Category: Blu-ray

Jan 23 2015

Videophiled: ‘Adua and Her Friends’

AduaAdua and Her Friends (Raro / Kino Lorber, Blu-ray) are prostitutes from a Rome brothel attempting to take charge of their own lives after their place is shut down in the aftermath of Italy’s Merlin Law, which ended legalized prostitution in 1958 (the film was released in 1960). Adua (played by Simone Signoret), a veteran of the life, has a plan to open a restaurant as a front for their own little brothel in the rooms upstairs and her friends—cynical and hot-headed Marilina (Emmanuelle Riva), naïve and trusting Lolita (Sandra Milo), and practical Milly (Gina Rovere)—pitch in for the purchase and start-up and fake their way through running a real business. Adua may be a dreamer but she has a lot invested in this project. She’s the oldest of the four and, as anyone familiar with the films of Mizoguchi will attest, life on the streets isn’t forgiving of age. But what really charges up the film is the feeling of accomplishment and ownership as they work their way through each problem and, almost without noticing, create a successful business out of the restaurant.

For all the stumbles along the way, director Antonio Pietrangeli and his screenwriting partners (which includes future director Ettore Scola and longtime Fellini collaborator Tullio Pinelli) don’t play the disasters for laughs but rather a mix of warm character piece and spiky social commentary. It’s not simply that their pasts follow them around but that the Merlin Law has actually made things worse for women, whether they remain in the life (without any legal protections) or attempt to transition into another career. Palms need to be greased and officials cut in on the business; they haven’t even started up and they’re already paying off a pimp. And no, it’s not Marcello Mastroianni’s Piero, a charming hustler who hawks cars and woos Adua, who enjoys engaging in a romance that she gets to define for a change. He’s a pleasant distraction and something of an ally, but he’s better at looking out for himself.

Simone Signoret and Sandra Milo

Simone Signoret and Sandra Milo

 

Pietrangeli has great empathy for women (based on the evidence of this film and his 1964 La Visita) and his story frames the sexual double standards and cultural chauvinism of their lives. Those are the kinds of forces that good intentions and elbow grease can’t always overcome. But between the arguments and setbacks, Pietrangeli offers a portrait of life lived in hard times and buoyed by friendship and hope for a better life. When Marilina’s young son moves in (the girls didn’t even know she was a mother), they coalesce in a kind of family. The scene of the boy’s baptism, with the women lined up like adoring aunts, is a lovely and touching moment. There are no happy ending fantasies here but their moments of triumph, solidarity, and defiance are oases in a life that otherwise has it out for their dreams of self-definition.

Raro first released the film on DVD in 2011. This marks the Blu-ray debut and it looks very good, clean and sharp with lots of detail, and sounds great. Its score is informed by fifties cool jazz (and I’m a sucker for any soundtrack featuring the vibes) and dotted with pop songs (including a great use of Santo and Johnny’s instrumental “Sleepwalk”). It features an introduction by Italian film historian Maurizio Poro, the short film Girandola 1910, a segment from the 1954 anthology comedy Amori de mezzo secolo directed by Pietrangeli, and a booklet with essays, excerpts essays and reviews, and filmographies.

More releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Jan 22 2015

Videophiled: Liliana Cavani’s ‘The Skin’

Skin

Cohen

The Skin (aka La Pelle, Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), directed by Liliana Cavani in 1981 from the novel by Curzio Malaparte, is ostensibly a war drama, set during the American liberation of Sicily from the Fascists, but it’s really about the politics and economics of occupation. As the Allied forces (led by Burt Lancaster’s General Mark Clark) roll in, the Americans are as busy with public relations opportunities (Clark wants his Fifth Battalion to get the glory for the liberation) as with local issues, for which they defer to Curzio Malaparte (Marcello Mastroianni), an aristocrat and former Fascist who switched allegiances and fought the Fascists in Spain.

There’s not a lot of grace in Cavani’s direction—she seems occupied simply corralling such an enormous international production—but then it’s not a graceful subject. This isn’t about war, it’s about civilians caught between invading powers and soldiers in their downtime, and Cavani enjoys the chaos of this world in upheaval without letting us lose our way through. She takes us to the streets and apartment houses where the flesh trade cashes in on the new occupying army and to the heart of the Sicilian mafia, which negotiate a ransom for German POWs they’ve kidnapped (they want to get paid by the kilogram and have been stuffing them with pasta to fatten them up). True to form, the gangsters treat American military like just another syndicate.

Mastroianni, a master at playing jaded characters, brings compassion and understanding to Malaparte. He’s a realist who knows how to grease the wheels with the moneyed families (Claudia Cardinale as a vacant princess), the local leaders, and the mob, but he also knows what war does to civilians just trying survive a world where they are constantly occupied, starved, and bombed out of their livelihood, making money and scrounging food any way they can. He’s no longer shocked at what people do to survive and (in contrast to the American officer, many of them lost in their own double standards) doesn’t judge them, but he is tipped over into anger by cruelty and hypocrisy.

Alexandra King and Marcello Mastroianni

Ken Marshall is bland as the American officer who stands in for American morality, a seemingly compassionate guy who is shocked – Shocked! – at what he considers immoral behavior from a girl he loves only as long as she’s an innocent virgin in need of rescue, and Alexandra King cuts a striking figure as a Senator’s wife on her own PR mission, a sleek, headstrong redhead in the sea of Mediterranean faces and dark locks. These are not A-list American performers and it shows. Their characters are more bullet points than personalities and far less interesting than the Italians hustling through almost every scene, everyone looking for an angle before the army moves on. You can feel her admiration for the ingenuity and energy of these survivors, like the garment workers who create an industry making fair-haired merkins for Sicilian hookers to pass as blondes for the American soldiers.

In Italian with English subtitles, with commentary by film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein and four featurettes with interviews with director Liliana Cavani and production designer Dante Ferretti), plus a booklet with cast and credits.

More releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Jan 21 2015

Videophiled: Scarlett Johansson is ‘Lucy’

Lucy

Universal

Lucy (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – Luc Besson and his EuropaCorp studio is the salvation of the unpretentious, mid-budget, hyper-charged action movie. Usually Besson is content to write and produce the films, which have launched careers of such protégés as Louis Letterier (The Transporter), Pierre Morel (Taken), and Olivier Megaton (Colombiana), but he takes charge of this marvelously ridiculous action fantasy starring Scarlett Johansson. She plays Lucy, an American girl in South Korea who becomes the unwitting recipient of an overdose of an experimental designer drug that supercharges her brain and her consciousness along with it.

The premise is built a science cliché that is a misrepresentation at best and outright falsehood at worst—that we only use 10% of our brain, or the potential of our higher brain functions, as the sage professor and narrator played by Morgan Freeman puts it—and the script goes batshit crazy with it. Her growing abilities (measured with regular updates on the percentage of her brain now utilized) are a mix of superhero powers and telekinetic powers indistinguishable from magic and explained with science mumbo jumbo. It’s basically a fantasy wrapped in the guise of science and used as an excuse for an action thriller, but what a thriller. This is a kinetic explosion at its best with Johansson striding through it with a sense of drive and assuredness that is a super power all its own. Weaving through her journey is a revenge tale involving a Korean drug lord (played by Choi Min-sik—Oldboy himself!) and part of the pleasure of the film is how, after such a build-up, unimportant that whole subplot is to Lucy. The way she handles that annoyance is far more effective at explaining Lucy’s transformation than all the exposition spouted by Freeman. Besson’s attempts to frame it in some kind of evolutionary context would be laughable if it wasn’t so damnably fun.

On Blu-ray and DVD. The Blu-ray includes two featurettes and bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film. Also on cable and digital VOD.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Jan 20 2015

Videophiled: Preston Sturges’ ‘The Palm Beach Story’

PalmBeach

Criterion

The Palm Beach Story (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – Leave it to Preston Sturges to create the sexiest and most grown-up romantic comedy of his day. Claudette Colbert has never been more desirable as Gerry Jeffers, the flirtatious pragmatist with a clear-eyed take on the realities of men, women, and sex, and Sturges turns Joel McCrea’s All-American stiffness into comic perfection as her husband, the aspiring inventor Tom, a would-be Horatio Alger with a sense of pride and honor at odds with Colbert’s willingness to leverage her sex appeal. She’s not mercenary exactly, merely more socially sophisticated, and without the usual homemaking skills of the traditional housewife, those are tools she is more than willing to use. They are opposites in everything from attitude to onscreen energy to body language. Colbert moves like a dancer and even her dialogue seems to dance through the film while the stocky, blocky McCrea is slow-moving, deliberately speaking bedrock, a foundation of hard-working focus and unbending values. They shouldn’t work but when his hands work the stubborn zipper on the back of her dress, they temperature rises noticeably.

The Palm Beach Story is a variation on the classic comedy of remarriage, a theme that runs through such films as The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday. Not that this couple divorces, but that’s Gerry’s plan, convinced that he’s better off without her expensive tastes, and she runs off with little more than the clothes on her back and almost literally falls into the lap of an idle rich oddball (a brilliantly underplayed comic turn by Rudy Vallee) and his cheerfully man-hopping sister (a sparkling Mary Astor). Meanwhile, Tom runs after her and gets introduced to Palm Beach society as her brother, Gerry’s plan to leverage the situation to finance his future as well as hers. She’s nothing if not thoughtful.

PalmBeachAle

Serenade courtesy of the Ale and Quail Club

 

The Hollywood romantic comedy does not get any better than this classic from the height of Sturges’ astounding run of films in the first half of the 1940s. He was one of the wittiest writers of the era, a master of dialogue that defined its characters while bouncing punchlines like a tennis volley, and a lover of slapstick comedy. That mix of high and low, of snappy banter and vaudeville pratfalls, gives his comedies a decidedly American spark. Other Preston Sturges films may be funnier or cleverer or have a sharper satirical edge, but none are as romantic or as sexy. And no other Sturges film has such a magical way of rolling through such wild yet delightful contrivances to push the characters along: the Weenie King, an elderly rich eccentric with a romantic streak and a hearing problem; the Ale and Quail Club, who adopt Gerry as a mascot until their intoxicated antics explode in slapstick chaos. Colbert leverages sex appeal with such matter-of-fact savvy that it hardly feels like scheming; she has her own sense of ethics and plays everything square. Yet even in a screwball world of eccentric millionaires and mistaken identities, it’s the familiar intimacy of an ‘old married couple’ that generates the most heat.

It’s a lovely disc, mastered in 4k from a nitrate fine-grain print and a safety duplicate negative, and digitally cleaned up to look nearly flawless. It features a video interview with writer and film historian James Harvey about director Preston Sturges and a somewhat off-the-cuff appreciation of Sturges’ comedy by actor and comedian Bill Hader (who reads from the screenplay), plus the 1942 World War II propaganda short Safeguarding Military Information written by Sturges and featuring Eddie Bracken (star of two later Sturges classics), the “Screen Guild Theater” radio adaptation of the film with Colbert, Vallee, and Randolph Scott in the McCrea role, and a leaflet with an essay by film critic Stephanie Zacharek.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Jan 19 2015

Videophiled: Monte Hellman’s existential west

Shooting Whirlwind

Criterion

The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – Director Monte Hellman and actor Jack Nicholson met while making a pair of war films for Roger Corman in the Philippines. Nicholson was interested in all aspects of filmmaking, not just acting, and he and Hellman teamed up to produce a pair of low-budget westerns, one of them written by Nicholson and both of them directed by Hellman and starring Nicholson.

I used to call The Shooting (1967) the most existential western ever made. Seeing it again, I find it more haunting and elemental and savage, an almost abstract odyssey through a harsh, desolate desert landscape that wears its enigma proudly. Warren Oates takes the lead as a former bounty hunter hired to track a man by the mysterious Millie Perkins, who toys with Oates’ childlike partner (Will Hutchins), and Jack Nicholson co-stars as a sadistic, black-clad killer. It was written by Carole Eastman (under the pseudonym Adrien Joyce), who later earned an Oscar nomination for Five Easy Pieces, which also starred Nicholson. The spare cinematography burns bright and harsh in southwest sunlight that simmers the already edgy relations and Hellman directs the ambiguous script with always surprising flourishes, keeping the audience in the dark about the true nature of the odyssey as the characters talk around the conflicts as they warily eye one another. Nicholson is appropriately vicious in a preening sort of way and Oates is magnetic and commanding as a man driven by some fate beyond his comprehension. The film ends with more questions than answers, but it is never less than compelling.

'The Shooting'

Warren Oates

Ride in the Whirlwind (1967), written by Nicholson, is only slightly more conventional, the story of a couple of cowboys (Cameron Mitchell and Nicholson) who run from a posse that mistakes them for bank robbers. In contrast to the harsh desert and heightened tension of The Shooting, this takes place in wooded hills and advances at a leisurely pace (much of the film is their nervous waiting in a farmhouse) in an easy, naturalistic style that belies the urgency and danger. Mitchell has an unforced authority as the older cowboy and Nicholson is excellent as the jumpy younger partner just trying to wrap his mind around their predicament.

The films, financed by Roger Corman (who had also produced Hellman’s Los Angeles stage production of “Waiting For Godot”), were well received at European film festivals but tossed into legal limbo when its European distributor went bankrupt and ended up being sold directly to American TV. If I’m not mistaken, they’ve never really had an official theatrical release in the U.S., but they were rediscovered in the 1970s, in part thanks to Nicholson’s success, and have screened in festivals, retrospectives, and repertory programs. They have also never had a high quality disc release (the DVD release a decade ago from VCI was respectable if unspectacular) until this Criterion double feature. This is the first time the films have looked this good for decades, either on home video or on film.

Hellman oversaw the new HD digital transfer, mastered in 4k from the original camera negatives, and produced new supplements for the disc. He provides commentary for the two films with film historians Bill Krohn and Blake Lucas and personally interviews producer Roger Corman and stars Millie Perkins and Harry Dean Stanton in new featurettes that play like conversations. Also includes interviews with Gary Kurtz and actor Will Hutchins and a visual essay on Warren Oates by Kim Morgan, plus a fold-out leaflet with an essay.

Jan 18 2015

Videophiled: ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant’

BitterTears

Criterion

The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – Rainer Werner Fassbinder adapted his own stage play for this modern twist on The Women, the great all-woman Hollywood classic of sex and social conventions in high society. Margit Carstensen is successful fashion designer Petra von Kant, who lives alone in her stark apartment with Marlene (Irm Hermann), her silent, obedient secretary / servant / girl Friday, whom she alternately abuses and ignores.

Once divorced—by her decision, as she proudly describes the experience to her friend the countess—and once widowed, leaving her a grown child (she at one point berates parents who don’t raise their children properly, then explains she hasn’t the time for her child but takes comfort in knowing she is at the best schools), she falls in lust with a callow, shallow, lazy young married woman, Karin (Hanna Schygulla) who left her husband in Australia to return to Germany. Petra treats the seemingly naïve blonde beauty as part protégé, part pet, but the calculating kitten takes Petra’s money and gifts and social introductions with a cold calculation.

It all plays out in Petra’s stark apartment—a bedroom/workroom with a bed on white shag and a work area below with naked dress dummies, an easel and a typewriter—and Michael Ballhaus’ prowling camera finds Marlene silently hovering on the borders of Petra’s dramas, looking on through doors and windows like an adoring lover from afar. Handsome with a touch of aloofness (the dress dummies sprawled through each scene add a note of alienation), it’s a quintessentially Fassbinder portrait of doomed love, jealousy, and social taboos, bouncing between catty melodrama and naked emotional need.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus oversaw the digital restoration, mastered in 4K from the original camera negative and supervised by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation. It’s a tremendous leap in quality from the previous DVD release a decade ago, with strong color (essential to appreciate the art direction and lighting) and a great level of detail and crispness. The Criterion debut of the film features a new video interviews with Ballhaus and the original featurette “Outsiders” featuring new interviews with actors Margit Carstensen, Eva Mattes, Katrin Schaake, and Hanna Schygulla, plus a new interview with film scholar Jane Shattuc about director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the film, and the 1992 documentary Role Play: Women on Fassbinder, originally made for German TV and featuring interviews with Carstensen, Schygulla, and actors Irm Hermann and Rosel Zech. It includes a foldout insert in place of a booklet with an essay by critic Peter Matthews.

More reviews of recent Criterion releases at Cinephiled

Jan 15 2015

Videophiled: The end of ‘Boardwalk Empire’

BoardwalkS5

HBO

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Fifth Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) wraps up the Martin Scorsese-produced series set in Atlantic City during Prohibition with an abbreviated final season of eight episodes. Jumping ahead to 1931, with talk of ending Prohibition in the air, it finds Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) working to stake his claim in the legal booze trade (he attempts to strike a deal with a certain Joseph Kennedy) while Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky (Vincent Piazza and Anatol Yusef) are busy trying to unite the major mobs into a syndicate and eliminate the competitors and outliers. Thompson included.

As is the new convention with cable dramas about violent worlds and lifestyles, the final season wraps up many of the storylines by chronicling the demise of major characters. The transition of organized crime and the federal case against Capone in Chicago come right out of history but creator Terence Winter isn’t strictly beholden to the record for some of the other dramatic developments (just compare Nucky’s screen story with the real life Enoch Johnson). Winter may have been hampered by the short season but his choice to end the series in transition seems more creative than convenient. And his affection for Nucky is clear in the reflective journey he makes—the flashbacks of young Nucky coming of age in Atlantic City is surely as much about his own concerns as it is to reveal the making of a unique kind of racketeer—and he spends his final days as a prohibition-era power righting certain wrongs as he can. The advice given him in the first episode of the series, “You can’t be half a gangster,” ring through this season. But for Winter, the turning point isn’t anywhere in 1931 but back in Nucky’s formative years, learning how power is flexed and what is sacrificed to attain it. Winter saves Nucky’s original sin for the final episode, his Rosebud of sorts. It doesn’t explain all, of course, but it adds another dimension to Nucky’s efforts at any kind of redemption.

Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on four episodes and “Scouting the Boardwalk” featurettes on the locations for each episode. The Blu-ray also includes the exclusive “Blu-ray Live HBO Sampler,” which allows internet-connected Blu-ray devices to access the pilot episodes of four shows for free: Girls, Looking, Banshee, and the new series Togetherness.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Jan 06 2015

Videophiled: ‘Boyhood’ – Growing up on film

Boyhood

Paramount Home Video

Boyhood (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is arguably the movie of 2014. Even if you don’t think it’s the best film of last year, it dominated Top Ten lists and critics groups awards and it offered a different and daring kind of cinematic experience, something rare enough in American popular cinema.

It’s now common knowledge that filmmaker Richard Linklater and his four central actors—Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as the parents, Lorelei Linklater (the director’s daughter) as the older sister, and Ellar Coltrane as Mason—shot the film over the course of 12 years to watch not just Mason but everyone in the fictional family grow up and evolve over time. What’s most exciting about the film, however, is the way the film avoids the expected landmark moments and big dramatic conflicts to focus on the sense of life as an experience and an evolution.

Which is not to say there aren’t dramatic moments—Arquette’s single mom shows a history of bad judgment when it comes to life partners and one flight from a particularly bad marriage to a bullying drunk is both harrowing and startlingly realistic—but that the usual spotlight events are left offscreen. Because life isn’t about those flashpoints, it’s about connections made with friends, privileged moments with family, decisions, interests, disappointments, successes, and an evolution of character informed by experience. And that’s what this film becomes: an experience as much in the texture of this fictional life, growing up from first grade to arriving at college, as in the narrative journey. The performances are appropriately low-key and naturalistic and the evolution feels organic, thanks in large part to the collaboration of the actors and incorporating elements of their own experiences in the characters.

It runs 164 minutes, which lends itself to a home viewing (easier to get comfortable for the long haul), but it is something to see straight through as a single narrative experience. The Blu-ray features the 19-minute featurette “The 12 Year Project,” made up of interviews with the director and the cast (often interviewing one another on camera) over the course of production, from year one to year twelve, and the 52-minute “Q&A with Richard Linklater and the Cast,” shot after a screening of the film at L.A.’s Cinefamily on June 15, 2014. They are excellent supplements to the experience. Also includes bonus DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD copies of the film. No extras on the DVD release.

I talked to Richard Linkater about the film for Keyframe

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, digital and VOD at Cinephiled

Dec 30 2014

Videophiled: ‘Banshee: Season Two’

BansheeS2

HBO

Banshee: The Complete Second Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) is the first Cinemax original series to really work. It’s pure pulp, a small town crime story with a career criminal posing as a sheriff while continuing his career as a thief. He just sets limits: no jobs in his town. With no real knowledge of the law or proper procedure, he turns to his other skills to keep the peace and solve crimes. It makes for a very entertaining show, with a heist or robbery in most every episode, dynamic and gritty action scenes with visceral and at times gruesome violence, and plenty of nudity and sex: all those exploitation elements that the movies have ceded to pay cable TV.

The second season opens in the aftermath of the bloody shoot-out with the Ukrainian gang that Sheriff Hood (Antony Starr) and his former lover and partner-in-crime (Ivana Milicevic) ripped off a decade ago, with Hood off the hook and back in command as his suspicious and resentful deputy (Matt Servitto) takes the blame. Along with the heists, the investigations, and the hunt for the Ukrainian ganglord who somehow escaped death, this season brings in the son of the man that Hood is impersonating and sets Hood against the town’s criminal godfather Kai (Ulrich Thomsen), a thoroughly ruthless man who was raised Amish but shunned by his community. There’s a struggle for power on the local reservation and the education of Kai’s niece (Lili Simmons), who he’s adopted into his crime empire after she is banished from the Amish community. Her evolution is fascinating, watching her uncle wield power and control and trying to apply the same in her own dealings.

There is one standout episode that makes the most of the contradictions of the series: “The Warrior Class,” which begins with the murder of a young Kinaho girl and the disappearance of an Amish boy and sets the two communities against each other as Hood stirs things up even more with his ill-advised invasion of the reservation to question a suspect. This is the series at its best, using a splashy murder to reveal the tensions and resentments in the community and bring antagonists together for a common mission, and it features two of the most riveting fight scenes of the series.

Ten episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with commentary on most episodes, deleted scenes, short prequel videos of the characters, and behind-the-scenes featurettes on select episodes. The Blu-ray edition features Twitter commentary from the cast and crew during the season premiere and finale, an interactive “Inside the Title Sequence” look at the differences in the title sequences of the different episodes, and a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the season.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Dec 24 2014

Videophiled: ‘Dominion: Season One’

DominionS1

Universal

Dominion: Season One (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD), another new apocalyptic vision from SyFy, is essentially a spin-off of the 2010 feature Legion, set about 20 years after Gabriel leads a war on humanity and Archangel Michael turns his back on heaven to protect humanity and The Chosen One destined to save them. He’s now grown into Alex Lannen (Christopher Egan), an earnest soldier in Vega, the future incarnation of Las Vegas as a walled city under military command and control and a ruling elite vying for power in a decidedly undemocratic system. There’s all sorts of complicated politics and various factions and interest groups, with Michael (Tom Wisdom) serving as something between adviser and deity and Gabriel (Carl Beukes) preparing for another war with his army of lesser angels (who have all taken over human bodies) looking more like a band of demons on earth (complete with black wings for the angels—color coding is everything), but otherwise this is all familiar territory with only the specifics changed. Alex is in love with the daughter of the city ruler but she’s betrothed to the son of the city’s most powerful man, and of course everyone is driven by their own interests and alliances. And hey, who would have suspected that angels keep secrets? There’s nothing religious here apart from the mythology of angels as the ancient race of God’s warriors. Egan is fine as the reluctant Chosen One and TV vets Anthony Head (Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Alan Dale (Lost and Once Upon a Time) are the two patriarchs competing for power but the rest of the cast feels like they’re recycled versions of other actors playing recycled incarnations of other characters.

Eight episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, with deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a bonus Ultraviolet digital copy of the season. The Blu-ray features an extended version of the season finale and an HD version of the digital copy.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Dec 23 2014

Videophiled: Mike Nichols’ ‘The Fortune’

Fortune

Twilight Time

The timing wasn’t planned but it is fortuitous. The Fortune (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), a screwball comedy directed by Mike Nichols, debuts on Blu-ray a month after Nichols passed away. The 1975 production is set in the 1920s and stars Warren Beatty as a con man trying to get his hands on the fortune of a madcap heiress (a bubbly Stockard Channing in her first major film role) and Jack Nicholson as his dim-witted stooge who slowly figures out he’s really a partner in crime. Beatty plays it like a second-rate con man’s idea of what a cool customer acts like and Nicholson is a greedy, lazy idiot with a maniacal grin who thinks he’s clever but panics at every disaster, and truly every attempt to knock her off is a disaster.

The film was major flop, quite a surprise given the talent at work here, including screenwriter Carole Eastman (under the psuednym Adrian Joyce, which she also used on The Shooting) and production designer Richard Sylbert, who gives the west coast settings a low-rent, sun-baked handsomeness. Maybe it was the odd sensibility and collision of old Hollywood screwball and contemporary sensibilities; the jazz age was all the rage apparently after the successes of Bonnie and Clyde (with Warren Beatty), Chinatown (with Jack Nicholson) and The Sting. This isn’t really a black comedy, as Channing’s dizzy dame seems all too willing to fall into every scheme and the not-so-wise guyes are too incompetent to pull any of them off, and the timing doesn’t match the screwball situations, though all three are game to play their parts with all the screwy idiosyncrasies and big character flourishes of thirties movie stars and that is a pleasure to see.

The film has never been on DVD in the U.S. and it makes its disc debut on this Blu-ray-only release. It’s a great looking film, with cinematography by John Alonzo who even makes the California hills look like they cam from another era, and the disc preserves the period colors and tone of the film along with the crisp image. It includes Twilight Time’s trademark isolated musical score and an eight-page booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. Limited to 3000 copies, available exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

Dec 16 2014

Videophiled: Barbara Steele and ‘The Long Hair of Death’

LongHairofDeath

Raro VIdeo

The Long Hair of Death (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD) – Raro Video, the American arm of an Italian home video company, is one of only a couple of disc labels with a tightly-defined mission, in this case a focus on classics of Italian cinema that ranges from auteur masterworks to genre landmarks and cult items. The Long Hair of Death (1964) is one of the latter, a moody Gothic horror from genre stalwart Antonio Margheriti (whose name was immortalized by Quentin Tarantino in Inglorious Basterds) starring Barbara Steele, the British actress who became the most striking and mesmerizing star of Italian horror cinema in the sixties.

The preferred genre of the prolific Margheriti (whose films were often signed with the anglicized pseudonym Anthony Dawson, as it is here) was science fiction but, being an Italian director in the genre pool of the sixties (and later the seventies and eighties), he did it all: peplum, fantasy, crime, action, westerns, and of course horror of all kinds. His Gothic horrors of the sixties are among his best and this, his second collaboration with Steele (after Castle of Blood, 1964), is a minor beauty of the genre, a medieval revenge film with an innocent burned for witchcraft, a corrupt aristocracy, a curse, a ghost, and a sweet, sweet revenge. Steele is the eldest daughter of the woman framed for murder and burned alive and as she sacrifices her maidenhood to Count Humboldt to stop the trial by fire, his cruel son Kurt (George Ardisson, looking like Italy’s answer to Doug McClure with bad attitude) ignites the “test” blaze, which is quite literally a maze of bundled straw surrounding the accused It’s a great scene, with the woman scrambling up on a cross in the center of the inferno as pyres rage around her to spit a curse upon the family, and Steele soon follows, murdered to cover up the sins of the Humboldt family. Only when her innocent young stepsister Lisabeth is grown into a young beauty (Halina Zalewska) and forced into marriage to the scheming Kurt does Steele return, this time as the embodiment of her mother. She takes the name Mary and poses as a seductive traveler who immediately becomes of object of Kurt’s obsession. She turns seductress and appears to encourage Kurt to murder his wife but her true motivations are more insidious.

It’s a little slow as these things go, with the story just creeping along as Margheriti’s camera drinks in the atmosphere of the gorgeous castle locations and the secret passageways and ominous crypts and dungeon sets. It’s an atmosphere of plague and pestilence, though the ravages are only glimpses outside the castle walls (the peasants are, of course, locked out), but the worst seems to be over (coincidentally as Mary appears) and the local priest prepares to preside over a celebratory ceremony that looks positively pagan. The tension between peasant superstition, religious power, and the purely self-serving rule of the corrupt aristocracy makes an interesting backdrop that, while never really explored, figures in the finale as revenge is served.

The rest is about the beauty of figures that float through the atmosphere of Margheriti’s sets and locations and the mesmerizing presence of Steele, whose scary beauty is delicate and vulnerable yet feral and fierce. She is equally compelling as the innocent maiden of the opening scenes, the seductress in the castle, and the avenging dark angel of her wronged mother. But even if the film meanders more than it unnerves, more interested in creating elegant images and moments than tension or mood, the finale is perfectly orchestrated and it delivers a deliciously cruel poetic justice with echoes to Bava’s Black Sunday, the film that made Steele an icon of Italian horror.

long_hair_of_death_11

Barbara Steele in ‘The Long Hair of Death’

This appears to be an excellent transfer from less-than-stellar source materials. At its best the image is sharp and clean, with excellent detail and a rich gray scale in the black and white image, but the sharpness can vary from shot to shot. That may be inherent in the original photography or a matter of restoring the complete film from different sources (there are no notes on the provenance of the elements or the transfer apart from “New HD Transfer Digitally Restored). It has English language credits and both Italian and English language soundtracks, but it also has brief scenes of nudity that were surely not in the American release. There is a light, almost ghostly spiderwebbing of what looks like emulsion cracks through a few sequences over what is otherwise a strong image but no other glaring damage. It’s likely the best materials available for the film and the digital transfer is very good, delivering a strong, steady image. Note that the English soundtrack features an (unidentified) American actress dubbing Steele’s lines and a poor visual match to the lips, so I favor the Italian soundtrack with subtitles.

Also features an introduction by Chris Alexander, editor of Fangoria and Delirium Magazine and director of Blood for Irina (he makes the claim for this as Steele’s finest Italian Gothic moment), and video interviews with Edoardo Margheriti (the director’s son) and screenwriter Antonio Tentorio, all shot on standard definition video, probably a decade ago or so, and the accompanying booklet features a short essay on the film and the Italian Gothic horror genre by Alexander.

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital at Cinephiled

Barbara Steele in ‘The Long Hair of Death’

Image | WordPress Themes