Blu-ray: ‘The Long Day Closes’

Terence Davies, an actor turned filmmaker who directed his first short film in 1976, has made a mere six features since 1988, when he released his debut feature Distant Voices, Still Lives. Like his earlier shorts, Distant Voices was an autobiographical film about growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s, beautiful but somber and almost heartbreaking in its portrait of a family living in fear of its angry, alcoholic father.

The Long Day Closes, released four years later in 1992, isn’t a sequel in any literal sense of the term – none of the actors return and the names of the characters are all changed – but it nonetheless carries on the story of Davies family after the death of his father with the focus on a character absent from the earlier film. 12-year-old Bud (Leigh McCormack) is the youngest in a loving family looked over by an affectionate widowed mother (Marjorie Yates). A sweet, quiet schoolboy in love with the movies, he’s Davies’ stand-in in a film that offers a fictionalized reflection on what Davies described as the happiest days of his life.

Just like Bud, The Long Day Closes is in love with the movies. After a still life of an opening credits sequence that plays like an elegant tribute to the title sequences of films from the 1940s and 1950s, the familiar 20th Century Fox fanfare takes us into a rainy Liverpool alley plastered in posters. The fanfare segues into Nat King Cole singing “Stardust” as the camera glides down the alley at a graceful stroll.

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Videophiled Classic: ‘The Long Day Closes’

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The Long Day Closes (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Dual Format) brings Terence Davies autobiographical films to close with the glow of the happiest days of his life. Set in mid-fifties Liverpool, this film covers a year or so in the life of Davies stand-in Bud (Leigh McCormack) a gentle, quiet schoolboy and the youngest in a loving family looked over by an affectionate widowed mother. There’s no traditional story to speak of. Rather, Davies offers snapshots of moments in his life at home, at school (where he is increasingly teased and bullied by bigger boys), at holiday celebrations (with neighbors singing and joking), and at the movies, where the camera lingers on his face, captivated by the screen, and we hear the soundtracks of such films as “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Great Expectations.” Though they clearly have little money, it’s a happy time of life for them and Davies presents it through the glow of warm memory, as if reliving it in his mind. This is a film of exacting textures and delicate moods, sustained in heavenly beams of light and the reflection of warm memories, and this edition, mastered from a restored 2K film transfer supervised by Davies and director of photography Michael Coulter, is astoundingly beautiful.

Features commentary by Davies and Coulter recorded in 2007, a 1992 episode of The South Bank Show profiling Davies and The Long Day Closes, and new interviews with executive producer Colin MacCabe and production designer Christopher Hobbs, plus a booklet with an essay by Criterion’s house writer Michael Koresky (who is also finishing a book on Terence Davies).

Also from Criterion is their Blu-ray upgrade of Jules and Jim (Criterion, Blu-ray+DVD Dual-Format), François Truffaut’s tale of friendship and love with and intense and reckless Jeanne Moreau between best friends Oskar Werner and Henri Serre, arriving the week that Truffaut would have turned 78. Criterion adds some new supplements to this newly-remastered release.

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Million Dollar Baby: 10th Anniversary (Warner, Blu-ray) earned Clint Eastwood his second round of Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture (his first was for Unforgiven, of course), as well as Oscars for Best Actress Hilary Swank and Best Supporting Actor Morgan Freeman. Eastwood stars as Frankie, a craggy old boxing trainer and gym owner who lost his family years ago and now loses his best fighter out of paternal caution. Swank is 31-year-old boxing hopeful Maggie, a dreamer who was lost by her sorry family a long ago. He reluctantly takes her on as a pupil and they slowly become one another’s family, creating a father-daughter bond far stronger than any blood ties. Freeman, who also narrates, is the gym’s caretaker Scrap, a retired boxer who has no regrets. This understated, unpretentious, powerfully told drama is compassionate and affecting but it became the center of a controversy which distracted from the film’s real message: the power of the families we create when blood abandons us, and the sacrifices we make for that love.

The anniversary edition features the same HD video master but upgrades the soundtrack to DTS-HD MA 5.1 and adds two new supplements to the package: commentary by producer Albert Ruddy and “Million Dollar Baby: On the Ropes,” a 26-minute featurette with cast and filmmaker interviews (including Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman and screenwriter Paul Haggis). Three featurettes from the previous release (including “James Lipton Takes on Three” with Eastwood, Swank and Freeman, interviewed the day after the 2004 Academy Awards) are carried over.

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Justice League: War (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), based on “Justice League: Origins” by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee (which helped kick off the “New 52″ reboot of the DC comic book heroes), reimagines the first meeting of the DC superhero stars: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and less obviously Shazam (aka Captain Marvel) and Cyborg. They fight the nihilistic Darkseid here, the most powerful of DC’s villains, but otherwise it follows the familiar “making of the super band” formula: a bunch of solo heroes have to get over themselves and their suspicions of those other guys and work like a team to save the world (and, in the process, their own public image). Quips are crammed in between the spats and battles (voice cast includes Alan Tudyk, Jason O’Mara, Michelle Monaghan, and Justin Kirk), but there’s not much resonance this time around, not after such superior, darker productions as “Batman: Year One,” “The Dark Knight,” and “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox,” or the silver age rethink “Justice League: The New Frontier.” It works better as a prologue than an opening act. It’s the first of the DC Animated Universe originals to come from the reboot but likely not the last. In fact, this looks like the launch of a new, integrated DC Universe, just like in the Marvel live action series.

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