and one wonders what might have happened to him to cause such an injury.

Love Darkens and Deepens – (39:37)

This lengthy radio interview is actually an episode of a Philadelphia-based radio program known as Fresh Air with host Terry Gross. It is presented with a single still image and so is basically an audio-only presentation. However, it manages to be extremely entertaining and somewhat informative (even if certain information revealed here was discussed in other features in this same set). Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy are all on hand to discuss the trilogy, but the conversation really zeros in on Before Midnight more than either of the other two films.

SS04

Final Words:

This is an essential release for Linklater fans! The Before Trilogy is required viewing for serious cinephiles and Criterion has finally given them the Blu-ray release that they deserve.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: May 30, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:32:34

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: French Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1536 kbps, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 26.86 Mbps

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

Title

“What pleases is what is terrible, gentle, and poetic.” -Georges Franju

While Spotlight Without a Murder isn’t Georges Franju’s most pleasing film, it is essential viewing for anyone who admires any of the director’s more popular efforts. The story isn’t particularly unique but it captures and holds the viewers interest with confident simplicity. When the terminally ill Count Hervé de Kerloquen (Pierre Brasseur, Goto, Isle of Love) vanishes without trace, his heirs are told that they have to wait five years before he can be declared legally dead, forcing them to devise ways of paying for the upkeep of the vast family château in the meantime.  While they set about transforming the place into an elaborate son et lumière tourist attraction, they are beset by a series of tragic accidents—if they are really accidents.

This was Franju’s third feature length effort after having already made Head Against the Wall and Eyes Without a Face and is a generally playful romp through Agatha Christie territory. Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac—who had penned the source novels for Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo—returned to pen the screenplay for the director after the success of their previous collaboration on Eyes Without a Face. Boileau and Narcejac were obviously well versed in murder-mystery clichés and they gleefully exploit as many of them as possible while also blending Gothic elements into the film’s expertly woven fabric. To be honest, the Boileau-Narcejac connection should be enough reason for serious film buffs to experience this somewhat obscure film—even if opinion will be divided between those who see it as a hidden gem and those who see it as a hidden curiosity.

SS01

The Presentation:

4.5 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 Peter Strain and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. In this instance, it should be said that Strain’s new artwork is gorgeous and certainly superior to the alternative. There is also an attractive booklet that features a few essays that enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the film.

[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.

SS02

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The included collector’s booklet contains very little information about the work that went into the film’s transfer, but does claim that “‘Spotlight on a Murderer’ was digitally restored by Gaumont from original film elements.” Happily, this vague information doesn’t seem to reflect any deficiencies in the quality of the film’s image. The image quality is always solid and often beautiful. It exhibits rich blacks and natural gradients between the various shades of grey. Contrast is also well handled and there is a natural and well resolved layer of grain that lends a filmic texture to the proceedings. Clarity isn’t particularly consistent, but this seems to be a direct result of the production elements. There aren’t many age relate artifacts, but the ravages of time does occasionally mar what is an otherwise gorgeous image. However, these rare anomalies never become distracting.

SS03

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The 2.0 Linear PCM mono audio supports the film’s visuals admirably. The various elements are all given enough room to flourish. Fidelity is commendable and there isn’t any noticeable distortion. Some viewers might lament the lack of a more dynamic sound mix, but purists will be thrilled to have the original audio reproduced so faithfully in high definition.

SS04

Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Le Courrier du Cinema – (27:14)

This excellent 1960 episode of a French television program documents the film’s production. The show is obviously geared towards promoting the film’s release, but it is rare to see “behind the scenes” documentary footage of films as old as this one. Obviously, this makes the viewing experience a fascinating one (especially if one is a fan of French cinema or Georges Franju). The program includes interviews with Georges Franju, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Pascale Audret, Marianne Koch, Pierre Brasseur, and Dany Saval. It is a shame that the footage isn’t more probing, but it is nonetheless a fascinating and instructive pleasure to watch.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (03:33)

The film’s theatrical trailer is another happy addition to Arrow Academy’s small but satisfying supplemental package.

SS05

Final Words:

This release is essential for admirers of French cinema, Georges Franju, or the old-school mystery genre.

SS06.jpg

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.

SS01.jpg

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).

Limited Edition.jpg

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.]

Menu - Disc 1

Menu - Disc 2

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

SS02.jpg

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.

SS03.jpg

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.

SS04.jpg

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.

SS05.jpg

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.

SS06.jpg

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: March 21, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Theatrical Version02:03:50

Director’s Cut 02:53:31

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio:

Theatrical Version5.1 Italian DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 2290 kbps, 24-bit)

Director’s Cut 5.1 Italian DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3224 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio:

Theatrical Version Italian Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Director’s Cut 2.0 Italian Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 2304 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.67:1

Bitrate:

Theatrical Version34.98 Mbps

Director’s Cut30.00 Mbps

Notes: This film has seen several DVD and Blu-ray releases, but this new restoration release from Arrow Academy is the definitive release by a wide margin.

Title

Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (aka Nuovo Cinema Paradiso) tells the story of Salvatore, a successful film director who reminisces about his formative years when he learns about the death of Alfredo—his old friend, mentor, and father surrogate. As memories of his first love affair with the beautiful Elena and all the high and lows that shaped his life come flooding back to him, he decides that he must return home for the funeral… and this is where radical differences between the two versions included in this set come into play.

Both versions can be divided into three separate sections—or three very distinct “acts” if you subscribe to Aristotle’s theories about dramatic structure: The first concentrates on Salvatore’s childhood, the second on his adolescence, and the third on Salvatore’s journey back to his hometown as a successful but unhappy middle-aged man. However, all of these sections are given equal screen time in the director’s cut while much of the third section has been omitted in the theatrical release.

The result is that the award-winning theatrical release and the director’s cut are two very different films that tell two vastly different stories. The trailer advertising the limited theatrical release of the director’s cut (also known as The New Version) boasts that audiences will “discover what really happened to the love of a lifetime” and it certainly deliver’s on this promise—but there’s the rub. The revelation of what happened to Elena is such that it changes the entire meaning of everything that came before it—including the nature of Salvatore’s relationship with Alfredo. This alters the theme and ones experience to such an extent that it is impossible to view the theatrical version in the same way. Those who remember the film as a charming “celebration of youth, friendship, and the everlasting magic of the movies” (as Arrow’s liner notes boldly announce) will forever be disillusioned. The director’s cut is a much darker film with very different themes—and you can’t un-see it.

The truth is that this longer version is probably the better film, and viewers who see it first will likely be shocked that the theatrical version doesn’t utilize the most important scenes in the entire film. But those who were raised watching the original theatrical cut might very well feel that “their” Cinema Paradiso has forever been perverted, and this reviewer falls into the latter category.

SS01.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Cinema Paradiso marks the US debut of Arrow Academy and they have set the bar quite high with the release. One might compare Arrow’s standard Blu-ray releases to those released by Criterion in that both boutique labels seem put special effort into the presentation of their packaging. This is usually evident before one even takes shrink-wrap off of the case. However, there are a few minor differences. Criterion’s original designs are usually superior to those commissioned by Arrow. However, Arrow more than makes up for this fact by offering consumers a reversible sleeve that makes use of the film’s one-sheet artwork. This release is a good example of this as we find the two Blu-ray discs housed in the same clear Blu-ray case with the aforementioned reversible sleeve offering a choice between Arrow’s new artwork and the film’s original one-sheet design—which is more attractive and the easy choice.

There is also an attractive booklet that replicates the aesthetic of a vintage roadshow program and includes an interesting essay by Pasquale Iannone entitled “Stolen Kisses: Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso,” which is an informative appreciation of the film that discusses the production and the film’s two different cuts (comparing the director’s cut to Apocalypse Now: Redux). Also included in the booklet is a series of “behind the scenes photos from the film and the usual notes about Arrow Academy, the restoration transfer, and cast and crew credits. It is well worth the time that it takes to read through this attractive booklet and it adds quite a bit of value to the release.

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

Menu - Theatrical Version

Menu - Director's Cut.jpg

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

SS02.jpg

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Films has given Cinema Paradiso a much deserved 2K restoration and the results are happily quite satisfactory. In fact, both versions of the film begin with a textual header that includes information about the restoration:

Cinema Paradiso was exclusively restored by Arrow Films for this release. The original 35mm camera negative elements were scanned in 2k resolution at Technicolor Rome, with all grading and restoration work completed at Deluxe Digital Cinema – EMEA, London. Throughout the process, care was taken to ensure that the film’s original texture, details and grain structure remained unaffected by digital processing. Although every effort has been made to present Cinema Paradiso in the highest quality possible, some minor picture issues remain, in keeping with the condition of the original archive materials.” –Opening Header

The Blu-ray transfers of the restoration are of the most excellent quality. Each version is given its own disc at a maxed-out bitrate, and neither version has ever looked as good on home video. Videophiles will be happy to find that the transfer maintains the film’s original filmic texture without sacrificing fine detail—which is really quite impressive for a 25-year-old film. The sharpness of the image is also remarkable and this becomes especially evident in the film’s close and medium shots. The Italian textures of the various buildings come across admirably as do those in the actor’s skin and wardrobe. There are a few moments when the grain patterns can become just a bit unwieldy during a few of the darker moments, but these moments are the exception rather than the rule and never become distracting. Colors are simply brilliant with better than average black levels throughout the duration. The most surprising thing about the transfer is how clean it looks. One would expect a 25-year-old film to be marred by dirt, scratches, and perhaps even a few photochemical anomalies, but such flaws are surprisingly infrequent.

SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow offers a 5.1 Italian DTS-HD Master Audio mix for both versions of the film along with Linear PCM Audio transfers of each film’s original mix. (The theatrical version’s original mix was in Mono while the Director’s Cut was released in 2.0 Stereo). It is nice that the original mixes have been included here in addition to the 5.1 upgrade and all tracks are reasonably solid. The theatrical version’s original track is predictably flatter than one might prefer, but it sounds quite good. Dialogue is always clear and music has plenty of room to breathe. The surround mix of the film probably isn’t the huge leap forward that one might expect but does offer a more dynamic presentation of the film’s score—although the placement of the various elements sound a bit phony and manage to distract during certain moments. Purists will certainly want to opt for the original mono mix—even if the 5.1 versions do manage a marginally more dynamic experience. The director’s cut’s original 2.0 stereo offers noticeable separations and sounds quite good making this an easy choice for this particular version—although this is merely a matter of taste. All tracks are fairly front heavy but this never becomes a bother.

SS04.jpg

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

Disc 1

Audio Commentary by Millicent Marcus and Giuseppe Tornatore (Theatrical)

Disappointingly, this commentary track is 95% Millicent Marcus—who somehow manages to hold one’s interest as she gives a somewhat elementary analysis. That she manages to hold one’s interest is surprising, because she usually relies on giving the viewer a description of what is on the screen. The track becomes more interesting during the few audio excerpts of Giuseppe Tornatore discussing certain aspects of the film. There are occasions when Marcus gives a bit of general background information, and her observations about the director’s cut are both on target and engaging. Viewers are also likely to appreciate when she offers the titles of the various films being projected within the movie. These moments make the commentary worth visiting, but one would do well to curb one’s expectations.

Giuseppe Tornatore’s A Dream of Sicily – (54:47)

This is a surprisingly comprehensive profile of Giuseppe Tornatore featuring footage early home movies shot by the director, on set footage of Tornatore at work, clips from a few of his films, and much more. The majority of the piece revolves around interviews with the director himself, although Francesco Rosi and Peppino Ducato also make appearances. The documentary is well worth the time it takes to watch it, and may well be the disc’s best supplement—though one suspects that some will prefer the disc’s other documentary more since it focuses solely on Cinema Paradiso.

A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise – (27:28)

A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise is a comprehensive retrospective look at the making of Cinema Paradiso—and it is as entertaining as it is informative. Giuseppe Tornatore, Salvatore Cascio, and Philippe Noiret are all on hand to discuss their experiences during the shooting of the film, the two cuts, and the film’s enthusiastic reception. Some people complain about such “talking heads” documentaries, but I will take a good “talking heads” documentary over a “describe the action” commentary any day.

The Kissing Sequence – (07:03)

This short featurette finds Giuseppe Tornatore as he discusses the final “censored kisses” montage. It is certainly informative and engaging, but one wonders why this footage couldn’t have been included in the body of A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise. It would’ve been a nice addition to the documentary—but one suspects this allows them to advertise another supplement. It is nice to have it included in any case.

25th Anniversary Trailer – (01:42)

The 25th Anniversary trailer is nice enough, but one wonders why the original theatrical release trailers couldn’t have been included either in addition or instead of this one.

Disc 2

Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer – (01:22)

The Director’s Cut trailer promises “over fifty-one minutes of never before seen footage” and that audiences will “discover what really happened to the love of a lifetime.” Its inclusion here is appreciated.

SS05.jpg

Final Words:

Cinema Paradiso is a classic of world cinema and this wonderful 25th Anniversary Restoration release from Arrow Academy is the best it has ever looked on home video.

SS06.jpg

Review by: Devon Powell

 

claude-chabrol-cover

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:

Title - Betty.jpg

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.

Title - Torment.jpg

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.

Title - The Swindle.jpg

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.

SS01.jpg

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.

Menus.jpg

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

SS02.jpg

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.

SS03.jpg

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.

SS04.jpg

Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

SS05 - Betty.jpg

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).

SS05 - Torment.jpg

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.

SS05 - The Swinde.jpg

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.

SS06.jpg

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

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: February 07, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 02:09:56

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

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

title

“He could do more with a closed door than other directors could do with an open fly.” –Billy Wilder (about Ernst Lubitsch)

Billy Wilder’s fondness for the “Lubitsch touch” is very much on display throughout the length of Love in the Afternoon, which is the second film that finds Audrey Hepburn under the accomplished direction of Billy Wilder. The director had just begun his legendary writing partnership with I. A. L. Diamond, who would go on to collaborate on eleven future Wilder films. The result is always enjoyable but cannot be considered one of the director’s best works. The reason for this probably lies in the unfortunate casting of Gary Cooper as the film’s masculine lead.

As American playboy, Frank Flannagan, Cooper finds himself decidedly out of his element—especially when paired with a young Audrey Hepburn. Cooper was only 56 at the time, but he looks quite a bit older than this in the film. It is difficult to believe that the Cooper that we are watching onscreen is the ladies’ man that Maurice Chevalier (as Claude Chavasse) discusses during the film’s opening scenes. Wilder’s original choice was Cary Grant, and one feels that he would have been more believable in the role—even if Grant (at age 53) was only a few years younger than Cooper at the time.

Fortunately, the solid script, Wilder’s expert direction, and admirable performances by Hepburn and Chevalier are enough to make one’s viewing experience a pleasurable one.

SS01.jpg

The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve containing Saul Bass’s original one-sheet artwork, which is enough to make this release look like a rather special one. One wishes that more Blu-rays would be released with their original poser art.

menu

The menu utilizes this same artwork and are easy to navigate. However, the unusual absence of a chapter menu might annoy some viewers.

SS02.jpg
Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

William C. Mellor’s gorgeous black and white cinematography is treated with love and respect in Warner Archive’s wonderful 2K transfer scanned from the original camera negative. Their efforts to clean up the imperfections in the scan was handled with care as the image showcases a very natural grain pattern. The transfer’s high bitrate allows for above average depth and clarity for a film of this age, even if the image is a shade softer than one might expect. It should be made clear that the picture’s softness is a direct result of Mellor’s romantic cinematography and does not reflect any weakness in the transfer. Blacks are deep without giving way to noticeable crush and the various shades of grey are equally well rendered.

SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The film’s original mono audio track has been carried over to the digital realm and cleaned of any glaring imperfections that might have distracted viewers. The result is a lossless track that accurately replicates what audiences would have heard in 1957. Anyone expecting anything more than this is both unreasonable and slightly ridiculous.

SS04.jpg

Special Features:

1 of 5 Stars

Theatrical Trailer – (03:00)

Maurice Chevalier narrates this cute and entertaining marketing artifact and it is nice to see it included on the disc.

SS05.jpg

Final Words:

Billy Wilder’s flawed homage to Ernst Lubitsch is a pleasure to watch—even if it isn’t in the same class as his best work.

Review by: Devon Powell

blu-ray-coverSpine #843

Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 15, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.39:1

Bitrate: 34.77 Mbps

Notes: A DVD edition of this title is also available from Criterion, and is also available in various DVD editions from Sony Pictures Classics. This new edition from Criterion is superior to these earlier releases. 

title

“I wasn’t writing the script and then thought of Adam [Sandler]. I actually wanted to write a movie for Adam—something I thought he would have fun doing.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (BBC, February 07, 2003)

Punch-Drunk Love isn’t an Adam Sandler film. It is a Paul Thomas Anderson film that subverts the Sandler persona while humanizing it. Let us take a very quick look at three prototypical Sandler vehicles:

In Happy Gilmore (1996), the titular character is a wannabe hockey player forced into professional golf in an effort to buy his grandmother’s house when it is repossessed. Happy is given to violent outbursts of rage when the game isn’t going his way.

The Wedding Singer (1998) finds Robbie Hart jilted at the altar, and this sends him spiraling into a breakdown. His repressed rage and self-loathing surfaces while performing at a wedding. While giving a self-pitying speech, he explodes into a tantrum, insults the guests, and even threatens to strangle someone with his microphone wire.

The Waterboy (1998) details the rise of a mentally challenged water boy named Bobby Boucher who discovers that his violent bouts of rage give him the edge on the football field when properly channeled.

angry-adam

Angry Adam: Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, and The Waterboy.

These are only three examples, but Sandler’s career has been built on portraying similar characters. All are basically decent and kind hearted underdogs who are prone to emotional outbursts of violent rage, and Paul Thomas Anderson was obviously aware of this pattern. In Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan is a lonely man suffering from social anxiety and a lifetime of small emotional wounds that have accumulated over time. His suppressed emotions manifest themselves in—you guessed it—fits of destructive rage. However, this isn’t played in broad comic strokes for cheap laughs. It is all too clear that these problems are keeping Barry from happiness. There is a poignancy to Barry’s outbursts, and his loneliness is palpable.

However, Anderson isn’t finished yet. He understands that by giving his audience a laundry list of unexplained but interesting details about Barry, he is simultaneously raising twice as many questions. Characters can give a story a remarkably strong drive when a storyteller is skilled, and the creator of Punch-Drunk Love is one of cinema’s best contemporary filmmakers.

Why, for instance, is Barry so eager to take advantage of a promotion that offers a ridiculous number of frequent flyer miles? Barry’s obsessive drive to accumulate as much pudding as he possibly can so that he can earn frequent flyer miles is confounding to an audience because it is established that he doesn’t even travel. Interestingly, this particular element was inspired by a true story.

“There is an engineer in California, who in fact bought $12,000 of pudding to get these frequent flyer miles.  But it went even further: There was a promotion of seven or eight South American airline companies that wanted to advertise their flights between North- and South America.  If you would fly on these airlines within a specific timeframe, they would promise you one million frequent flyer miles.  This guy really did it.  He was in twelve countries in four days.  He now had something like five million frequent flyer miles.  But I have no idea if he had violent outbursts, or what kinds of suits he wore.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (Spiegel, April 13th, 2003)

Anderson’s mention of suits at the end of this quote alludes to the bright blue suit worn by Barry throughout the film. It is yet another interesting but unexplained detail that sets the character apart from everyone else. More interesting than the suit, however, is his interest in an old harmonium that has been left on the side of the road. Barry might feel compelled to rescue the harmonium because it is unwanted and abandoned. It seems reasonable to conclude that Barry might see the harmonium as a sort of symbol for himself. He certainly feels driven to rescue it and he has a mystifying fascination with the instrument (as does the audience).

Roadside Harmonium.jpg

The lonely man meets the unwanted harmonium.

Even hints at Barry’s backstory seem to raise as many questions about our misfit hero as are answered. It is more than apparent that he is an outsider in his own family, and his sisters obviously look down on him. Their reminders of painful moments merge with insult in the guise of incidental small talk: “Remember when we used to call you gay boy and you’d get all mad?” Such small talk is common in families, but they betray an unpleasant past in which Barry has been made to feel separate from those closest to him. Furthermore, it is clear that this alienation has followed him into adulthood. He doesn’t engage with others.

 Of course, he wants and needs to feel a connection with someone, and this basic human need motivates him to call a phone sex hotline. As this initially awkward phone conversation progresses, anyone with misguided notions that they are watching a stereotypical romantic comedy will probably assume that a romantic relationship will form with this phone sex operator. Unfortunately for Barry Egan, this is nothing like a stereotypical romantic comedy. In fact, she calls him the next morning in an effort to blackmail him for money.

The film’s romance is instead launched soon after this when one of his sisters introduces him to the lovely Lena (Emily Watson). Lina seems to offer him hope for happiness—but only if he can overcome his own anxieties and put an end to the chaos in his life. It should be mentioned that the aforementioned harmonium comes into play again here, because—whatever it represents to Barry—it seems to symbolize equilibrium (or “harmony”) in the film context of the overall film. Barry needs to find balance and peace of mind in order for his relationship with Lena to be successful. This has been written about elsewhere, most notably in Cubie King’s essay, “Punch Drunk Love: The Budding of an Auteur.”

 “The root word of harmonium is harmony. The harmonium, like Lena, appears suddenly in Barry’s life; when things are going poorly for Barry, the harmonium is somehow mysteriously ripped, and like his new relationship Barry must learn to find its harmony… After returning from Utah, Barry grabs the harmonium and physically brings it to Lena’s apartment door, thus combining the two elements that bring him joy. It is as if Barry has suddenly recognized their connection, a surreal moment…

…In the final shot of the film the puzzle is solved. Barry plays the exact notes from Jon Brion’s score for Punch-Drunk Love, playing the harmonium almost concurrently with the music that plays over the scene. The diegetic and non-diegetic music playing together is a moment of cinematic harmony; Barry, Lena, and the harmonium are now in sync.” –Cubie King (Senses of Cinema, April 2005)

bleeding-love

Barry Egan and his harmonium.

There is plenty of visual support for this theory, as the harmonium is often seen placed in the background between Barry and Lina in Anderson’s miseen-scène. His use of composition and color is actually of paramount importance to one’s reading of Punch-Drunk Love, and his color scheme was discussed at length in King’s essay.

“Anderson also uses colors as key indicators of Barry’s psychological battle; blue, red and white being the most prominent. Blue is largely seen in Barry’s workplace and home; it is also the color of Barry’s suit that he curiously begins wearing the day the film begins. Barry is literally blue throughout most of the film…

Red serves as the color that leads to Barry’s happiness. Very precise red objects throughout the film visually direct Barry out of his damaged life (or psyche) and point him in the direction of escape and/or change. Take for instance the first scene in the supermarket. Barry walks down an aisle whispering to himself, ‘What am I looking for?’ As he utters this, in the far background, a woman in a red dress is visible. When Barry turns his head and notices her watching him she quickly walks off. This woman could be seen as Lena, but more importantly a manifestation of the ‘idea’ of Lena, what Barry is actually ‘looking for.’ Because the woman is never identified, the color red becomes the most important aspect of the sequence. Anderson answers Barry’s “What am I looking for?” visually (there is no motivation otherwise to explain this), thus showing us tangible elements of Barry’s subconscious in an environment which we assume is entirely real.

The usage of the color red goes well beyond Lena’s dress (which she wears in all but a few scenes)—a red arrow can be spotted pointing the way to escape from the four blonde brothers, [and] in the supermarket a red arrow points in the direction of where Barry will find the pudding (the pudding offers a way out for Barry)…

…White, on the other hand, takes on a much more sophisticated role. White is the color that coats many of the barren rooms throughout the film. If red works towards Barry’s mirth [sic], then white works in the opposite, as his oppressor. Throughout the film, Barry travels through all white environments that are sparse, isolated, nondescript, and cold. Instances such as Barry’s workplace resembling a large white box, or scenes of Barry running like a trapped mouse through white mazes while attempting to escape the blonde brothers, or finding Lena’s apartment door, demonstrate its recurring influence. White is also the color of the oppressive blown-out light which floods in and suffocates Barry from the outside world, thus emphasizing a greater suppression Barry feels in all his environments. This suppression correlates to the film’s many compositions that imprison Barry within the frame.” –Cubie King (Senses of Cinema, April 2005)

It is interesting that King fails to mention that the harmonium was dropped at the side of the road by someone in a red taxi because this detail would support the theories about color and those about the harmonium. However, it isn’t necessarily important to overanalyze what these colors represent. If the meaning cannot be articulated or explained intellectually, they can certainly be absorbed and felt by the viewer emotionally—which is actually better. After all, this is what the cinema does best.

It would certainly be difficult to explain the meaning behind the unusual transitions in the film, which utilize Jeremy Blake’s tailor-made artwork.

“I had written that there would be some kind of color—bursts of color. I didn’t know what it was exactly. I didn’t know. After we finished shooting the first chunk of the movie, we actually ended up shooting two chunks, and after the first chunk was shot I saw [Jeremy Blake’s] work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and called him up and he came to Los Angeles and had him in our studio. We had this great studio where we set everything up. He saw the movie. All I had done was put red, white, blue and green flashes as placeholders for him. We talked for a while and he did ten or fifteen different pieces a day and it was just sort of a great thing. I ended up with a lot more than I thought I would get.” –Paul Thomas Anderson (BAM Q&A, June 23, 2013)

 That Anderson had intended such transitions from the beginning says something about the importance of these transitions, which has an enormous effect on the viewer’s experience. It creates a kind of euphoric dizziness that can again be felt but never articulated. Some of the best films of all time feel as if they are dreams that have been put onto celluloid, and Punch-Drunk Love can certainly be added to the list of these films.

 Those who expect the film to be a pessimistic study of human relationships will be pleasantly surprised. Barry’s character is certainly alienated and rather disturbed, but the universe seems to be doing everything in its power to help Barry. The harmonium seems to have been left for him to find it, he seems to be magically led to the pudding isle, and he is introduced to Lena despite his own objections. Barry might not think that he is worth loving, but the universe doesn’t agree. What could be more positive than that? This is one of Anderson’s only “feel good” efforts, and it is worth seeing for this reason alone.

SS01.jpg

The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray disc is housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. While Criterion is known for their brilliant tailor-made cover designs, Dustin Stanton’s cover for Punch-Drunk Love is somewhat disappointing. It utilizes a still from the film that reminds one of the covers found on run-of-the-mill Blu-ray releases. Wouldn’t it be more sophisticated if they were to utilize some of Jeremy Blake’s wonderful artwork for the film—or even the film’s original one-sheet design? This is a minor complaint, and one doubts if most people will be terribly disappointed with the presentation as it stands. It is simply disappointing when one compares the artwork to some of Criterion’s other releases. As is their habit, Criterion also includes a fold-out pamphlet featuring an admiring essay by Miranda July.

The disc’s menu showcases the harmonium that features largely in the film coupled with Jon Brion’s unusual score. The result is elegant in its simplicity.

SS02.jpg

Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars 

Criterion’s 1080p transfer of Punch-Drunk Love almost makes up for the fact that PTA fans had to wait such a ridiculously long time to own the film on Blu-ray. As always, the film’s transfer is discussed in the leaflet provided in the disc’s case:

Punch-Drunk Love is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are normal for this format. Supervised by Paul Thomas Anderson, this high-definition digital transfer was created from a 35mm interpositive.” –Liner Notes

The result is an image vastly superior to the film’s original Super-bit DVD transfer. It probably goes without saying that Detail, depth, and clarity are all substantially improved upon as the image reveals textures that were never before evident while viewing the film on home video. Colors also show substantial improvement, which is good news considering the film’s creative use of vibrant color. Perhaps the biggest improvement over the Super-bit DVD release is that there are none of the ugly and distracting compression anomalies that marred the earlier release.

It is probably possible to complain about a few moments of minor noise and muddy shadowy areas of the frame, but one wonders if these problems might be related to the actual production photography. Franky, blacks are—for the most part—extremely well handled here. There might also be a few quick moments of mild ringing, but this too seems to be a production related issue and not the fault of this excellent transfer. As is usually the case, Criterion has cleaned quite a bit if dirt and other anomalies from their scan of the film leaving fans with an immaculate image. It is easy to understand why Anderson improved this wonderful transfer.

SS03.jpg

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio—which was re-mastered from the 35mm magnetic track—is as close to perfect as any reasonable listener could possibly expect. Jon Brion’s score, sound effects, and dialogue are all masterfully mixed into what stands as a surprisingly effective sonic experience—especially for a film of its kind. It goes without saying that Anderson makes good use of sound design in his films, and Punch-Drunk Love isn’t an exception.

This is truly a surprisingly dynamic mix that finds Brion’s score dramatically crossing across all five speakers. The directional mix also gives weight to some of Barry’s more chaotic scenes—where his head seems to be going in all directions. It really elevates the entire experience in interesting ways. It has the effect of placing the viewer in Barry’s mind. It’s brilliant work! An entire book could be written about the film’s sound design.

ss04

Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Criterion carries over Sony’s previous DVD supplements over for the film’s Blu-ray debut while adding quite a few new features for fans to enjoy. The materials carried over from Sony’s previous DVD edition are simply presented in up-scaled standard definition, but most of Criterion’s new video features are in true high definition. One wishes that the deleted scenes could have received a new high definition transfer for this release, but one shouldn’t complain about such trifles.

Deleted Scenes:

The Sisters Call – (07:18)

It is interesting to compare this sequence with the abbreviated version that is included in the film. While this series of telephone calls is amusing and interesting, Anderson made the correct decision when he simplified things. The phone conversations in the finished film have more pathos. Less is sometimes more.

“Are You from California” – (02:23)

This interaction between Barry and the goons sent to intimidate him wouldn’t have added anything interesting to the film, but it is instructive to see what was cut from the finished picture.

Blossoms & Blood – (11:58)

Blossoms & Blood is simply a 12-minute assemblage of various deleted and alternate scenes that have been woven together with Jeremy Blake’s art and Jon Brion’s music. Since deleted scenes are amongst the most useful and interesting of all supplemental features, it is wonderful to see this carried over from Sony’s original 2-Disc DVD release.

Mattress Man Commercial – (00:52)

This humorous short spoof on those ridiculously low budget regional commercials that are a staple of late night cable. Actually, it is an almost verbatim reenactment of an actual commercial outtake from the 1980s! (The real commercial is available on Youtube.) It isn’t clear whether this spoof was shot specifically for Punch Drunk Love and deleted from the final cut of the film or if it was merely intended as a fun promotional artifact. Either way, it is a rather amusing addition to the disc. Fans should be pleased to see this carried over from Sony’s original 2-Disc DVD edition of the film.

Cannes Film Festival, 2002: Press Conference – (37:43)

This lengthy panel discussion featuring Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and JoAnne Sellar is only limited by the sometimes ridiculous questions asked during its duration. At its best, this is an informative discussion about the film and its production. At its worst, it is an amusing glimpse of the aforementioned panelists as they try to answer questions that are either unclear or unbelievably pretentious. Since it entertains when it doesn’t enlighten, fans should agree that its inclusion adds quite a bit of value to the disc.

Cannes Film Festival, 2002: Studio Interviews – (07:02)

This “live” television interview with Paul Thomas Anderson, Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is both interesting and entertaining without ever offering much in the way of revelatory information. It is one of those surface level group interviews where all participants praise the work and collaborative efforts of all other participants as they generally discuss the film without ever revealing anything about it. However, it is certainly an amusing way to spend seven minutes and it is nice to have it included in the supplemental package.

Jon Brion on Punch Drunk Love – (27:19)

Many fans will undoubtedly consider this incredibly informative interview with Jon Brion to be the standout amongst the new Criterion offerings available on the disc. Brion is simultaneously engaging and comprehensive in this discussion about his collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson. He discusses their work together in a manner that even viewers who are completely ignorant about music and sound production should be able to understand. Better yet, the information revealed enhances the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the film itself.

Jon Brion’s Recording Session – (09:56)

Those interested in film scores will find this “home video” footage taken from behind the scenes of Brion’s recording sessions of the Punch Drunk Love score especially interesting. It is a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of Brion and his orchestra at work without any additional commentary to give the footage context. This lack of context may frustrate certain viewers, but most will welcome it as a rare glimpse behind the curtain.

Gangitano and Connor: Jeremy Blake’s Artwork – (20:25)

Michael Connor and Lia Gangitano discuss Jeremy Blake’s background, artwork, and work on the film in an impressive amount of detail. The viewer is also shown a liberal amount of Blake’s art throughout the conversation, which certainly adds value to the program. Unfortunately, their dry shop-talk tends to be slightly less than completely digestible for the average viewer and there isn’t nearly enough information or analysis about Blake’s work on Punch Drunk Love—which should really be priority one. It is certainly a valuable addition to the disc, but most will probably see it as a missed opportunity.

Katie Couric Interview with David Phillips – (05:04)

This interview with Katie Couric and David Phillips was probably aired as part of NBC’s Today show in 2000. David Phillips (aka “the pudding guy”) is interviewed about his efforts to collect frequent flyer miles by purchasing an enormous quantity of “Healthy Choice” products—most notably pudding. Paul Thomas Anderson used Phillips’ unusual mission as the starting point for Sandler’s character in Punch Drunk Love.

Additional Artwork by Jeremy Blake – (02:42)

This is essentially a gallery of additional artwork that was completed by Jeremy Blake for the film presented in slideshow form and set a Hawaiian-flavored song by Annie Kerr entitled “I’ve Gone Native Now.”

Twelve Scopitones – (06:20)

To call these short segments “Scopitones” seems misleading. They are merely very short clips edited from Jeremy Blake’s artwork and footage shot for the film.

Trailers:

Standard Theatrical Trailer(02:27)

The standard theatrical trailer isn’t much different than most other trailers, but the quirky nature of Anderson’s under-appreciated gem shines through here.

Jeremy’s Blake’s Love – (01:24)

Jeremy Blake’s artwork is utilized prominently here until it finally bleeds into live action footage of Barry and Lena. It is a nice little teaser that must have raised a lot of questions about the film upon its initial release.

Eat Tomorrow – (00:33)

This teaser seems to have been made for French audiences. It is a nice little advertisement that captures the tonal flavor of the film, but it is the least effective of the three trailers included here. One wonders if this wasn’t actually a foreign television spot for the film.

SS05.jpg

Final Words:

Punch-Drunk Love lives up to Paul Thomas Anderson’s reputation for creating brilliant cinema, and Criterion gives the film a solid Blu-ray debut.

SS06

Review by: Devon Powell