Category Archives: DVD Review

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DVD Review – Marshall

Category : DVD Review

Director: Reginald Hudlin

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Dan Stevens

Year: 2017

Director Reginald Hudlin hasn’t attempted a feature film since a string of odd choices in the 90s and early 2000s.  House Party, Boomerang, The Great White Hype, The Ladies Man, Serving Sarah; that’s an odd group, to say the least, and the array of television episodes that he’s directed since then are even odder, and would take much longer to type out.  My point is, he’s been out of the game for a while, and even when he was in the game he wasn’t exactly winning.  And so his most recent movie, Marshall, feels more like a TV special than it does an awards-caliber film.  But that isn’t a completely terrible thing, if you’re prepared for what you’re about to watch; a true story that would probably fit better on the History Channel than in a theatre near you.

The Movie

Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer working for the NAACP, was known as a man who stood tall and stayed clearheaded in the most trying of situations.  His job was to travel the country to important spots where the battle for equal rights was being fought the hardest, to be the voice for those were being shouted down.  When an innocent black man was accused of a terrible crime because the system had been rigged against him for centuries, Marshall would arrive to give legal counsel, to defend the case, to coach other lawyers, to show the nation that men are created equal, and that their legal rights should be treated the exact same way.

In one of his most famous cases, Marshall came to Connecticut to defend a black driver who was accused of raping his white employer.  Joseph Spell worked for the Strubings, and was always kind to the Mrs., especially when her husband was away on business.  But one night, Eleanor Strubing went to the police claiming that she was raped and thrown over a bridge to be drowned, and that Spell was the culprit.  The story was fishy and Spell refused to plead guilty to a crime he said he did not commit, so Marshall arrived to find the truth and to get this man a fair trial.  Because he was from out of state, he was not allowed to speak in the courtroom, relying instead on local attorney Sam Friedman, and insurance lawyer who was about to get the education of a lifetime.

For a film titled after the famous true character, Marshall had very little to do with Thurgood and more to do with Friedman, a turn I did not expect.  They tried to throw in a little backstory, Thurgood’s wife and their struggle to have children, but the focus remained on Friedman throughout, especially in the courtroom, where he was the one who was historically allowed to speak, so that makes absolute sense; I was simply surprised that the film tilted his way so much.  We even got a lot of Dan Stevens, which I was fine with; he’s one hell of an actor, and you hardly miss his dashing British accent.  Regardless of the characters, the case ended up taking center stage, and that’s as it should be, with the verdict an important step toward equal treatment under the law.

Dan Stevens was strong, Sterling K. Brown is a revelation, James Cromwell was the perfect judge, but it’s hard to take Kate Hudson seriously; she just isn’t talented enough to hold her own opposite these other players.  Chadwick Boseman is though, and his rise to stardom is an important one.  He does a lot of biopics, he’s also Black Panther, he seems to have a solid path carved out already; I’m ready to watch him become something special.  Now, Josh Gad is a bit of a mixed bag, a funny man who is trying to play serious, a little bumbler who wants to put up a fight.  I don’t think he quite has the chops, but he does fine when he’s in the spotlight, just not impressing as much as the opportunity allowed.  The film is intriguing, it does show more like television and less like a film, it won’t win any awards, but the story is important enough to pass along, the delivery good enough to warrant a light recommendation.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.00:1 (1080p HD Widescreen) and shot using an ARRI ALEXA 65 camera with Prime 65 and Vintage 765 lenses, the video quality of this Blu-ray disc is excellent, perhaps even unnecessarily so.  The clarity is great, the color is vibrant; it’s almost lost on this movie, which required nothing more than that we heard the tale and understood the meaning.

Audio – The disc was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with an option of Descriptive Video Service in Dolby Digital 2.0.  Subtitles are also available, in English SDH and Spanish.  In the sounds menu, button sounds can be turned off or on.  The audio quality of the Blu-ray disc is great, a solid compliment to the action of the story and the setting in which it takes place.

Extras – The only extras are 8 trailers for contemporary films.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  Thurgood Marshall would of course go on to be the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, but I didn’t know much about his road there, and I feel thankful now that I have had the opportunity to learn.  Most of us have the means to jump on a computer, our phones, or Wikipedia to find out any information we want, to educate ourselves about any historical figure we could imagine.  But sometimes it takes a film or a book or a play to nudge us in the right direction, to get us motivated to open up our ears and our minds.  The video of the movie is top-notch, the audio is strong, the extras are few; technically there won’t be any distractions.  So while Marshall may not be the courtroom drama of the century, it has a lot to offer, if we are simply willing to hold out our hands.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Theeb

Category : DVD Review

Director: Naji Abu Nowar

Starring: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh AL-Sweilhiyeen

Year: 2014

Out of the United Arab Emirates and filmed in Jordan comes Theeb, a film nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the 2016 Academy Awards.  ‘Theeb’ means ‘wolf’ in Arabic, and is the name of our main character, as well as a point of metaphor throughout the movie.  You won’t fail to be impressed by this look into another world, nor will its impact miss the mark for many.  And yet while its differences are its strengths, they are also its weaknesses, the delivery of the story so unlike what we are used to seeing that they catch our attention only to make us feel somewhat unwelcome here.

The Movie

Theeb is a young boy, the son of a sheik, from a Bedouin people deep in the deserts of the Ottoman Empire.  Times are changing as war rages outside, the Ottomans choosing sides, many rising up against them, the British stepping in to take command as usual.  One English officer requests the aid of Theeb’s brother to guide him to the railway many miles across the barren landscape, through dangerous terrain.  Theeb follows so as not to be left behind, shadowing the brother that he loves so much and who he can’t stand to be parted from.

Theeb will experience the world in a way he never imagined, growing up on the sand while the harsh truths of survival prowl around the outskirts of the party’s campfire.  Tribes war with tribes, bandits roam the arid countryside, wells are prized possessions, and no one is safe traveling in small groups, yet Bedouins are fiercely proud of their survival skills, and absolutely dedicated to those they decide to guide along treacherous paths.  When the group is attacked, Theeb will have to take care of himself in a land that knows no pity and can kill with rapid, unthinking precision.

The landscape is by far the greatest positive about this film, and some of the visuals will blow you away.  It’s not that this is a big-budget, Hollywood picture with amazing cinematography, it’s that the movie transports us directly into the heart of a beautiful land, but one that is also unimaginably difficult and stark.  Some of the shots of the canyons and deserts are breathtaking, made more so by the simplicity of the story around them, the focus on being present in the moment instead of forcing us to pretend that we’re in Jordan.  We are there with the characters naturally; those emotions don’t need to be manufactured.

But I’ll go back to try to explain the point I was trying to make in the introduction; what makes this movie special also makes it a bit unreachable.  The style is unique, at least to what we are used to, paring down the dialogue until you barely need it at all, making the film about an area and less about any one specific person.  Theeb is the focal point, but he’s also simply a vehicle for us to travel around in.  It’s so barren, the set and the story, that you’re left with the lonely feeling that I think is one of the points, but that becomes a negative as well as a positive.  It would be hard to say that this film inspires love; it’s uncommonly transportative, but its lack of drama can’t be seen as an undoubted asset.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 Widescreen and shot using an Arriflex 416 camera with Hawk V-Lite 16 lenses, the video quality of the disc may be its strongest feature.  The landscape is stunning, it’s something we don’t see very often, and then never quite like this, like we are in the desert with the characters, not on some movie set with celebrities’ trailers just out of sight.

Audio – The DVD was done in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround, with an option of 2.0 Stereo.  Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.  The film is in Arabic, which is an amazing language to sit and listen to, the movie flowing so well that you barely need subtitles at all.  Also, the music of the movie is surprisingly solid, with a nice recurring theme used throughout.

Extras – There are plenty of special features available on the disc if you’re interested in learning more.  First, there is a bonus short film entitled Waves ’98, a 15-minute animated movie about a teenager in Beirut.  In the bonus menu, you can access commentary by director Naji Abu Nowar, as well as six Film Movement trailers: My Love Don’t Cross That River, The Best Intentions, Wondrous Boccaccio, Breathe, Secrets of War, The Dark Valley.  Lastly, a paragraph to teach audiences a little bit about Film Movement.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedTheeb is a film to see, if not exactly a film to buy.  It’s a sensory experience more than it is a cinematic one, or at least that’s the impression it left upon me after a viewing, like I witnessed something and was taken somewhere, but not like I would remember it forever.  The story is simple, the action muted, even the violence more realistic and less dramatic, which, again, is somehow both a weakness and a strength.  The film is almost too real for us to want to add to our collections, if that makes any sense at all, while also being one of the best snapshots of this time period since Lawrence of Arabia.  The video is special in what it reveals, if not exactly in quality, the audio is strong, and there are some special features for those who want to look deeper, so the technical aspects pull their weight.  Enjoy for what it does right and attempt not to hold it up to the American projects that we have become accustomed to, and you might find a gem.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Viceroy’s House

Category : DVD Review

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Starring: Manish Dayal, Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson

Year: 2017

I’m completely fine with Hugh Bonneville being type cast as the friendly English duke/earl/lord/viceroy/whathaveyou until further notice, because he’s both perfect at it and I love to see it.  As Robert Crawley in Downton Abbey he was wonderful, that show is one of my all-time favorites, and he’s back for a very similar role in Viceroy’s House, although with much more politics and much larger issues on the table.  This film is a look at history with a PBS flare, at least at first, before it settles into a romance against a backdrop of geopolitical change.  That’s quite a shift, but that’s basically what Downton does so well, even getting reluctant viewers to enjoy the soap opera element, which can definitely be said about Viceroy’s also.  It’s a little cheesy but also a little good, a film from this year that almost nobody saw but which shouldn’t go completely unnoticed.

The Movie

For India, the times they are achangin’, as post-WWII Britain gives up its hold on the colony, retreating from its empirical stance to a more sustainable and much smaller realm.  India is to govern itself, no longer under the sway of Empress Victoria, but freedom does not come without a price.  The majority of the country is Hindi, while the Muslim minority demand to be treated fairly, the Sikh on the outskirts as well.  One plan is for an Islamic nation to be formed in the north where they outnumber the Hindu, which will be called Pakistan.  This partition of India is the topic on everyone’s lips, as the date for them to take over from the British draws near and tensions rise in every city.

The last Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, is given the task of handing over control to the Indian Congress, but in a peaceful way that pleases all parties.  England wants its interests represented, Gandhi wants a complete country without parcels for religions, the Muslim League wants its own territory; no one can agree and the transfer will not occur without some violence.  Caught up in it all are the Indian people, simple villagers and workers who want only harmony, who want to go where they choose and even intermarry between faiths.  Lines are drawn for borders and for social norms by those higher up, but it is the commoners who suffer from their strict decisions, and history will show everything that worked and all that went terribly wrong.

Viceroy’s House starts out almost too nice and happy to be true, but ends with some somber realities, resulting in a film that, when taken as a whole, seems to be telling a very real and heartbreaking story.  History is not one-sided, it’s a thing of perspective, circumstance, and most likely a ridiculous amount of lies.  This movie displays that truth remarkable well, giving us personal accounts as well as historic, placing us in the room where it happened as well as on the streets among those most affected.  It does begin with an air of glossing over the harsh facts, painting the Viceroy and his family as saints who simply love Indian people.  But thankfully it moves on from more cheesy elements into a tale of how things can so easily go wrong, how even with the best intentions sometimes there is no possible way to create a positive outcome.

As far as the quality of the film itself goes, it’s surprisingly strong.  Hugh Bonneville slides right into the role of Lord without needing to adjust basically anything from his Crawley character, so we feel comfortable from the start.  His wife is played by Gillian Anderson, and I have to say, as someone who is extremely critical of manufactured accents, hers is actually top-notch.  Then there’s the love story playing in the background, which is a little silly, but you begin to understand it for what it is; a helpful metaphor to get audiences on board with the struggles of the people themselves, totally separate from whatever the politicians are doing.  A couple actors from A Hundred-Foot Journey pop in, do a much better job, and impact that side of the story rather nicely.  Overall, this movie definitely has heart and is coming from the right place.  That it isn’t perfect won’t shock anyone, but that doesn’t demean its worth.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, shot using Arricam LT, Arricam ST, and Arriflex 416 Plus cameras with Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo lenses, the video quality of the DVD is quite well done.  The use of color and scenery to transport us to India is well thought out, as is the transformation of these actors into historically accurate figures.  The film is a joy to see, visually, and should be commended for its quality.

Audio – The disc is done in English 5.1, with an option of English SDH or Spanish subtitles.  The audio quality is solid as well, though not quite as remarkable as the video.  The use of period and area music is very smart, and the sound throughout is well balanced.

Extras – The only special features on the DVD are a bank of deleted scenes and a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Recommended. Director Gurinder Chadha is most famous for Bend It Like Beckham, but Viceroy’s House might come in at a close second.  Chadha has a personal connection to this story, and it shows throughout, her devoting to telling the tale as truly as possible to obvious.  If it gets a little sappy at times you can perhaps forgive it, as the emotions were high in the moment, and are probably high for the filmmaker as well, as she relates an important message.  The acting is a nice surprise, the period is well represented, and the set is spectacular; the film stops short of being great because it doesn’t offer much else is the way of art, but it does its job very well.  The video is quite nice, the audio as well, and there are a couple extras, so the technical aspects won’t disappoint, and neither will the film itself, as it succeeds where it means to and delivers a true story mixed with romantic fantasy in a way that shouldn’t be disregarded.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The White King

Category : DVD Review

Director: Alex Helfrecht, Jorg Tittel

Starring: Lorenzo Allchurch, Agyness Deyn, Jonathan Pryce

Year: 2016

Just when I think I’ve seen the worst movie of the year, something unexpectedly awful jumps up to bite, reminding me that it exists and wants to be taken into consideration.  I mean, The White King is no Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, but then again the former seems to be trying to be an actual movie, while the latter knew all along that it was shit.  There’s something to be said for honesty, although that won’t raise Ian Ziering’s career life support mechanism from the bottom of the cesspool that is 2017’s most hideous.  But it does mean that The White King has an entirely unique strike against it, one that came when I realized that someone thought that this movie was good.  To think it is anything other than abysmal is insane; it’s almost as if everyone involved forgot they they making a film and simply started running around fields in costume entertaining the idea that they had just created the world’s worst dystopia.

The Movie

Thirty years ago, a glorious government was born out of the struggle against the overwhelming greed of the capitalist machine.  The workers rose up a la the communist revolution, agriculture and being one with the land rose to importance, war followed, one regime dominating the scene, and a sort of peace settled on the land.  But peace at a price, peace with an iron fist controlling every aspect of every day.  Food is doled out, schools are militarized, cameras watch everything you do, and a giant statue of the founder of the community dominates the skyline.  Life is without freedom, the hierarchy seem to have all the luxuries, but the citizens are constantly reminded that they are safe here, that they love their fearless comrades, that they couldn’t possibly want anything else.

Djata is a young boy who is just now learning the harsh truths of the world, and seeing how unfair this new experiment can be.  His father, Peter, who is apparently a dissenter, is taken by men in black to an undisclosed location for his negative political views, leaving behind a wife and son who long for his return.  This pushes Djata further from his community, and makes him question everything, especially the authority that is so overbearing.  He attempts to find his father, while also having to placate his veteran grandfather, and keep his mother safe in a town that is increasingly harsh and distant.  He journeys into a forbidden zone is search of a way out , knowing that every step takes him further from his former existence.

The White King is specifically awful, a film that not only should not have been made but in a way wasn’t.  It’s hard to describe; there is almost no movie here.  It lasts for 90 minutes and things are always happening, but also nothing happens, a hundred ideas are simply swirled around until we’re dizzy and perhaps convince ourselves that we saw something real.  We didn’t though, pieces don’t form themselves into a puzzle without help, and this movie had absolutely no help.  The first minute is the best part, when we watch graphics animate the backstory for us, and I enjoyed that we didn’t receive every detail, that we were expected to figure a few things out on our own.  But it was downhill from there, as no one picked up where the introduction left off, and nothing watchable occurred.

The dad was taken, they tried to find him, Djata had a mini-war with other boys, he discovered a wasteland that maybe had something hidden in it, we meet a few military people; it was like someone read Animal Farm and The Hunger Games, forgot most of it, and created a movie out of the bits that they could recall.  This film is based on a Romanian/Hungarian book by the same name, written by Gyorgy Dragoman, which gets mixed reviews, so I’m curious about the source material; is it captivating and did it, unfortunately, fuel this failed adaption.  The base plot is the only positive, while the actors are probably the strongest negative.  The kid is terrible, I’ve seen Deyn do so much better, Pryce is completely wasted, and everyone else seems like extras who were given lines for a psychotic reason only God knows.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 Widescreen, you might be fooled into imagining that the video quality of the disc is in any way good, but you’d be wrong.  The picture is about as solid as the film itself, only slightly clearer that the muddled story and without imagination of any kind.  The budget for this movie must have been very low, because they failed to give us anything we might like to see, except for a few cheap shots of helicopters and a CGI statue in the background.

Audio – The DVD is done in English 5.1 Surround, which an option of 2.0 Stereo.  That’s it, and there’s no memorable music to set the mood except for a bit at the beginning during the animation.  There is a creepy anthem sung a few times within the film, but that’s all she wrote.

Extras – The special features are few: a 6-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a 4-minute interview section, and a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  If there was ever an idea gone wrong turned into a movie gone sour, The White King is it.  It has absolutely nothing to offer past its dystopian setting, and even that is sketchy at best.  Someone had the idea to make another of this specific genre, but the result was nothing like what we’ve seen before, even failing to match the quality of the YA sci-fi throwaways that we begrudgingly accept.  This film fails in every aspect, stumbles around every corner, and should be in serious consideration for worst of the year.  The video isn’t anything to write home about, the audio is also pitiful, and the extras are too few; nothing technical will come to save the day.  Consider me your lab rat; stay away from this poison.

☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Nutcracker

Category : DVD Review

Director: Carroll Ballard

Starring: Vanessa Sharp, Hugh Bigney, Patricia Barker

Year: 1986

As the holiday season winds up, I wanted to visit one of my favorite traditions, The Nutcracker, a marvelous ballet whose music always gets me in the Christmas spirit.  I’ve seen it done on stage, I’ve danced around my living room to cassette tape, and I’m ready to watch the twisted Disney version when it comes out, but I’ve never experienced the classic on screen, nor have I ever seen it done quite this way before.  This 80s take is as strange as it is beautiful, an artistic interpretation that won’t fail to surprise, while also bringing to life the expected wonder of the story, a tale that never ages out of enjoyment.

The Movie

The plot is well known, but you’ve never seen The Nutcracker quite like this.  Clara, as narrator, welcomes us to her dreams, a world crafted in her youth by her enigmatic godfather Herr Drosselmeier, the famed toy and clock maker.  He always frightened Clara, but mystified her as well, as his manner was strange but his magic was marvelous, and the gifts he brought to the annual Christmas dance were unparalleled in their beauty.  This year was no different, as he delivers troubling dreams to Clara’s sleep but an exquisite doll house to her ballroom, shocking and awing in turn.

Clara also finds a handsome nutcracker in the Christmas tree, a gift that her godfather seems instantly jealous of.  But when her naughty brother Fritz breaks in, Drosselmeier is the first to attend to the toy, setting it aside where it might mend.  Later than evening, after the party has ended, Clara sneaks down to peek at her nutcracker, unknowingly entering a dream-like world in which she is the same size as her doll and as the mice that scamper about the floor.  After a classic battle, Clara finds herself traveling to a magic land, where she will meet a prince, fall in love, and dance the night away.

What a lovely ballet, and if you’ve never seen it before please find a way to see it next Christmas; you won’t be disappointed.  It’s such a simple story usually, the climax coming near the beginning, the rest dedicated to the beauty of dance, as various flora, fauna, natural elements, and exotic peoples perform for Clara as she dreams of a life so fantastic it could never actually exist.  And the music is exquisite, of course, Tchaikovsky weaving a masterpiece that has endured the years and continues to delight audiences worldwide.  You could close your eyes and listen or close your ears and just watch; either would be a wonderful way to experience The Nutcracker.

Now, to this version, which partly sticks to the original ballet, therefore giving us exactly what we expect, and also dares to use other style elements, therefore keeping us on our toes.  It’s a trippy, wacky, slightly dark style, almost like Terry Gilliam was in charge.  There are some changes to the classic lineup, and Drosselmeier is almost scary; Maurice Sendak of Where the Wild Things Are fame was the mind behind the vision, and it’s an original one, there’s no doubt about that.  But I enjoyed the slight change of scenery, and at the same time the traditional delivery, so hats off to all involved.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video quality of this film is pretty bad, but not unexpected.  It’s almost like a recording of a stage play, with some shots of people against green screens thrown in for good measure, all done in the grainy 80s.  So don’t expect too much, but also try not to be too harsh.

Audio – The disc was done in Stereo, with optional English subtitles.  The only talking is done in a small amount of narration, so really the music is the only sound.  And the music is great, is comes across the disc really well, so audiences won’t be disappointed.

Extras – There are no special features on this disc.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  For an 80s film version of a stage ballet, this unique interpretation hits all the points in surprising fashion, and still has a few tricks up its sleeve to keep audiences interested.  It isn’t the greatest movie; in some ways it isn’t a movie at all.  But what it does right is deliver the classic music and feel in a slightly off-beat manner, sharing with us a masterpiece that we’ve seen before in a way we’ve never seen before.  The video is predictably sketchy, the audio is surprisingly nice, and there aren’t any extras, so temper your technical expectations.  All in all, this is an interesting way to view the artwork, though probably not the one I would point you toward first.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Person to Person

Category : DVD Review

Director: Dustin Guy Defa

Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Tavi Gevinson, Michael Cera

Year: 2017

The director of this movie has one of the coolest names in the industry, a perfect moniker for a filmmaker.  And he can even go by his initials, DGD, which sounds just as awesome.  Luckily, his second feature, and the first to have a real chance at being seen by national audiences, is as hip as his nombre, at least in a unique, indie way, which fits as well.  Person to Person is a New York City adventure, a day in the life of various residents that reflects quite accurately, if over-dramatically, the troubles we can all get ourselves into by just living, by simply existing in a world that never delivers exactly what you would expect.

The Movie

We are about to meet a number of NYC residents, to follow them around on one chaotic day that encapsulates their struggles to make it in a city that doesn’t seem to function in a sane manner.  Theft, murder, sexuality; you never know what you might come face to face with around each corner, or who might push you in a direction you didn’t know you’d be heading down when you woke up in the morning.  Life is unpredictable, sure, but never more so than in a big city filled with millions of individual souls that might attract you, push you, challenge you, or possibly even change your life.

Claire is an introvert, a librarian at heart, but she’s trying her hand at a uniquely extroverted job.  Phil is her new boss, a reporter who cruises the streets listening to metal music while trying to uncover the next big story.  They hit the town to solve a suicide, but neither might be cut out for the gig.  An elderly watch and clock repairman is a piece of the unraveling story, but doesn’t want any part of it.  Wendy skips school to hang out with her best friend, but Melanie just wants to make out with her boyfriend.  And a pair of jazz enthusiasts try to score the same record, only to be bamboozled.  Events swirl in the Big Apple; hang on tight.

This film is an odd combination of Good Time and Wild Canaries, a crime adventure that explores the city and its denizens, but also an indie comedy that no one will see to enjoy.  Also, and I’m sure this affects my thinking of those two films to compare this one to, both Benny Safdie and Buddy Duress appear in both Person to Person and Good Time, while director DGD has a role in Wild Canaries (he’s also in an episode of Easy, if you’ve ever watched that Netflix original).  So there are physical connections, but also stylistic ones, if you’re looking for comparisons to get a feel for the story.

It’s a silly plot in many ways; a murder/suicide investigated by fools, an angry vinyl dealer chasing a kid with a terrible haircut and asking everyone he meets about the quality of his own shirt, a possible lesbian attempting to figure out if she’s in love with her friend, if she hates everyone equally, or if she wants to make out with some dude.  It makes little sense, although it doesn’t really need to, it’s a mix of moments that show what daily life can bring.  The acting is solid from all involved, with Philip Baker Hall popping up for a small role, with Michael Cera being his usual, awkward self.  It’s an easy watch, a short watch, something you might not remember for long but also something that can make a small impression in a small amount of time.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 Widescreen, the video quality is poor but it also doesn’t need to be any better.  It’s an indie film, it’s supposed to be a little grainy, it’s supposed to look a little cheap and not like a Hollywood blockbuster.  The cinematography is focused on the characters and the city, not on stunning visuals, so don’t expect too much.

Audio – The DVD was done in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, with subtitle choices of English SDH or Spanish.  That’s it for the audio, and the quality is just as forgettable, nothing major wrong but no highlights either.  The soundtrack is the same, not impactful in any way; just focus on the dialogue, since that’s the important feature anyway.

Extras – There are only a handful of features on the disc, including an interview with the writer/director and four trailers; Person to Person, Lemon, Lucky, Whose Streets?.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  Although enjoyable in an off-beat way, this film is also a bit unnecessary, a story about life that you could nod to but would never stand up to applaud for.  It’s funny and serious in turn, which is fairly accurate, and so feels heartfelt and real, but it just never delivers the punch needed to take it to any other level than ‘fine’.  The video, audio, and extras are overlooked, so don’t expect any technical marvels or redeeming qualities in the physical features.  But watch if you’re curious or if you’re already a fan of this style of indie comedy; for that genre, this movie is well-made.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – From the Land of the Moon

Category : DVD Review

Director: Nicole Garcia

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemuhl

Year: 2016

It’s not as hard for Brits to make the figurative journey to American cinema as it is for foreign language-speaking actors, which makes complete sense, given their literal nearness, cultural ties, and common speech.  Many from other countries do grace our screens, but English speakers have the advantage, be they Australian, Irish, from anywhere in the UK, or from around the globe.  So for a French native like Cotillard to have such a strong impact on Hollywood is no small feat.  I first saw her in an American picture in 2003 in Big Fish, a stunning film.  A few years later she’d make her move: A Good Year, Public Enemies, Nine, Inception, Midnight in Paris, Contagion, The Dark Knight Rises, Blood Ties, The Immigrant, Macbeth, Allied, Assassin’s Creed.  One or two of those might be English or otherwise, not American, but you get the point.  Which is, simply, that Marion Cotillard might be the biggest, baddest foreign language actress out there, and that we ought to be taking notice when she stars in anything, regardless of accent.

The Movie

Gabrielle is a young woman from the south of France growing up in the post-WWII 50s, following the traditions of her farming family and battling against the control they have on her life.  She is also attempting to understand her overwhelming sexuality, a pressure that is building inside her until she might burst.  Enjoying her own body isn’t enough, an imagined affair with the teacher doesn’t work out, exposing herself to the farm tenants means nothing, and her moods only become increasingly unpredictable.  Her parents, in an attempt to settle their daughter down, engage her to a solid, Spanish workman, someone who they see as quite manly, appreciatively calm, and perhaps a husband who can take his wild wife in hand.

Although she vows never to love Jose, Gabrielle begins the typical life that everyone wants her to lead, following her husband into the brick business and creating a home near the sea together.  But when she develops stones, a painful condition that also keeps her from becoming pregnant, Gabrielle leaves her life for a time to be treated at a spa.  There her loneliness and melancholy become overwhelming, and she wonders if she can ever go back to the unhappy existence that seems her only choice.  But a welcome disruption comes in the form of an ill soldier, a handsome young lieutenant named Andre.  Gabrielle finally feels the passion that she has been searching for her entire life, an abandon that is suited to the mountain resort, even if his illness is quite serious and her outside life awaits her return.

Cotillard is such an incredible actress, no matter what country she’s representing.  I’ve seen her in some French films as well, and her talent is undeniable: La Vie en Rose, Two Days One Night, It’s Only the End of the World.  She is classy, classic, stunningly beautiful, holds an air of depth that translates well to all of her characters, and always brings high-quality acting to the screen.  If I were to make a short list of my favorite actresses I’d have to put her toward the very top, up with Kate Winslet, Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett; women who are fearless in their roles and impressive every time.  Cotillard has the added attribute of carrying a bit of darkness and mystery into her films, and that is absolutely fine with me.

That edge is used well in From the Land of the Moon, a movie that required an actress who was able to convey a variety of extremely difficult and sometimes unpleasant emotions.  First, let me touch on the sexuality, which is perhaps a little uncomfortable at first, since Gabrielle is young and even possibly emotionally unstable, leading to poor decisions and poorer boundaries.  Judge her character as you will, but by the end audiences begin to better understand her mental state, which might change how you see her forward sexuality.  By the spa though, the film twists itself into a sort of romance, so that changes the tenor significantly.  Louis Garrel is used to pushing the envelope; he starred in 2003’s The Dreamers, which is still known for its graphic nature.  This film isn’t graphic, I don’t mean to imply that, but sex is important to the story, so be forewarned.  The story is strong on its own though, sad and powerful, with acting from all involved to do it justice.  The locations are all stunning, you’ll want to visit every place, and although the movie runs two hours, you’ll never feel the time.  It’s hard to recommend a heavy French drama to just anyone without first warning them that it’s a heavy French drama, so consider yourself alerted, but don’t be afraid to watch regardless.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and shot using a Red Epic Dragon camera with Hawk V-Lite and V-Series lenses, the video quality of the DVD is very nice, with the strength to support the lovely scenery and to catch our eye independent of the story.  The color and clarity were well-done, although the picture never feels like it was intended to take your breath away.

Audio – The DVD was done in French 5.1, with subtitle options in English, English SDH, or Spanish.  The music of the film is lovely, with a somber, classical feel, and a good use of piano throughout as part of the plot and of the soundtrack.

Extras – The only special features on the disc are a 25-minute behind-the-scenes segment and a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  I would imagine that you would have to be in the correct mood to enjoy this movie; fortunately I was.  It’s a sad story, a tale of unhappiness and mental illness and longing and hope and dreams that will never come true.  All of that, the period piece format, the French, a war story in the background; it’s a lot to take in all at once.  Thankfully, we have Marion Cotillard to guide us along the way, and for that I felt very lucky.  She took the film squarely on her shoulders, her co-stars were solid, and the result was a dramatic film, yes, but a powerful one as well.   The video is rather pretty and strong enough, the audio makes for a pleasant listen, there are a couple extras; the technical side holds its own without being extraordinary.  Come prepared for a heavy load from this one, but also expect success.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The Burning Bed

Category : DVD Review

Director: Robert Greenwald

Starring: Farrah Fawcett, Paul Le Mat, Richard Masur

Year: 1984

When your only  claim to fame is Xanadu, you know your career didn’t work out exactly the way you planned it.  At least Olivia Newton-John has Grease to fall back on, although her lack of literally any other movie to hang her hat on is shocking, especially considering how big a deal she was.  Obviously people quickly understood that she could sing, but she most definitely could not act.  I’ve actually seen what is basically Greenwald’s only other film of note other than a ton of documentaries that no one has seen; Breaking Up, a 1997 drama starring an up-and-coming Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek.  But that’s neither here nor there, and The Burning Bed is neither musical nor romance.  It’s a made-for-TV, true life horror story that brought the subject of abuse to American living rooms in a way that can’t be remembered without being applauded.

The Movie

Francine’s family were mountain people, which means they didn’t have much but they didn’t need much, that they valued hard work and personal pride above all things.  As Francine grew, she understood that she was beautiful, but she didn’t want to settle for simply being some handsome man’s wife.  She wanted to go to school, maybe get a job, maybe move to a bigger town, perhaps become someone important in a world that was opening up for women and revealing new opportunities every day.  But some people hold tight to the old beliefs that men are in charge, that they marry who they please, and that wives do what their husbands tell them to do.  Francine found herself in this type of relationship, through bad choices and bad luck, and it wasn’t easy to get out.

Mickey was a determined man, and when he set his sights on Francine he knew that he would talk her into marrying him.  Francine wanted to wait, to see the world first, but no one had ever made such a fuss over her, told her she was attractive, told her they loved her, that they couldn’t live without her.  So Mickey and Francine were married, despite not having jobs or a place to live.  Soon, Mickey’s evil temperament would make itself obvious, and he would beat Francine whenever she displeased him.  At first, she convinced herself she was to blame, later she would leave him, but by that time they had children together, and the well-being of her children was Francine’s top concern.  When she realized that she would never be able to get away from Mickey completely, she did something desperate, something terrible, but perhaps something necessary as well.

This film does open the conversation on abuse up in a way that only a strong story can, because sometimes we need to see it with our own eyes to believe it, as stupid as that sounds, and as ridiculous as it is that a simple film could be what it takes to get an important message across.  And this is a true story don’t forget, a real case of “battered-woman syndrome” in which the abusive situation the murderer was in came into play during their court case.  Because you can debate the ethics of the verdict, but the fact is that someone was killed here, and that victim was constantly trying to destroy the live of another victim.  Judge for yourself what the punishment should be, but this story forces us to give spousal abuse a face, and to think about the extremity of the mental damage inflicted as well.

It was a pretty big deal for sex symbol Farrah Fawcett to try a heavy drama like this, to put her acting talent on display when most people thought she was just a pretty face.  Logan’s Run, Sunburn, Saturn 3, Cannonball Run; she was just a blonde beauty, but this film opened the doors and Farrah pushed through.  Now, to be honest, her film career never really panned out, but she did do a lot of made-for-TV, true-life stuff in the late 80s, which became kind of her thing.  She’s not bad at all in The Burning Bed, a movie that could not have been very comfortable to create, and something that I see as very important, so I applaud her attempt.  Paul Le Mat plays a very convincing Mickey, and the entire film holds the 70s feel it was going for extremely well.  Is it the movie of the decade, of course not, but it has its historical value and its message, which isn’t nothing.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.33:1/1.78:1 (1920x1080p) and shot using Panaflex cameras and lenses by Panavision, the video quality of the Blu-ray disc is as poor as can be expected, but understandably so.  There is an option in the main menu of wide or full screen, but neither are tremendously appealing, as the clarity of the picture quality isn’t something you should expect to dazzle, and may even have been hurt by the transfer.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English, with subtitles in English available to turn on or off.  The audio quality of the disc is the same as the video; bad but not unexpected.  There is some sense that that the music was selected with purpose, but that’s about it.

Extras – The only special features are an interview with director Robert Greenwald and five trailer for other films.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  This might be Farrah Fawcett’s most notable role, and perhaps her strongest as well.  She tells an impacting story, never makes it about her as an actress, always keeps the message clear.  She isn’t aided by much around her except for one good co-star, so give credit where credit is due.  The film as a whole isn’t something extraordinary and won’t be remembered for its artistry.  But it shares with us something meaningful, and I’m appreciative of that.  The video is pretty bad, the audio the same, and there aren’t many extras, so look elsewhere for stellar technical attributes.  If you’ve never seen this film before, it’s worth your time, just don’t expect too much.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Moka

Category : DVD Review

Director: Frederic Mermoud

Starring: Emmanuelle Devos, Nathalie Baye, Diane Rouxel

Year: 2016

The understated French drama of the year is Moka, a revenge tale without the revenge.  This is a style that we see every season, the quiet, heavy, high-character, low-action, French film that critics are supposed to eat up and convince audiences that they should like too.  And sometimes it works, sometimes we relate to you that a foreign film of this genre is exactly that, weighty but wonderful.  Moka, I’m afraid, doesn’t fall into that category.  It is dramatic, yes, it is familiar, which isn’t always unwelcome, but it lacks the punch needed to make up for the slow speed of its story.  Basically, this film is an average suspense flick that doesn’t deliver a satisfying kick to the teeth, and so shouldn’t illicit much mention going forward.

The Movie

Diane has lost her son, and the grief of his death will shatter her entire world.  He was struck during a hit-and-run and didn’t survive long, leaving a sudden hollow space in the hearts of his family where the joy of his existence had once been.  His mother cannot move on, his accident even resulting in the separation of her marriage and a stay in a facility.  But time away didn’t heal the wounds nor take away the pain, and all she can think about is what she no longer has, and what she wants to do to the person responsible.  The police are no help, they haven’t found any leads, but a private investigator rounds up a few suspects, and so Diane takes the case upon herself.

She begins looking for the mocha-colored car, a Mercedes or BMW, that killed her son, knowing that it can’t hide from her for long.  She lives in the resort area around Lake Geneva, a holiday locale in the Alps on the border between France and Switzerland, so the car must be from around the area and probably didn’t go far.  With the help of the detective, she locates multiple suspects and begins to stake them out, finding one likely candidate with a classic car that has recently had work done to its front end.  As she starts to research the possible murderers, she finds herself entering their lives, even feigning a desire to buy the car in question.  The line between her anger and her curiosity is blurred, as is the definition of right and wrong, and Diane gets too close to those she may wish to kill.

I’ve seen both Devos and Baye in other films, and their performances here were on par with what I’ve seen, but I’m not sure that’s a great thing.  Devos was rather boring in Violette, a biopic that I just couldn’t get into.  Baye was uniquely maternal in It’s Only the End of the World, but that film was Xavier Dolan’s weakest feature, and it failed to make an impact.  Both actresses were fine here in Moka, but neither did enough to earn praise, neither stepped up to pick up the slack when the story began to drag, and for that I’m quite disappointed.  Other than perhaps one scene together, and another with only Devos where rather than looking like she’d been crying it appeared that they simply poured water on her face for the same effect, nothing about this film resonated as impactful or worthwhile.

The locale was amazing and I instantly wanted to go there, but that wasn’t the point, obviously, and that shouldn’t be the only thing I take away from this story.  It was supposed to be gripping, vengeful, powerful, but it was only pathetic.  I felt bad for everyone involved, I felt the pain, but that wasn’t enough to get me through 90 minutes.  The film was short and sweet, but that only means there was less time to pack in the raw material, to force audiences to ride in that car alongside the characters, and that never happened.  The genre and the style were respected here, but they were never elevated, and so the film fizzles rather than explodes, piques out curiosities rather than demanding that we rubberneck.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 Widescreen and shot using a Red Epic Dragon camera with Cooke S4 and Angenieux HR lenses, the video quality of the DVD was as unremarkable as the film itself.  The location, as I have mentioned, was beautiful, and I’d like to go stay on Lake Geneva immediately, I just hope it’s not too expensive.  But that’s about it, the setting trumped the cinematography.

Audio – The disc was done in French 5.1 Surround, with an option of 2.0 Stereo.  English subtitles can be turned on or off in this menu.  The audio quality of the film is forgettable at best, without a memorable soundtrack or backing track.  It’s also without noticeable flaws, so that’s to its credit, but barely.

Extras – There are a few special features on the DVD if you want more, but there aren’t many.  A Bonus Short Film entitled Le Creneau can be viewed, starring Devos and running 13 minutes.  There is an Interview With Director Frederic Mermoud, which lasts 20 minutes.  There are six Film Movement Trailers: Amnesia, Glory, After the Storm, If You Don’t I Will, Breathe, My King.  And lastly, About Film Movement is a paragraph of text about the distributor.

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  ‘Slow burn’ is a term often used for films such as these, and often that applies, but I wouldn’t agree to use it here.  Some also thought that this film held a Hitchcockian atmosphere, but again, I don’t think so.  Rather, that seems to be what the director was shooting for, but not what he hit, instead failing to produce enough traction to slow audiences down before their eyes flew over the plot and their minds went someplace else.  Moka is good but not great, an interesting revenge story with solid acting that wasn’t pushed to any heights worth our respect.  The video was fine, the audio was OK, and there are a few extras, so the technical aspects of the film reveal themselves to be as lackluster as the rest.  If you already like these actresses or this director, if you happen to already love this genre, then feel free to dive in, I think you’ll enjoy yourself.  Otherwise, there are better options out there.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Queen of the Desert

Category : DVD Review

Director: Werner Herzog

Starring: Nicole Kidman, James Franco, Damian Lewis

Year: 2015

Nicole Kidman paired with Colin Farrell is a winning combination, Nicole Kidman paired with James Franco is not.  I don’t see how this wasn’t obvious before it was screen-tested and then released to a cinema near you, but someone forgot that two mature actors brought together is often a good idea, while an aging Aussie asked to fall in love with a much younger comedian, who, in a recent movie, noted that his post-sexual encounter penis smelled like guacamole, isn’t.  And I like James Franco, I think he’s funny, I enjoy his stuff with Seth Rogen, but the guy is one note, and that note needs to stay far away from Nicole Kidman’s talent and from her genre.  This movie, sappy as it is, could have worked had different choices been made.  They weren’t, it didn’t, moving on.

The Movie

This is the true story of Gertrude Bell, the Queen of the Desert, the woman who would not stay behind but rather put herself in unimaginable danger time after time for the sake of science, adventure, and an unquenchable thirst for all the experiences life outside of safe existence has to offer.  Gertrude was a young, English noblewoman who studied at Oxford, who was far too intelligent to settle down to a conventional life as someone’s wife.  And so, after trying and failing to force her to become something normal, something she most definitely wasn’t, her parents allowed her to travel to Arabia to seek her purpose.  The life she would find there would define her, would captivate her, and would become the passion that consumed her very soul.

Gertrude fell in love with the beauty and the danger of the desert, with the warring Bedouin tribes who were so fierce about their territory, and with one man in particular who made her stay in a foreign land so magical.  His name was Henry Cadogan, he was also in love with Arabia, and was more than willing to show Gertrude all the sites.  Their shared obsession with regional poetry and the pure quality the very land possessed brought them together, forged their relationship, and kept Gertrude far from home for life.  Even after they were parted, she felt married to the desert, and made it her purpose to visit every forbidden locale, to speak to every sheik, to go where no man, let alone a woman, had ever gone before.

First, I quickly looked up some information on Gertrude Bell, and I couldn’t find any information on Henry Cadogan, so that part may just be fictional.  She did have a love affair with an administrator in her 30s, and then a pen-pal relationship with a married men in her 40s, but that’s all that I could find on brief research.  That doesn’t matter exactly, the movie can do what it wishes with her story, but it did feel odd for a variety of reasons.  One is that Kidman isn’t a young woman any more, she’s 50, while Franco is 39, and so she was playing twenty years younger, while he was presumably playing his own age, and the whole thing was strange.  Franco almost seemed creepy, with his devotion to poetry and romantic trinkets, like he was trying to trick her, but I think we can blame that on his acting, which of course wasn’t good in such a role, a character that could not possibly have been written with him in mind.

Kidman, on the other hand, is strong enough to pull off a challenge like this, but wasn’t given the best periphery to work with.  She was asked to play young, and then to play her age, to fall in love with Franco, and then with Lewis, to travel around the desert like an explorer, to wash in an outback bath to show off her nipples apparently; her jobs were many and all over the place.  Herzog isn’t a wonderful film director, he doesn’t have the knack, and it showed here.  His star was misused, or at least unsupported, and the result was a film that felt frantic when something was happening and oppressively dull at all other times.  Robert Pattinson made a brief appearance as T.E. Lawrence, and he’s a talent that shouldn’t be overlooked, but he was the bright spot of an otherwise bland background.  Watch Kidman in her more recent films like Strangerland, Secret in Their Eyes, or better yet in her most recent alongside Farrell, The Beguiled and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.  She shines in both of her latest movies, in a way that I’ve never seen from her before, but this is a project that was better left unclaimed.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and using Red Epic, Red Epic Dragon, and Red Scarlet cameras, the video quality of the Blu-ray disc is wonderful, as far as depicting the beauty of the desert and some famous landmarks.  That’s what the video was asked to do, bring this land to life in a wondrous way, and it succeeded.  The picture quality is high, crisp and clear, although the cinematography itself is forgettable.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround, with an option of English DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo.  Subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.  The audio quality is strong as well, with a nice balance and a well thought out backing track that really sets the romantic mood and delivers the sounds of the region quite well.

Extras – The only special feature on the disc is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  Nicole Kidman, who has always played cold so well, is warming up as she ages, and that’s to our benefit.  She’s a talented actress, a beautiful woman, and can very easily be an outstanding lead in a film, as she’s proving more now than she ever has before.  But Queen of the Desert was not a vehicle built to carry one great actress all alone on a bumpy ride.  There were far too many problems to overcome, and even Kidman was not up to the task of saving the movie on her own.  The pacing was poor, the story was boring, the acting around her wasn’t great, the direction was lackluster; basically the film failed to capture the magic it was attempting to harness, the result being a disappointing experience.  The video is pleasing to the eye, the audio is solid, there aren’t many extras, so the technical aspects are perhaps a mixed bag.  The film is more definitive, as I can’t imagine many audiences gushing, I predict that most will find it as much an unpolished and unnecessary product as I did.

☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 

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