Aug 07 2014

Videophiled Classic: Brian DePalma’s ‘Phantom of the Paradise’

PhantomParadise

Phantom of the Paradise: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) – Brian De Palma’s wild rock and roll remake of Phantom of the Opera by way of Faust, The Picture of Dorian Grey, and The Count of Monte Cristo plays like a decadent glam inversion of Jesus Christ Superstar. Paul Williams (who also wrote the dynamic, Oscar-nominated score and songs) stars as Swan, the evil record tycoon (in the opening scene he parodies Marlon Brando from The Godfather) who steals a rock and roll cantata from a sad sack singer / songwriter (William Finley), who transforms into vengeance-filled, hideously scarred monster in love with ingénue Jessica Harper. This outrageous, over-the-top fantasy, done up in real De Palma style (his love of split screen technique finds a new outlet in the video monitors of Swan’s voyeuristic headquarters), is a spirited satire with wild rock and roll numbers and his most sensitive love story.

Shout Factory’s transfer is from a new HD master and released under their Scream Factory imprint, and they do something novel with the Blu-ray+DVD Combo edition. There are so many supplements in this edition, most of them created for this edition by Shout and all of them new to American home video, that they are split between the two discs.

So you get the two exclusive commentary tracks – one with stars Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, and Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor and Peter Elbling (aka the Juicy Fruits), the other with production designer Jack Fisk – on the Blu-ray along with generous new interviews with director Brian DePalma and star / composer Paul Williams and a short piece with make-up artist Tom Burman (focusing on the distinctive mask), plus 26 minutes of alternate takes (presented in split screen to compare to the footage used in the film) and seven minutes of outtakes (showing changes made to cover a post-production change in the name of the record company).

The DVD features the balance of the supplements. The 50-minute documentary “Paradise Regained,” which features interviews with De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, and stars Williams, Harper, Graham, and the last William Finley, and the 72-minute interview with Paul Williams conducted by Guillermo Del Toro were both featured on the British Blu-ray released by Arrow earlier this year and licensed for this disc, along with an archival interview with costume designer Rosanna Norton and a little 30-second clip with William Finley and the Phantom action figure. Also new to this release are interviews with producer Edward R. Pressman and drummer Gary Mallaber, a guide through the poster design by the artist’s widow, and Gerrit Graham reading a bio he wrote for the film’s press kit.

More classic and cult releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Aug 05 2014

Videophiled: ‘Divergent’ does not diverge from the young adult formula

Divergent

Divergent (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), adapted from the young adult science fiction series written by Veronica Roth, is a metaphor without a physical or social reality convincing enough to make it worth investing ourselves in the story built around it.

It’s no fault of Shailene Woodley, who pretty much carries the film as the rebellious daughter in a society where you are defined by your clan. Her parents are Abnegation, which stands for the selfless, but Beatrice chooses Dauntless, the brave, rechristens herself Tris and jumps right into a warrior culture where her selflessness marks her for special treatment. It also rouses the attentions of the broody hunk Four (Theo James), who shares the same deep, dark secret that she does: her gifts straddle the factions, making her a danger to the Fascist Erudite clan. Because, as the film spells out for us, “If you don’t fit into a society, they can’t control you.” In this case, it turns out to be a literal form of control, which Tris rebels against and discovers an underground of like-minded rebels.

It’s all set in a ruined Chicago rebuilt after some unspoken apocalypse, protected from the dangers of the savage lands outside the walls. The plotting takes us through a familiar evolution of a character with a hidden gift who has to learn to get past preconceptions and take a stand for her convictions, but director Neil Burger and his crew fail to create a cast or a world around her to give the stakes any sense of power. That’s something that The Hunger Games gets right. The filmmakers have another film on the way to get it right so maybe they can take a cue.

Miles Teller is an angry Dauntless apprentice who feeds on the power and the violence of the competitive training environment, Maggie Q is the fringe artist who meets the rent by running the aptitude tests (think the Harry Potter sorting hat with sci-fi trappings), Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn are this society’s equivalent of the selfless, liberal, post-hippy parents who Tris thinks she’s rebelling against with the Dauntless immersion, and Kate Winslet gets to go all supervillain as the coldly calculating leader of the Erudite coup.

On Blu-ray and DVD with two commentary tracks (one by director Neil Burger, one by producers Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher) and deleted scenes, plus an UltraViolet digital copy of the film. Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are two featurettes, “Bringing Divergent to Life” and “Faction Before Blood,” plus bonus a DVD.

More New Releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and VOD at Cinephiled

Aug 05 2014

‘Hi, Nellie!’ on TCM

Paul Muni won fame for his versatility on both stage and screen, transforming himself almost completely for his roles, and for the seriousness of his dramatic portrayals. His career spans from the ambitious thug turned gangland boss in Scarface (1932) to historical figures in The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) and The Life of Emile Zola (1937) to the aging doctor dedicated to helping the urban poor in The Last Angry Man (1959). For his sixth film, the 1934 release Hi, Nellie!, Muni took on something different: his first screen comedy.

Hi, Nellie! is a newspaper picture, a genre that thrived during the depression thanks to its high energy press room scenes, hard-boiled reporters, snappy patter, and street-smart sensibility. Muni plays Samuel “Brad” Bradshaw, a tough, up-from-the-streets editor of a big city newspaper, taking on the task with the soul of a reporter and a code of ethics that balances headline scoops with responsibility to the news.

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Plays on TCM on Wednesday, August 6

Aug 03 2014

Videophiled Classic: ‘The Essential Jacques Demy’

JacquesDemy

The Essential Jacques Demy (Criterion, Blu-Ray+DVD Dual-Format set) collects six features and a few early shorts from the Nouvelle Vague‘s sadder-but-wiser romantic. It’s not my intention to rate him against the movement’s most famous filmmakers – Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Varda – but just to find his place among them. Like so many of his fellow directors, Rivette loved American movies, especially musicals, but his taste for American musicals and candy-colored romance was balanced with a bittersweet sensibility. For all the energizing music and dreamy love affairs, his romances more often than not don’t really get happy endings.

Criterion’s 13-disc set, one of their last to come out in the Blu-Ray+DVD Dual-Format, picks six of his defining films from his 1961 debut to his 1982 Une Chambre en Ville, which makes its American home video debut in this set, all transferred from restored and remastered HD editions.

Lola (1961) is a bittersweet musical without the music, lovingly shot in Demy’s hometown of Nantes in black and white CinemaScope by Nouvelle Vague master Raoul Coutard, and set to a lovely score by Michel Legrand. Anouk Aimee, whose appearance in lacy tights, boa, and top hat made her an eternal pin-up dream, is a single mother looking for the father of her child in the port towns of Nantes. As in so many of his films, Demy reveals himself as both eager romantic and sadder-but-wiser realist, and for all the dashed dreams of the film it still manages to have its swoony romantic fantasy come true.

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Aug 02 2014

‘The Unknown Man’ on TCM

The first act of the 1951 crime picture The Unknown Man plays out like a classic courtroom drama with a social commentary heart. Walter Pidgeon is big business lawyer Bradley Mason, “the best civil lawyer in town and one of the finest in the country,” in the words of Joe Bucknor (Barry Sullivan), our narrator and conflicted District Attorney. Brad is coaxed by an old law school buddy into defending a young man (Keefe Brasselle) with a long criminal record who is on trial for murder. Mason is no criminal lawyer but he reveres the law and, afraid that this inarticulate, hotheaded young man may be railroaded into a conviction for a crime he didn’t commit, he takes the case. That’s just the beginning of Mason’s story, however. Questions linger in his mind after the case and he discovers just how nave he is when it comes to the reach of crime and corruption in his city.

Though it’s not exactly your typical crusading attorney story, The Unknown Man circles back to courtroom drama for the climax. By then, however, the road to justice has taken some complicated detours into the shadows of film noir territory. The syndicate became a presence in urban crime films after World War II and here it looms over the story, invisible but powerful and run by an unknown mob boss who may or may not even exist. Our moral, honest hero Bradley Mason is determined to find the truth.

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Plays on Sunday, August 3 on TCM

Aug 02 2014

‘Curse of the Pink Panther’ on TCM

After the death of Peter Sellers in 1980, Blake Edwards made the unexpected decision to revive the Pink Panther film franchise by creating not one but two sequels simultaneously without the defining presence of Sellers in the lead as Inspector Clouseau. Trail of the Pink Panther (1982), the first of the two, utilizes previously unseen footage shot for previous Pink Panther features for a kind of memorial for Clouseau, who is sent once again to solve the robbery of the Pink Panther diamond (the jewel stolen in the original The Pink Panther (1963) and disappears, apparently dead in a plane crash. A reporter interviews friends, foes, and colleagues of the legendary detective, allowing Edwards to use classic clips from the series.

Curse of the Pink Panther (1983) picks up the premise months later and spins it into an attempt to launch a new character under the Pink Panther brand. Clouseau’s boss and nemesis Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is directed to use a supercomputer to find the world’s greatest detective to find France’s greatest detective. Since only a complete moron on the level of Clouseau has any hope of figuring him out, he reprograms the computer search for Clouseau’s perfect match: the worst detective in the world. Enter Sergeant Clifton Sleigh (Ted Wass) of the New York Police Department, a walking disaster area that his commanding officer is overjoyed to pack off to Paris. Immediately upon reporting to duty, his clumsiness sends Dreyfus to the hospital.

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Plays on Saturday, August 2 on TCM

Aug 01 2014

Who are the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’?

So you know Captain America and Thor and Spider-Man and all those cool mutants from The X-Men. But just who are these Guardians of the Galaxy, as in the stars of the new film opening Friday? Some interstellar Avengers spin-off? Rejects from a Star Wars sequel? Are they even superheroes?

Marvel Comics is taking a big leap outside of its comfort zone of fan-favorite costumed heroes with this fairly obscure group of oddball anti-heroes. If early buzz and initial reviews are any indication, it’s going to pay off. The Guardians of the Galaxy promises to be the liveliest, most playful cosmic blast since the first Star Wars.

You don’t need to know the players to enjoy the ride, but all of the maverick characters had a history in Marvel comics before writer Dan Abnett and artist Andy Lanning plucked them from various corners of the Marvel Universe, tossed them together, shook vigorously, and sent them to the far reaches of the galaxy in 2007. Here’s a quick introduction to the team.

Peter Quill / Star-Lord, aka the human one (Chris Pratt)

Marvel-ous backstory: Introduced in 1976, the original Star-Lord was a NASA astronaut who was transformed into an intergalactic hero by mysterious forces.

Movie origins: Self-proclaimed galactic outlaw Peter Quill was orphaned young and scooped up into space by intergalactic soldiers of fortune. No surprise he grew up reckless, cocky and mercenary.

He got skills: He’s a marksman, a daredevil space jockey, and a con man. And he travels with his own soundtrack of 1970s pop tunes.

Heroic precedent: The charming rogue-for-hire with a souped-up space ship and a soft spot for underdogs is in the Han Solo mold with a dash of Captain Kirk. He does have that thing for green-skinned chicks, after all. Which brings us to…

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Jul 31 2014

Videophiled Classic: ‘Herzog: The Collection’

Herzog CollectionHerzog: The Collection (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) is the biggest Blu-ray box set to get released this year. The collection presents 16 films on 13 discs spanning three decades, from his second feature Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) to his documentary tribute / remembrance My Best Fiend (1999), which profiles his long, turbulent personal and professional relationship with Klaus Kinski. Apart from Nosferatu the Vampyre, the films all make their respective Blu-ray debuts in the U.S., mastered from new digital transfers produced by Herzog and supervised by Herzog’s longtime producer Lucki Stipetic. Some of the discs look better than others and

It’s not even close to Herzog’s complete output and it leaves out many of Herzog’s most interesting and offbeat non-fiction films (perhaps a second volume will follow if sales are good enough?) but it includes the major films Herzog created in the period, including both the German and English language versions of Nosferatu, which Herzog shot concurrently.

The films in the set were produced and financed by Herzog and he remains ownership of them all. Let’s take a tour through them. Not necessarily in chronological order.

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) is the earliest film on the disc and Herzog’s second feature, and Fata Morgana (1971), is his third fiction feature, a dreamy non-narrative meditation on the beauty of the Saharan Desert and the garbage brought to it by humanity. Both of these films, by the way, have commentary by Herzog in conversation with Crispin Glover, which is a highlight all in itself.

Werner Herzog’s breakthrough film Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) is an astounding vision of imperialism run amuck in the primitive, savage Eden of 15th century Peru and the film still entranced four decades thanks to the vivid, visceral filmmaking. It’s also Herzog’s first collaboration with madman and meglomaniac star Klaus Kinski, who delivered the most expressive performances that visionary director Werner Herzog ever put to film. Herzog in return gave Kinski his boldest roles. This collection features all five collaborations between the director and the actor, plus Herzog’s documentary tribute to the actor.

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Jul 30 2014

Videophiled: A different kind of Biblical epic in ‘Noah’

Noah

Darren Aronofsky takes a very different approach to the Biblical epic in Noah (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) a film both earthy and mystical. This isn’t the Old Testament prehistory we’ve seen before—Aronofsky draws from both Christian and Jewish religious texts to fill out the story (which is actually quite short in the Bible) and offers bleak, poisoned world before the flood quite different from the Mediterranean deserts and forests of previous films—and it accomplishes something quite powerful, vivid and unexpected as a result.

Russell Crowe is Noah as God’s moral man, the last of the faithful who lives his life as Earth’s steward. He keeps his family (wife Jennifer Connelly, sons Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, daughter-in-law Emma Watson) away from Cain’s offspring (Ray Winstone as a brutal tribal warlord) and the despoilers of the Earth. The creator (as God is called throughout the film) doesn’t speak in the dramatic voice so familiar to other films. He communicates through visions and they are violent, confusing things that Noah must take on faith. Noah undertakes his task as a solemn duty, helped by a race of rock-like beings who were once angels that were cast out of heaven and anchored to Earth.

Ancient mythology and modern cosmology come together in the story of Genesis, told in Noah’s own words and illustrated with imagery reminiscent of Cosmos, a wedding science and religion in a way respectful of both. Even the Ark itself looks different than we’re used to, which is curious considering it is designed according to the dimensions specified in the Bible (see the infographic below for details on scaling the ark, the flood and other details). It’s an epic canvas for a human story and Aronofsky shows great respect for the faith of the source while taking a creative approach to dramatizing the story and the world.

On Blu-ray and DVD. Aronosky shot much of the film in Iceland to get that barren, blasted landscape and he explores the location in the featurette “Iceland: Extreme Beauty.” It’s exclusive to the Blu-ray editions of the film, as are two addition featurettes: “The Ark Exterior: A Battle for 300 Cubits” and “The Ark Interior: Animals Two By Two.” The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film.

More New Releases on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and VOD at Cinephiled

Jul 29 2014

Blu-ray: ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

Film history is filled with legends and stories of what could have been great (or at least interesting) films but were never made for one reason or another. Such projects are all potential, giving fans the chance to dream of masterpieces that could have been without having to face the reality of compromise and transformation that happens in the real world of production. The documentary of the film that was never made is something of a recent phenomenon. Films like It’s All True, based on an unfinished film by Orson Welles (1993), Lost in La Mancha (2002) (about Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote), and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (2009) mourn what could have been but there is also something romantic in these grand, unrealized visions, of the filmmaker as Don Quixote taking on the studio windmills.

Few dreams are as grand as the adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune that was developed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, the creator of El Topo (1970), the original midnight movie, and The Holy Mountain (1973), two movies that mix myth, spiritualism, primal violence, and surreal imagery. These low budget films were underground success stories, playing to small but passionate audiences and achieving cult status, and Jodorowsky planned to follow them up with an epic far bigger and more ambitious than anything he had ever attempted before.

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Jul 28 2014

‘The Cossacks’ on TCM

John Gilbert had risen to the top ranks of Hollywood stars by 1928. Under contract to MGM, the most glamorous studio in the world, he was a favorite of director King Vidor, who directed him in five pictures including the acclaimed The Big Parade (1925) and the swashbuckling costume adventure Bardelys the Magnificent (1926), and screen superstar Greta Garbo, who starred opposite him in Flesh and the Devil (1926) and Love (1927). He was poised to take the mantle of screen heartthrob after the death of Rudolph Valentino, and MGM, which didn’t always see eye to eye with the often outspoken and critical star, poured on the production value for The Cossacks, his follow-up to Love and his most expensive film to date.

Based on a novel by Leo Tolstoy and set in a romantic fantasy of the barbarous central Russia, The Cossacks stars Gilbert as Lukashka, the educated, pacifist son of a bloodthirsty Cossack chieftain (Ernest Torrence). “The woman man,” he’s called by the village men. “The man who will not fight.” After enduring ridicule and abuse, he finally turns and transforms into the fiercest warrior in a village of fighters who live to make war with the Turks. MGM built a massive Cossack village set in Laurel Canyon and bragged in press releases that they had brought 112 real-life Cossacks from Russia (they lived in the village during production). Money was lavished on costumes and location shooting (very little was shot in the studio) and a spectacular special effect involving an epic landslide across a mountain path. “[W]hile it has its artificial vein,” wrote New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall, the production “is sometimes quite impressive because of the earnest attention to the atmospheric detail.”

Plays on TCM on Tuesday, July 17

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Jul 25 2014

Blu-ray: ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ (1920)

Stage and screen legend John Barrymore took on the good doctor and his vicious alter ego from the famous Robert Louis Stevenson novel in this silent horror classic, adapted as much from the stage play by Thomas Russell Sullivan as from Stevenson’s original book. It wasn’t the first adaptation of the story but it became the most celebrated until Fredric March took on the role in the sound era, and it helped elevate the respected actor into a major big screen attraction.

As Dr. Henry Jekyll, the moral, religious man who keeps company with society gentleman who find Henry more than a little self-righteous, Barrymore takes on a theatrical nobility: quiet and subdued, he stand tall and stiff and favors his great profile to the camera. He runs a free clinic (called “the human repair shop,” a phrase that inadvertently brings to mind Frankenstein more than Hyde) that his friend Sir George Carewe (Brandon Hurst) sneers at. “You should live–as I have lived,” he advises the sheltered Henry. Sir George is the father of the proper young lady Millicent (Martha Mansfield), who admires and loves Henry, a seeming contradiction that he explains to Henry thusly: “I protected her as only a man of the world could.” After a visit to a seedy nightclub, where Sir George invites dancing girl Miss Gina (Nita Naldi) to get Henry all hot and bothered, Henry decides that maybe it’s time to let his baser desires out for a romp. But rather than sully his soul (or his reputation) he concocts a potion is release the evil buried inside (the original sin?), essentially releasing the id from his dominant superego, to take a Freudian approach

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