Category Archives: DVD Review

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DVD Review – London Fields

Category : DVD Review

Director: Mathew Cullen

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Amber Heard, Jim Sturgess, Theo James

Year: 2018

And in this corner, released just in time to frighten us on Halloween, we have one of the worst films of 2018, a ghastly gimmick cluster bomb that will have audiences gasping for the air that has been sucked out of the room by the worst acting you will see this century; London Fields!  It really ought to be heralded, this monstrosity of a movie, so that future audiences can be forewarned, or else it ought it be completely wiped from our memories, so that none of us who have seen it will have to live with the pain.  Rarely, if ever, does cinema swing this hard and miss, unless it’s trying to in order to make a point; no point here, no reason to watch, and no hope that anyone involved will ever live down the infamy that is this epic disaster.

The Movie

Nicola Six (what a name, doll) has seen her own death, and it is bitter.  She meets three strangers in a bar, and instantly she knows that one of them will be her killer, and on her upcoming birthday; what a drag.  She doesn’t know which one yet, but she knows where and when, the web is already settling into a pattern, and the future is already set.  Will it be Samson Young, the writer, who has a death sentence as well?  Will it be Guy Clinch, the debutante, who quickly falls desperately in love?  Or will it be Keith Talent, the street urchin, who knows how to get things done but not how to control himself?  One of these men will be the murderer; Samson will write abut it but Nicola will experience it firsthand, and we’re invited to watch.

It’s as bad as it sounds, plus done in a semi-noir style that grates on the nerves, with acting that kills the brain cells, and pacing that will lull you into an early death.  Neo-Noir with bad actors, worse lines, and a god-awful plot; what was anyone anywhere at any time thinking.  Somehow Billy Bob is the main character of this film, which is baffling, Amber Heard relegated to strutting around half or fully naked.  Theo James is passable, but I have rarely seen a more embarrassing character than the one forced on us by Jim Sturgess; it’s really a crime against art in general and specifically our eye balls.  And then the side crew for no reason: Jaime Alexander, Jason Isaacs, Cara Delevingne, Johnny Depp, why, why, why, and why.  There is nothing good about this movie, other than Heard’s attractiveness level, nothing at all to grasp while you’re drowning in a terrible story set in post-apocalyptic England for some unknowable reason.  It’s an abomination, definitely one of the worst of the past year, and maybe one of the dumbest ideas in movie history.  Congratulations.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.39:1 Widescreen, and shot using an Arri Alexa XT camera, the video quality of the film might be its high point; honestly, there wasn’t really much competition.  The color is cool, the noir element is there, but some of the backgrounds look really fake-y, so there are some ups and downs.  Heard is so beautiful, it’s obvious she should be the focal point, and she often is, but really, nothing else should have been left the way it was, the entire rest of the movie should have been scrapped.

Audio – The DVD was done in English Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in either English SDH or Spanish.  That’s it, and other than some theme-y music throughout, that’s all there really is to say about the audio.  The balance was fine, the tone was about right for the genre, but that genre was never really harnessed, it was more abused than homaged, so don’t look for the movie to score points there.

Extras – The only special feature is a trailer for the movie.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  Stay as far away as possible from London Fields; it really is Razzie worthy, and that might be all its worth.  No, I take that back; Amber Heard is gorgeous, but even pointing that out could be seen as sexist, so we’ll eliminate that as well and say that there’s absolutely nothing good about this film.  It’s a hacking strikeout in every way, an embarrassingly bad attempt at a genre flick, with actors who were never going to be able to pull the amount of weight required.  Everyone failed, everyone should be ashamed, and let’s hope none of them ever try anything remotely like this again.  The video was fine, the audio forgettable, there aren’t really any extras, so the technical side is a let down as well.  What did you expect, the lighting wasn’t going to save the day; Superman could have flown in and the film still would have crashed and burned.

☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The Invisibles

Category : DVD Review

Director: Claus Räfle

Starring: Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Aaron Altaras, Ruby O. Fee

Year: 2017

We’ve rarely, if ever, seen the Holocaust from this unique perspective or portrayed in this seldom-used style; The Invisibles shares with us a story that’s not exactly unknown, but nonetheless important, and presented in a way that will get our attention anew.  Hollywood often brings us tales of WWII, of battles against the Nazis, of concentration camps, of holding onto humanity during a time of madness.  But we seldom see the war from inside Germany, and especially not from the Jews who lived there when their very existence was illegal.  This is their story, four young Berliners who refused to leave their homes to be shipped to the death camps, daring to hide in plain sight instead, surviving hell against unbelievable odds.

The Movie

German Jews were rounded up in stages, and these steps toward annihilation came so often and so orderly that it was simpler to believe that no harm was coming in the end, rather than dread each new day and each new subjugation.  Even at the end, when the last Jews in Berlin were being moved out of the city into the country toward work camps, hope remained that perhaps the rumors weren’t true, perhaps the end of the war was near, perhaps families could survive if they just stuck together, kept their heads down, and worked hard.  But deep down there was an unavoidable knowledge that boarding the trains peacefully was still a death sentence, and while parents truly knew that their lives were over, they also believed that their children must live on, no matter how painful the separation and no matter high the suffering in hiding.

Because that was the plan for thousands of Jews, especially the young; to hide in Berlin, often in plain sight, until the war was over, despite the danger and the almost certain future of being found.  This was a risk worth attempting, understanding the fate that awaited them if they allowed themselves to be marked, catalogued, and sent away.  So they hid, or assumed false identities, or forged papers, and lived as they could for the final years of the war.  Cioma moved from home to home, pretending to be a bombing victim.  Hanni dyed her hair blonde, and went by a different name.  Eugen wore a soldier’s uniform so he could walk the streets of Berlin.  And Ruth became a maid for a family who didn’t want to know her background.  They did what they had to, lived how they had to, anything to survive another day, with the hope of seeing their families once again a driving force that kept them alive and fighting.

So many things impressed me about this film, so many little details came together to create such a moving story, one I won’t quickly forget.  We’ve seen these tales so often, they are so compelling, and we never grow tired, shouldn’t grow tired, because we never want to allow this history to repeat, this scar upon the face of humanity that we will all have to live with for the remainder of our life as a species.  The Holocaust was an unparalleled evil, and movies like these help us to remember our responsibility to each other were anything like this to ever happen again.  The Invisibles is another reminder of the past, this time from a new perspective, and for that it deserves all the credit in the world, not for simply choosing this subject matter, but for delivering it in a way that will make the largest impact possible.

What’s unique about the film is two-fold: it’s a story told from the perspective of young Jews hiding within Berlin for the duration of the war, and it’s also told through a docudrama style, mixing acting with interviews in seamless loops until audiences are both immersed in the era and touched by the personal connections we make with the victims.  These four young people that are the focus of the tale lived, told their stories, and are on camera with emotions bared, ready to tell us all they know, so that then we can know too, we can understand.  Meanwhile there’s a dramatic element, and that only enlivens the vision, fleshes out the action, and brings it all vividly to life.  I loved the style of the film, it was the perfect vehicle, and I could have listened to these first-hand accounts all day.  What amazed me most was the amount of resistance these young people took part in, all while trying to lay as low as possible; they rebelled against evil rather than hide quietly, when it would have been much easier to protect their own lives, even turn informant, rather than struggle from within against the Nazi machine.  Audiences will be blown away by the true events depicted here, and by the way the entire crew was able to share it with us in way we may not be emotionally prepared to accept, but are so willing to hear, if only so that we can tell our own children and hopefully see that this evil never returns to the world again.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (16×9), the video quality of the DVD was exceptional, with an eye toward costume and time period that instantly takes audiences into the story.  The film feels very personal; there aren’t sweeping cinematic shots, and much of the movie is done in interview, but the picture holds its own while the narrative is being presented, especially when it comes to accuracy and the depiction of the times.

Audio – The DVD was done in German, with an option between 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo.  Subtitles are available in English.  The music of the film is quiet nice, the dialogue is balanced, and the audio pulls its weight, while also not being a large focal point.

Extras – The only special feature is a trailer for the movie.

Final Thoughts

Highly RecommendedThe Invisibles is our opportunity to witness triumph in the face of tragedy.  The events these young people endured, and lived to tell us about, are inexplicably awful, but their survival gives us all a chance to understand the Holocaust all the more deeply, to be inside the Nazi capitol even after it was declared to be free of all Jews.  It never was, evil didn’t win, and now we have first-hand accounts of what happened internally, how survivors kept fighting and rebelling and living, despite a nation’s attempts to silence them.  This story is important and it touched me, and I hope it can speak to you as well, because it’s worth listening to.  The video and audio support the plot and make it a good film as well as an impacting drama, while at the same time there aren’t many special features, so the technical side is mostly strong, while also not being what we need to remember this movie for.  History should never die, not even terrible history, it is the key to our understanding, and filmmakers are part of the team attempting to keep it alive; let’s support those willing to dive deep into our past, even into the darkest parts, so that we can hopefully see the light.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – A Summer in La Goulette

Category : DVD Review

Director: Ferid Boughedir

Starring: Sonia Mankai, Ava Cohen-Jonathan, Sarah Pariente

Year: 1996

An obscure foreign film set in Tunisia and delivered in three languages, A Summer in La Goulette is a 20-year-old, under-the-radar gem that no one has seen but everyone can relate to.  More than anything, it is a story of looking back and growing up, of nostalgia for a time and a place that was more fleeting than you knew when you were living in the moment, more fragile than any memory has the right to be.  Although very specific in its location and time, the tale could relate to any one of us, to those who remember hormonal days spent under the sun, when the entire world seemed to be opening up right in front of you, if you could just find the courage to reach out and grasp it.

The Movie

In 1967, the beach of La Goulette, in Tunis, Tunisia, was the place the world came together to share the sun and to share its culture.  Jews, Arabs, Christians, African, French, Italian; it didn’t matter where you were from, what religion you followed, what food you ate, what politics your home country was embroiled in, or if you had lived on La Goulette all your life, summer was the season for tourists and locals, people from all over, to come together and enjoy.  This is the snapshot story of three very different families who all share a love for one way of life, and who can see past the unique traits they all possess to the common core that lies within.

Each family has an elder daughter who is now a woman, with boys and dreams and futures on the mind, but also with a view that today is a day that needs living, even if it might lead to trouble.  Younger sons frolic about the city, and a group of young men follow the daughters around, hoping for a glimpse or a word or a dance, or perhaps something more.  Fathers worry about their families and their reputations, while mothers worry about what will come of their headstrong girls who aren’t little any longer.  Round and round they all go over the course of a summer, coming of age and growing too old and watching the world spin past them, all at once and all together.

A Summer in La Goulette is a simple, pleasant experience with a lot to say about maturity, sexuality, responsibility, and life.  It’s a nostalgic look back at summers on the beach, trysts with life-long friends, how your path can change so quickly, and how some things always stay the same.  Even though it’s specific to a time and place, we can all relate to an exciting vacation where we had a memorable kiss, or an event that showed us that we were growing up, or a youthful experience that we knew we would never forget.  And from the parents’ perspective, we all understand the fear of watching something leave our control, of worrying about what tomorrow will bring, and never knowing quite where you stand.  It’s a story that both transports us to a specific spot but also makes a home inside our own memories, living there like it was never anywhere else.

The film is sexually charged and evocative, which isn’t uncommon of a coming-of-age tale, with men watching women, women experimenting with men, and a general theme of lust in the air, like humidity, weighing down on bodies with an unrelenting heat.  So there’s that aspect, and by today’s standards we might judge that the girls in the story/women in the movie are being exploited, but there is much more here than simply sex, there’s more being said past the physical parts of the plot.  Cultures may generally clash, but we see an example in Tunisia of how a nation might work made up of pieces of other nations, how it might be difficult at times, but ultimately rewarding.  Multiple languages are spoken throughout, seamlessly woven together to create one tapestry, and that’s a major point audiences are meant to pick up on.  The beach, the warmth, the naps, the cafes, the parties, the disagreements; it’s a lovely snapshot of a time gone but always well-remembered.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (1920x1080p), the video quality of the  Blu-ray is very nice, considering when the film was released and how it was transferred.  It feels much older that it actually is, which is a credit to the whole team, who created this nostalgic world and made every shot look classic.

Audio – The Blu-ray is done in Arabic, French, and Italian DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0.  Subtitles are available in English.  The languages come together, in and out, very nicely, changing with the households we visit, always feeling natural and respected.  The music of the film is also solid, with a nice title song about La Goulette that will stick in your head.

Extras – The only special feature is a trailer for Zizou and the Arab Spring.

Final Thoughts

Recommended. This film was made in 1996, is set in 1967, and is relevant in 2019, a timeless gem that I’m glad I stumbled across.  It feels like a time capsule was opened and our own memories came flooding out, mixed with dreams of places we’d never been and experiences we never had, but, despite that, never seeming unfamiliar.  The acting isn’t going to blow you away, every line isn’t written to perfection, it’s more a feeling captured on camera than it is a masterpiece of the cinema, but there’s no reason not to enjoy it for what it has, rather than expose it for what it lacks.  The video is fine for the time, the audio is strong, the only special feature is a single trailer, so the technical aspects won’t wow, but you’ll never expect them to.  A Summer in La Goulette is easy to watch and evokes interesting responses; while it isn’t perfect, those qualities are enough to hold it up.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – On the Basis of Sex

Category : DVD Review

Director: Mimi Leder

Starring: Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux

Year: 2018

There are a large number of us who are constantly worried about the health of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as she sits in a powerful seat among a turbulent government that can’t take another hit just now.  We monitor her safety, we worry about her longevity, and we pray for the future; what we wouldn’t give for a handful more RBGs.  No wonder Hollywood has currently turned its collective attention to this powerful woman, with a documentary and then a drama sharing this lady’s life story with curious audiences and invested fans.  I was worried coming in that On the Basis of Sex would be too heavy-handed, too over-dramatic, to depict this woman sufficiently and succinctly, to do justice to this Justice.  But the film worked in all the right places, delivering something smooth and consumable and safeguarded perhaps, but none the worse for care.

The Movie

One of the select few women accepted into the prestigious Harvard Law School in the 50s, Ruth Ginsburg fought every day to be seen, heard, and taken seriously.  A wife and mother as well, she juggled text books and classes and home life with a dexterity driven by her desire to become a lawyer, to make a difference in a world that desperately needed changing.  She even attended her husband’s classes as well when he was recovering from cancer, showing a passion for learning and a refusal to give up that would become her trademark and her badge of honor.  Eventually, Ruth would graduate from Columbia and pursue law, only to be told that women didn’t need such jobs, that a mother couldn’t find the time to be a lawyer as well, and that her sex would always count against her no matter where she went.

Years later, in the 70s, now with two children and working as a professor at Rutgers, Ruth returned to the idea of fighting for the rights of others, especially women, when a fascinating case fell into her husband’s lap, and promised to lead the way to equality down a very unusual path.  The case was a man suing the IRS to receive a caregiver tax credit for staying with his ailing mother.  At issue was the law’s language, which stated that only women could receive the credit, because it was assumed that only women were capable of caring for a relative.  This case opened the door to women’s right because it demanded that the courts say that gender inequality is illegal for either gender, and Ruth jumped at the chance to take this fight as high as it could possibly go.  The rest is history, as is the entire life of this woman, a soldier in the battle against oppression who will go down in history as one who led the charge.

The story of RBG should inspire us all.  Here is a woman, smarter than basically anyone, who had to work harder than almost everyone, who was told no at every corner, but who never gave up, and of course went on to become one of the most famous women in American history.  Not only that, but she spearheaded the legal battles that would change the unjust laws of our nation, that would allow meaningful change to take place, and for that we all owe her a debt, male or female.  Now we cheer for her to keep her place on a panel of judges who seem to be leaning further and further toward power, farther and farther away from common decency, as the amoral politicians of the nationalist movement try to subvert what she and so many others have attempted to build; a country in which all are equal.

Returning to the film, I was pleasantly surprised by its quality and its ability to stay away from the cheese.  There were times that felt produced, sure, but the movie’s heart was obviously in the right place from the beginning, it wins audiences over with ease, and so we forgive tiny flaws, because the greater work is what matters and what we end up soaking in.  I do wish they had found a New Yorker, a Jew, someone more authentic, to play RBG; I like Felicity Jones, she was strong in both The Theory of Everything and Rogue One, but she’s a Brit, and her hidden accent pops up at the most inopportune moments.  Kathy Bates as also an odd choice for a small part; she’s a strange actress who no longer really fits.  Hammer was brilliant though, and Theroux was strong, the rest of the side characters not adding much to the mosaic, so the casting was a bit of a mixed bag.  But the story shone through and dimmed any production flaws into mere background, allowing the reason audiences were watching in the first place to shine very brightly.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (1o80p HD Widescreen) and shot using Arri Alexa Mini and Arri Alexa SXT cameras with Panavision Primo lenses, the video quality of the film is strong enough for a biography, with a touch of nice cinematography usually overshadowed by the sets/costumes/stylings of the time period.  The disc watches smoothly, with an eye toward color and wardrobe, not exactly toward stunning visuals.

Audio – The Blu-ray was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, with an option of either Spanish or French, both in 5.1 DTS Digital Surround.  Also, the audio is available in Descriptive Video Service 2.0.  Subtitle choices include English SDH, Spanish, and French.  There is also an option to turn menu button sounds on or off.  The sound quality of the film is solid, with a nice backing track and a fine balance between dialogue and music.

Extras – There are three special features on the Blu-ray: A Supreme Team: Making On the Basis of Sex (a 6-minute behind-the-scenes segment), Legacy of Justice (a 3-minute character study), and Martin and Ruth: A Loving Partnership (a 3-minute featurette).

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended. I was pleasantly surprised by the tenacity of this true story, both in its telling of history and its attention to detail.  The filmmaking team also held back from taking the plot somewhere melodramatic; I thought the drama of the moment was, more often than not, skillfully handled.  There were a few weak points; Kathy Bates, Jack Reynor, and I would have liked a different RBG, though Jones was fine.  But the film’s strengths proved more important and more compelling, as the tale was told with clarity and with an eye towards current, relevant events.  The video is solid, the audio the same, and there are a few extras on the disc, so the technical features stand up on their own, and they support an important story about a extraordinary life that we all need to hear, learn from, and remember.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Tea with the Dames

Category : DVD Review

Director: Roger Mitchell

Starring: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright

Year: 2018

How often do four wise and amazingly talented women come together to discuss their acting careers and to reminisce on old times?  More often than we knew, apparently, but for one night only they will allow us to sit in and listen, which could not possibly be more rare.  Four friends with ties that go back 50 years and an incredible amount of collective experience have invited filmmakers to their party, and the audience is the lucky plus one.  Roger Mitchell may commonly direct fairly dull pictures (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes, Venus, Hyde Park on Hudson, My Cousin Rachel), but he knew how to get to the right place at the right time here, and we are just fortunate to have come along for the ride.

The Movie

Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright have been friends and colleagues for years, tied together by British theatre and cinema, their careers intertwining often under the same directors, within the same companies, and always as sisters in art.  They come together at Plowright’s cottage home, which she shared with her husband, the great Lawrence Olivier, to discuss old times, new aging, and the memories that are getting harder and harder to hold on to.  In this documentary, we get to sit down next to them as they discuss their experiences, their inside jokes, and the woes of old bones, a joyful occasion among friends where the cameras melt into the backdrop.  These women are not only accomplished actors, but have all received title from the English throne, Dames all, which only adds to their mystique and prowess, and places one more award upon their illustrious shelves.

American audiences will know the work of Smith and Dench more so than Atkins and Plowright, for the former pair are frequently in Hollywood pictures, while the latter pair are much less famous here.  But in Britain, across the theatre circuit especially, these women made their marks in a colossal way, and now come together to let us in on some of the secrets of their success.  The film feels less like a documentary/esposé and more like a talk at lunch, turning into a long behind-the-scenes featurette, or one giant extra, while we just sit back and listen.  In that way, it can become a little sleepy, and feels a little unedited, because Maggie Smith simply comments on the camera man, or the ladies just remain silent for a brief time, or the interviewer prompts them on what to talk about next.  It’s an extremely relaxed venue and movie, and therefor not for everyone, as not all audiences will want to sit even for a relative short run time and just listen to four ladies chat.  But for those interested in these actresses, there is insight and comedy enough to catch your attention, and to hold you in its spell.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 Widescreen, the video quality of the DVD is on par with other documentaries; that is to say, unimportant.  All the ladies wear blue shades, and the cottage and garden that they interview in is quite lovely, so the film is easy to watch, just not visually impressive.

Audio – The disc was done in English, with an option of English SDH or Spanish subtitles.  That’s it for the audio, and much of the film is either conversations among the artists or clips of their careers, so the sound is basically as important as the picture.

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

Final Thoughts

Recommended.  If one long bonus feature of four legends talking among themselves sounds like a nice evening spent in from of the telly to you, than you are in for a treat.  If not, this film could be complete torture.  I fall in the middle, a fan who has interest but not an aficionado, so I was at times elated and at times bored, pulled between the humor of the moment and a relatively unpolished documentary, when what we are trained to expect from the style is much more emotion and perhaps a call to action.  This film is basically just pleasant, which is fine by me, and should be fine with anyone who would naturally seek it out.  The video, audio, and extras aren’t anything to write home about, but the movie itself has many bright moments, and should be an enjoyable gem for many.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The Apparition

Category : DVD Review

Director: Xavier Giannoli

Starring: Vincent Lindon, Galatea Bellugi, Patrick d’Assumçao

Year: 2018

The Apparition should not be confused with the 2012 film of the same name, starring Ashley Greene, Sebastian Stan, and Tom Felton, about a spirit brought forth by a college experiment that haunts a young couple.  I’m sure that sort of apparition flick comes a dime a dozen, but this one, the 2018 French drama, is something else all together.  Instead of ghosts, this movie tackles religion, which can be confusing since, what’s the difference?  Thinking you saw a dead person in your hallway and thinking you saw the Virgin Mary on a hill is basically the same, fictional experience, and each fantasy has its fervent supporters who claim that what can’t be real most assuredly is.  Whether or not you are a believer, The Apparition is here to ask the hard questions, exploring our belief in the paranormal, or as some like to call it, God.

The Movie

Jacques Mayano is an award-winning journalist who has recently returned to France from his latest assignment, where the danger of covering a war-torn country led to the death of his friend and colleague, a photographer who was always at Jacques’ side.  Suffering from hearing damage and the emotional toll of seeing a life destroyed, Mayano finds it hard to return to work and to family responsibilities, struggling every day to get back to the world he left behind and which seems to have moved on without him.  Completely out of the blue, Jacques receives a phone call; apparently he’s been requested at the Vatican.  The church has a sensitive matter that they would like him to investigate, gathering evidence and taking statements, attempting to find not exactly the truth, but rather the experience; a strange job for a respected journalist, but the distraction arrives at a time when he needed it most.

Jacques receives some more details along the way; a girl in the French countryside has had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and the excitement in her small town has overwhelmed the local police, and has caused the priest at the local church to declare that he will start a new congregation, going against the wishes of the Vatican.  A team is assembled to investigate the girl’s claim, to get to the body of what it is she saw, and to discover, if they can, what type of person she is.  The church doesn’t simply want the matter debunked, that’s not how it works, but Mayano finds himself struggling to simply dig for facts, especially when he begins to feel that the young girl, Anna, is in serious trouble.  His help isn’t wanted, especially not by Pere Borrodine, the priest who is suddenly the father-figure of a celebrity, but perhaps Anna will accept his aid, since her story isn’t exactly scripture.

None of French director Xavier Giannoli’s feature films have caught much American attention, and neither did The Apparition when it was released in the States this past September, but I’m confident that, had it been more widely seen, it would have been much more broadly revered.  It’s a slow-burning drama if ever there was one, with layers of introspection instead of hours of action, which suited the story, the message, and the actors equally well.  At 140 minutes, the run time is an issue, and the plot does take its time developing into something intriguing, but as long as audiences are willing to put in the work, the reward is sufficient.  I don’t normally praise movies for forcing us to desire to be sucked in; it’s not my job to get hooked, it’s the filmmaker’s job to hook me.  But in this instance, I was confident that the quality was there just beneath the surface, only asking me to lean in to make itself known.

Leading the way was Vincent Lindon, a near-60-year-old French film veteran who has been going strong in the craft for as long as I’ve been alive, and you can easily see how his experience as an actor aided him in diving into this complicated part, and in emerging with something special to see.  His performance was great, as was that of Galatea Bellugi, who played Anna, a relative newcomer who held her own beside the daunting presence of this pro.  Together they painted a portrait of an experience that had many hidden details under the oil, only revealing themselves when peeled back and examined.  The film asks audiences to do just that; to willingly look where we’d rather not, discuss that which is uncomfortable, and leave not knowing the absolute truth.  For those who hate the gray areas, this movie won’t be for you, since it refuses to answer all the questions, leaving us to decide for ourselves what we think happened and what we think it meant, sending us away having witnessed something both sacred and sacrilegious, not knowing which side we are on.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 Widescreen, and shot using a Sony F65 Mini camera, the video quality of the film was strong enough to support the plot, never too mesmerizing to draw our attention away from what was important.  The town and surrounding countryside were lovely, and the cinematography inside the church was excellent, with many memorable scenes that will stick with me.  The picture quality of the disc was very nice, and in every way the visuals complimented the movie.

Audio – The disc was done in French 5.1 Dolby Digital, with an option of French 2.0 Dolby Digital.  Subtitles are available in English and English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  The music of the film was instrumental, very powerful, very driving, always carrying a church echo feeling.  It went well with the pressure of the plot and with the sense of desperation that the film carried throughout, bolstering the quieter moments with song that also never shook our focus.

Extras – There are a few special features on the DVD, including a 10 minute interview with director Xavier Giannoli, a 10 minute audition tape with Galatea Bellugi, a 2 minute featurette on the Zaatari Refugee Camp that features at the end of the film, and also a theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts

Highly RecommendedThe Apparition is strong enough to have been among the Best Foreign Language nominations at last year’s Academy Awards.  It’s moody, it’s heavy, it’s full of content and of questions, and it boasts acting from its leads that doesn’t fail the crew behind the scenes.  I can’t say how the religious would react to this viewpoint, but I think the film does a fantastic job of not shutting doors in the faces of those who want to believe, while also allowing those of little or no faith to view things from a more pragmatic point of view.  What you perceive as real is real in its consequences, right?  And this movie doesn’t pretend it knows what the truth of spirituality is, only that we are all experiencing life at the same time, not from the same place.  The video is top-notch, the audio solidly done as well, and there are a few extras on the DVD, so the technical aspects won’t let audiences down.  Although a bit long, a bit long-winded, and featuring an ending that not everyone is going to be satisfied with, this film has real power, and that’s rare enough that we need to notice it when it appears.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – The Favor

Category : DVD Review

Director: Donald Petrie

Starring: Harley Jane Kozak, Elizabeth McGovern, Bill Pullman, Brad Pitt

Year: 1994

Donald Petrie has had a very …interesting …career.  He began as an actor, then started directing TV episodes: MacGyver, Amazing Stories, L.A. Law, The Equalizer, later Picket Fences and Chicago Hope.  He segued into movies in the 90s, and that’s where things get weird: Mystic Pizza, Grumpy Old Men, The Favor, Richie Rich, Miss Congeniality, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Welcome to Mooseport, Just My Luck, and most recently Little Italy, which looked to be the worst film of the last 900 years.  I don’t understand how he chooses his projects, maybe by throwing darts, which must be how he directs his features as well, if the absurdity of The Favor can be taken as an example of this director’s very odd approach.

The Movie

As Kathy prepares for her high school’s 15 year reunion in Ohio, she takes a long, hard look at the life she has created and wonders if she will ever become what she thinks she was meant to be.  She has a nice husband, a good job, a best friend, two lovely children; from the outside it would look like Kathy’s got it all, but she still doesn’t feel exactly satisfied.  What’s worse, thinking about the reunion has got her thinking about her old sweetheart, a young man she never went all the way with, which she now deeply regrets.  If only she could see him again, have one night with him maybe, get it out of her system, then maybe she could return to her normal, boring life and be content with what she’s got.  Maybe.

It just so happens that Kathy’s girlfriend Emily is traveling to Denver to prepare for an art exhibit.  Denver just happens to be where Tom, the dreamboat from Kathy’s past, lives and works as a sports store proprietor.  Emily is a free spirit, so Kathy asks her to look Tom up, maybe even sleep with him, something, so that Kathy can live vicariously and get Tom off her mind.  Meanwhile, a young artist named Elliott is infatuated with the sophisticated Emily, and Kathy’s husband Peter starts to get a sense that something fishy is going on, so both men find themselves in this mix of emotion and nostalgia, of confused feelings that never quite go away and always seem to rear their heads when you least want to see them.

The Favor is a silly 90s rom/com if ever there was one, but unfortunately it is also an epitome of the quality of most of the films that fit that bill; outright awful.  It’s a mix of fantasy and reality, feminism and backward thinking, a mess of a movie that can’t seem to figure out what it’s trying to say.  It’s a little sexy, a little stupid, a little funny, a little confusing; it’s a film clinging to the 80s, a time of experimentation and chaos, that feels out of place even by ’94.  And then there’s the acting, which is simply horrid.  The actors weren’t helped by the terrible script or by the uneven direction, but their performances were part of the problem, especially by the leading ladies who attempted to make this movie their own and completely failed.

Kozek, who you might recognize from Arachnophobia, was abysmal, with a choppy, manufactured, unbelievable, up&down attempt at a character with depth which she was never able to find.  McGovern wasn’t much better; I guess I’ll always love her for Downton Abbey but I find watching her early stuff to be painful.  Brad Pitt has a small role, and it’s throwaway, a bit of young stuff when he was still trying to find his way, sandwiched between A River Runs Through It and Interview with the Vampire.  But the man who really stole the show was Bill Pullman, if you can believe it; he was the strongest actor in the show, which probably only happened this once.  All together, the cast didn’t do enough to overcome the bad crew, making this film a time capsule that’s probably best left buried.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (1920x1080p) and filmed with Panavision cameras and lenses, the video quality of this Blu-ray disc is far from the best you’ll see from this format, and probably a little worst than you should expect from this time period.  The cinematography is nonexistent, I guess the costumes were cool, but the picture and the art are nothing to write home about.

Audio – The disc was done in English, with English subtitles available.  That’s it as far as the audio is concerned and, again, you probably won’t expect much from this era, but you may actually get a little less than that.  Also, the music was weird, with a penchant for blues that made no sense.  Bill Pullman’s character plays the harmonica, I think himself?, and that’s just strange.

Extras – The only bonus features on the Blu-ray are five trailers for the feature and other films.

Final Thoughts

Skip It. If you want to go back 20-30 years and watch Brad Pitt, there are better projects to choose.  Thelma & Louise, Johnny Suede, Cool World, Kalifornia, Legends of the Fall; stick with those, forget about The Favor.  It’s a nonsensical romantic adventure flick, one with mixed morals and messages, and not nearly enough raw talent to keep the plot from sinking under the poor actors that were cast to peddle the vehicle.  Pullman pulls off something fun, but that’s about it; check him out in Newsies, A League of Their Own, or Malice instead.  Even the video quality, audio quality, and extras are poor; you’re going to have to forget you heard about this movie if you’re currently curious.  God knows I wish I could, but at least I can say I now know this flick, even if I’ll claim that I never knew it very well.

☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – River Runs Red

Category : DVD Review

Director: Wes Miller

Starring: Taye Diggs, George Lopez, John Cusack

Year: 2018

I adoringly follow John Cusack both cinematically and politically, but I have limits on both fronts, and it seems like we just reached the point down the film road where, if he’s gonna pull over here, I’m staying in the car.  He doesn’t always choose the best projects, but then he drops something like Love & Mercy and you feel glad you stuck by his side all these years.  On the flip side, sometimes he costars in River Runs Red for no other reason that you can discern other than money, because you know that’s the only way they could get you to show your face in something this bad; boatloads of cash.  I don’t know how much Cusack got paid for this role, but it would have to have been significant to justify combining his good name with the quality of this movie, which might be the absolute lowest he’s ever been a part of.

The Movie

Charles Coleman Sr. has come a long way, but he’s finally where he wants to be.  After years of struggle, he and his immigrant wife, who were parents at 17, have overcome poverty and the artificial ceilings placed over the heads of their races, fighting every day not to join the ranks of the beaten down and broken, but to rise up to places of power and of change.  Charles is a respected judge, his wife is a first responder, and his son has just joined the police force, starting at the Academy with big dreams and the sky as his limit.  But the system set in place to keep black folks down in the streets with the drugs and the crime where they are easier to control won’t give up without a struggle.

On his way to his first day as an officer in training, Charles Coleman Jr. is shot dead by two white police officers who thought he had a gun, when all he was reaching for was his wallet.  This same scenario has played out countless times, with little to no repercussion for the shooters, and the people are beyond angry.  Charles doesn’t know what to do; the mayor won’t help, the officers won’t be punished, and no one will listen, even when he discovers that a gun was planted on his son so that his murder would seem justified.  So a judge becomes both jury and executioner, as he sets out on a vigilante mission to bring his son’s killers to justice, hoping that it will someday not be so blind.

By the description, you might think that River Runs Red is akin to The Hate U Give, and most of the movie would prove you right.  For about an hour, the plot is focused on police brutality, Black Lives Matter, the death of a child, the grieving process, change in the face of a system that wants to stay the same forever; some really heavy themes.  I was shocked when I started watching and began to understand what type of film I had accidentally become on audience member of, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality, the message, the guts, and the simplicity of what was being said.  It wasn’t a breakthrough by any means, but my expectations were so low that I was ready to stand up and applaud.

And now for the bad news; that was only the first hour.  After that, I don’t know what happened, but someone, everyone, forgot what movie was being made and decided to do a Luke Goss shoot-em-up flick instead, completely abandoning all that was working because, who knows, they didn’t know how to rap it up.  Enter George Lopez, begin the gunfights, and say goodbye to the powerful moral that was building early on.  The point became absolutely irresponsible, the antithesis of what we need to be working toward, in my opinion, and I say that as card-carrying left-winger; this movie lost its voice and so started setting fires instead, just to be seen.  By the end, the film became one of the worst you’ll see this year, with awful acting and a torturous soundtrack, a complete explosion of mistakes when accidental cohesion seemed possible early on, only to ultimately morph into something you’ll wish you hadn’t seen.

The DVD

Video – The DVD was done in Widescreen, and that’s all the video details that are available.  The picture quality wasn’t bad at all, it was fine, though a lot of the story was dark, which may have been a specific choice, but was a little dreary and monotonous.

Audio – The disc was done in English Dolby 5.1, with an option of English SDH subtitles, and that’s it as far as the audio features are concerned.  And I’m not kidding about the soundtrack; awful music, terrible choices, bad singers, expect it all.

Extras – There are no special features on the DVD.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  John Cusack stays in the background in this film, and that’s smart, because I don’t know how much they were paying him to show his face, but it hardly seems worth it.  River Runs Red is a terrible movie, just terrible, all the more so because it doesn’t start out that way.  You watch, you become invested, you are pleasantly surprised, and then WHAM, the exact opposite of everything you thought you were supporting and a complete abandonment of the principles of good cinema.  There are gunfights near the end that I don’t even understand, people that start shooting who I don’t even know where they came from; it’s that stupid.  The video is solid, the audio is not, and there aren’t any extras, so don’t expect miracles from the technical aspects.  Just be glad that I saw this one first so you don’t have to.

☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Death House

Category : DVD Review

Director: B. Harrison Smith

Starring: Cortney Palm, Cody Long, Dee Wallace

Year: 2017

It’s nice to be one of the few people who has seen an under-the-radar, low-budget, throw-cares-to-the-wind horror flick, because there’s a sense of community that comes with watching something that precarious, that delicately connected and held together.  It might be strange to think of horror as being fragile, with the monsters and the decapitations and the blood and whatnot.  But that’s exactly what the genre is, a delicate balance between production, money, fandom, and expression, with the resulting final product usually something that almost no one sees.  I try to keep that in mind when I watch b-horror, the time and energy and work that goes into a film that’s almost guaranteed to be unloved, at least by more than a dozen people.  But I still have to judge it as a movie like any other, no one gets a free pass, no matter how much I want to give some points for effort.

The Movie

Special Agents Novak and Boon have entered Death House after years of training, bitter mind games, and graduation violence, to become a part of the next step in human evolution.  Death House is a maximum security prison far underground that houses the worst mankind has to offer.  Killers, rapists, Satan worshipers, men who think they physically are Satan; it doesn’t get any dirtier than down there, but that’s where the experiment comes in.  Scientists, using these evil inmates and some “volunteers” from topside, are trying to pull the evil out of the minds of the evildoers, training their psyches to be moral though their bodies fight against the change every step of the way.

Right or wrong, the government is running this jail like a factory for pure thoughts, with limited success so far, but the future is bright.  Novak and Boon get a special, virtual tour of the facility, in order to see all its evils, and then get to walk to floors, experiencing it themselves firsthand.  But a power glitch, or perhaps something more sinister, shuts down the security of the facility, all the inmates escaping their cells to kill whoever they please in whatever many best suits their psychosis.  The agents are trapped in an elevator, along with esteemed Dr. Fletcher, and they’ll have to fight their way out in order to survive, heading down into hell in order to once again see the light.

Despite the insanity of this plot, you can tell that this movie was made with genre love, and that ends up being its saving grace.  Or, more specifically, its only redeeming characteristic, but we’ll get to that in a second.  The amount of time and focus that must have gone in to making this bizarre blood-binge happen is unfathomable to anyone but a filmmaker, and I have to imagine that the entire cast and crew are proud of themselves for what they were able to accomplish.  For a b-movie, there were a lot of elements brought together to create a unique world, more than is typical, and that could not have been easy.  The facility, the soldiers, the prisoners, the levels, the virtual reality, the backstories, the plot offshoots, the creatures, the adventure; I’m impressed that it all made its way into the final product, that the run time was short, that I was never bored, that this movie exists.

BUT, and it’s a big one, none of that stops this film from being insane, amateur, minimally-funded, and poorly-acted.  It’s still a terrible movie, it was never going to be anything but, it never had a real chance of being something more than a slasher with awful actors doing the slashing.  And boy were they awful; Palm from Zombeavers, Longo from bad TV, Wallace from E.T., and everyone else seemingly from a random biker bar.  The ability to hold a conversation that wasn’t hilarious was nonexistent, every single character was beyond bizarre, nothing really make any sense if you looked at it too closely, and by the end I realized that the only glue holding the sloppy project together was love for the making, passion for the creating, and the camaraderie that comes from being a part of something so niche.

The DVD

Video – No technical details are available concerning the video.  The picture quality was bad, of course, but nothing else would be expected.

Audio – No technical details are available concerning the audio.  The sound quality was fine, I guess, with a few odd song choices along the way.

Extras – There were a few special features on the DVD, if you’re somehow thirsty for more.  Director’s commentary can be selected to be enjoyed while watching the film.  There are nine different interviews to peruse.  There is a nine-second clip of Cortney Palm jumping into a giant inflatable.  A slideshow an be viewed to appreciate the still images.  And there are 11 trailers to view, including one for the feature film.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  I can’t recommend anyone watch this movie except the most fervent horror enthusiasts, since the only reason to watch is to appreciate how much other people appreciate the genre that you most appreciate.  That’s it, there’s nothing else to hang your hat on, and that’s too bad, because there was a lot of love poured into this film, just not a lot of talent to accompany it.  It simply slides through the gross and the super-gross while riding on a story that’s one giant stretch, with a cast that wouldn’t make the cut on most other sets.  The video is as poor as you’d expect, the audio is alright, there are a few bonus features for those who want extra, so the technical aspects don’t completely fail the feature, but you’d better not rely on them too heavily either.  Death House is unreliable in its own right, fraught with too many flaws and not enough foundation, as it tries its best to please its base, which is admirable, if not exactly a reason to tune in.

☆ – Content

☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ – Replay

 

 


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DVD Review – Bent

Category : DVD Review

Director: Sean Mathias

Starring: Clive Owen, Lothaire Bluteau, Brian Webber

Year: 1997

Sean Mathias directed one feature film, Bent, and what a way to come in/go out.  We’ve seen countless Holocaust stories turned into movies, both unbearable truth and shocking fiction, and we’ll see countless more; Hollywood knows that it’s a genre that stirs us into action and that we’ve shown no signs of giving up on supporting.  And I don’t fault audiences for that; this era is definitely history we dare not forget, and I applaud directors for keeping it in focus, no matter how many times they go back to the well or how easy it may be to elicit emotion from these tales.  But Mathias brings us something we think we understand from a direction we didn’t see coming, and for that deserves credit for, if not making a perfect film, crafting uniqueness when we weren’t sure there was any left.

The Movie

Max has few cares as Germany enters war and the Nazi party takes over; he lives a life of frivolity among the young and the restless.  He dates a dancer, beds anyone he chooses, frequents nightclubs, wheels and deals; Max is rarely sober and seldom sees life soberly, he would much rather use any money he ekes out of his wealthy family to find parties and to seek excess.  But one fling too far, as they say, and Max’s latest conquest is about to get him into a new world of trouble.  He takes home a Nazi officer because he is beautiful, but when the SS come to the door they aren’t there for tea.  Max and his boyfriend are forced to flee for their lives, scraping by on their way toward Amsterdam, toward freedom, by whatever means necessary.

Picked up before they reach the border, the pair are identified as homosexuals and packed onto a train headed for Dachau, to be processed and most likely killed.  On board, Max renounces his lover, his sexuality, and claims to be Jewish, desperate for a chance to stay alive one more day, to see the sun shine one more time.  Thus begins his hellish imprisonment at a work camp, barely eating enough to live, moving stones every day in an exercise of mental torture, losing his humanity at the hands of those he once catered to.  But a ray of light emerges in the form of Horst, a man who wears the pink triangle that should also have been Max’s.  The duo remain standing only by holding each other up, becoming a symbol of love and hope in a time of ultimate despair.

Bent is done in a particular style that’s part historic drama and part black box cabaret.  Especially at the beginning, when we meet Max and get to see him in his element, the film almost feels fantastic and dreamlike, with rubble as sets, a musical number, and very little dialogue.  It’s a stark contrast to later in the story, when the action takes place among the factories of the death camp, and perhaps that was the intention all along, to create two very different worlds with two very different atmospheres, almost like two completely separate movies.  If that was what Mathias was going for then he succeeded, and we should remember that this is also a play, written by Martin Sherman, who wrote the screenplay for the film as well, so that explains the unusual air at the beginning, which ultimately gives way to much weightier elements later on.

One remarkable point about Bent is its cast, which is sprinkled with stars, some hidden in the backdrop where you don’t even notice them, mostly because they were not yet famous.  This was Clive Owen’s first big role, Lothaire Bluteau is a French Canadian character actor, but the smaller parts are where you’ll find surprising names pop up: Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jude Law as a stormtrooper, Rachel Weisz as a prostitute, Sadie Frost from Dracula, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau from Game of Thrones, and even Mick Jagger.  Yes, the Mick Jagger, and he has a musical number and it’s all very weird.  Everything about this movie is odd, even its touch of humor throughout, but there’s also no denying its power when it chooses to wield it.  I don’t think Owen was a very good choice for the lead, he always seemed a bit out of touch to me, but Bluteau was fantastic, the message here is powerful, and although the film itself doesn’t have the expertise behind it to become something fabulous, it solidly deserves its A for effort.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 Widescreen and shot using Arriflex cameras and lenses, the video quality of the Blu-ray disc is nowhere near the quality of modern films presented on this medium, but no one expects that to be the case, so it’s OK.  The picture quality isn’t terrible, and the film transfers fine, there’s simply no reason to watch this movie on Blu-ray if you can get it on DVD; the ceiling was never high enough for that to matter.

Audio – The disc was done in English 2.0 Stereo, with subtitles available in English SDH.  That’s it for the audio options, and while the quality is fine, it’s also nothing to write home about.  There is an original song at the beginning, which was written by the screenwriter and performed by Mick Jagger; I assume it’s also in the play, though I can’t say for sure.

Extras – There are a few special features available, if you’re looking for more.  Behind-the-Scenes Footage runs 11 minutes, and delivers just that.  Streets of Berlin in the song I mentioned, and there’s a music video for it here.  Also, there are 7 interviews with cast & crew members, as well as 4 trailers for this & other films.  Lastly, a small advertisement/informative piece, About Film Movement.

Final Thoughts

Recommended. Bent is a Holocaust film from a completely different angle, and not simply because it highlights the plight of gay men during this time, but also because of how it chooses to focus on the individual, largely putting the fate of the group aside and keeping an eye on the struggle of one man, one moment at a time.  In this way it differs from others, while telling us the same story we’ve heard countless times before, but need to have repeated to us every single day lest we forget what happened and how easily it could happen again.  For all of that, this film deserves our respect, setting aside whatever we might think of its flaws, rankings, etc.  The video won’t distract because you’ll forgive the quality, the audio is fine without being memorable apart from one song, and there are a few bonus features, so the technical aspects won’t let audiences down.  And neither will the impact of the film itself, which should and will be powerfully felt.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay