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Archive for the ‘DVDs’ Category

Already Dead (2007)

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Concept: You'd like revenge, does it matter on who?

Architect Ron Elard is at the peak of his career when his son is killed and his wife attacked. Not long afterwards, the police officer in charge of the investigation comes to tell him that he is being reassigned: the case is being effectively dropped.

Obviously, Elard is not too happy with this, and after hitting the policeman, is sent to a therapist, Christopher Plummer. What he really needs, says Plummer, is to be in the same room as the man who killed his son, and he knows a way to make that happen…

What’s good: All the acting is fine.

What starts out in Hostel territory gets a bit more interesting (I say that as a fan of the first two in that series).

What’s not so good: .. but not much more.

I'm not so keen on the opening, which is a mix of Elard going to the meeting and flashbacks set up to make you think he's dropping off a ransom payment. The escape is all standard stuff, and 'two people who have to trust each other' aspect has been done much, much better.

Music: OK.


Overall: It's nearly good, but it fails to make the best of the situation.

The question of just how much Christopher Plummer knows is not a surprise.

TL;DR A missed opportunity

Film: 2.5/5
DVD: 3/5

Trailer plus plenty of deleted scenes… and for once not all of them should have been cut.

Written by Ian

November 2nd, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)

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Concept: Remake a Korean black comedy as a cheesy Japanese musical

After being made redundant from a shoe shop, a father takes his somewhat dysfunctional family to a remote country area to open a guest house, convinced that a new road will make their fortune. Eventually, someone does arrive, but dies overnight. If the news gets out, no-one will want to stay, so they bury the body. This happens more than once and, say, isn't that a volcano over there…?

What’s good: The plot is good, but then why remake films with bad ones? (Not that this has stopped anyone…)

The animated sections are quite fun and the acting is also good.

What’s not so good: The humorous bits aren't funny enough, the horrific bits aren't scary enough, and the songs aren't done well enough.

Music: Deliberately cheesy, complete with karaoke lyrics (in Japanese) for one duet.

Miscellany: This was one of seven films director Takashi Miike was credited with in 2001. Some were much better than this, some much worse.

Overall: I really wanted to like this more, but see 'what's not so good'.

If it weren't for the director's reputation, I don't think this would ever have left Japan. Like his best work, it's certainly distinctive, but that doesn't make it good.

If you want to see horror-comedy-musical done right, see The Little Shop of Horrors which gets at least two out of the three spot on.

TL;DR I suspect the original is better

Film: 2/5
DVD: 4/5

Director's commentary (in Japanese, so you can't have the film's subtitles on at the same time unless you speak Japanese), a making of (highlight: a few seconds of the swing stunt), a short on the animation, interviews and some trailers reminding you that he's done much better.

Written by Ian

May 17th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

Don Giovanni – Furtwangler (1955)

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Concept: Recording a classic production

Don Giovanni is my favourite opera and this is a recording of a famous production, done for the Salzburg Festival in the 50s.

What’s good: This is a very strong cast, with a very good orchestra, conducted by one of the greats.

What’s not so good: The sound is poor. Mono is ok and PCM should be as perfect as you can get (no compression) but the balance between the orchestra and singers is poor (the former is too quiet to my ears) and something in the process of recording couldn't cope with the full range of the singers. The result is some very audible and distracting distortion, especially when they're singing loudly.

The picture is desaturated (turn the colour up!) and some of the camera work is a bit juddery (see some of the pans).

Elements of the production have also dated horribly. See the tights the poor Don has to wear in contrast to everyone else's costume. Was he on the way to a fancy dress party?

Music: Don Giovanni is the greatest opera ever written, but the problems with the recording mean you can't hear it properly.


Overall: I'm sure it was wonderful live (you could close your eyes to avoid the tights!) and, compared to some other DVDs of Don Giovanni, it's cheap. But the problems mean that you're better off buying a CD.

TL;DR Not good enough to listen to or watch

Film: 1.5/5
DVD: 1/5

Subtitles, but nothing else.

Written by Ian

March 9th, 2012 at 11:49 am

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

Powaqqatsi (1988)

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Concept: Koyaanisqatsi 2, showing the rest of the world

The tagline at the end of the trailer for Koyaanisqatsi was 'until now, you've never really seen the world you live in', but that film almost never leaves the USA (some of the stock footage looks like the Soviet army). With a bigger budget, and many more people involved in the production, the follow up visits 'the global south'.

What's good: The title means 'life in transformation' and it is very good at showing the changes in the Third World, and asking – visually – if modernisation is an improvement.

What's not so good: For such a visual film, the vision is sometimes lacking. The opening sequence is in a giant open-air gold mine in Brazil, with tens of thousands of workers in a pit hundreds of metres deep. At no point do we see the full scale of it as the vast majority of shots concentrate on a few individuals who could be anywhere muddy.

To the visual styles of the first are added some out of focus and multiple exposure sections. Some of the latter work (I particularly like the burnt out car being passed by the 'ghosts' of cars that are still alive) but most of it is too abstract for me, in a way that, say, the night shots of car lights of Koyaanisqatsi aren't.

I also wonder, in a way that I do not about Koyaanisqatsi about what the people filmed got out of it. One of the most memorable images – the boy walking along the road being passed by a giant truck – was filmed by asking him to repeat what must have been an unpleasant and unhealthy experience for the cameras. Erm…

Music: There are some very good bits – the three Anthem sections in particular (it's not surprising that this is reprised over the end, used a lot in the trailer, and is the most widely reused piece) – but this is not a soundtrack I have ever wanted to buy.

Miscellany: Despite a nude boy and a child hitting an animal with a stick, this got a U certificate.

Overall: As I said, one of the things this does is confirm how good Koyaanisqatsi was, because it's not as good.

I don't think I am alone in thinking this. I suspect that the vast majority of people who saw the first one will have wanted to see this, but it made barely a fifth of its $2.5m budget in its US release. Clearly, the word of mouth wasn't there this time and it wasn't surprising that it took many years for Reggio to get the budget for the third Qatsi film.

TL;DR It's ok

Film: 3/5
DVD: 4.5/5

The double DVD pack with Koyaanisqatsi – this one has a 20 minute piece with Reggio and Glass talking about making it and the trailers for both films, plus the soundtrack album.

Written by Ian

March 8th, 2012 at 1:14 am

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

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Concept: "No actors, no dialogue, no characters, no story, and a title that most people can't pronounce."

Director Godfrey Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke had some $40,000 left over from a media campaign. They decided to make a film purely of visual images.

What's good: The visuals. A mix of slow motion, real time and time lapse shots, some by Fricke, some by others, and some stock footage.

The editing. I don't want to think about how difficult it was to come to a decision about how to edit this. It took years.

The music. See below.

Let's say it again: the visuals, the editing, the music.

What's not so good: Not all of the sequences are equally interesting, but we'd probably disagree as to which were the best.

Music: One of Philip Glass's finest works, and one of the greatest film soundtracks ever.

Miscellany: Both the visuals and music have been endlessly sampled and referenced. One usage of the former not mentioned on IMDb or Wikipedia was by a 1980s 'youth recruitment' video by the UK's SDP political party – various young members including Shami Chakrabarti (hooray!) and, from memory, Danny Finkelstein (boo!) as talking heads with the night traffic shots as a background.

At one point, the VHS release was worth a significant sum, because rights issues were making a commercial DVD release impossible. Although I found a copy in a charity shop for about 50p, I missed the boat in selling it for a hundred times that…

Overall: A masterpiece.

It looks simple to do, but just how difficult it is was shown by the follow-up, Powaqqatsi, which isn't as good.

Watching it now is slightly odd because of what's happened in the world since: the scenes of buildings being demolished remind me of the World Trade Centre collapse, and the scene of the early NASA rocket exploding is reminiscent of the Columbia disaster.

TL;DR Watch it, listen to it

Film: 5/5
DVD: 4.5/5

The double DVD pack with Powaqqatsi, the original release of the soundtrack (edited to 46 minutes), the full soundtrack, and Glass's rerecording of his bits (plus the DVD audio version):

Written by Ian

March 7th, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

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Biutiful (2010)

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Concept: Survival is not always easy or possible

If Spain is unlucky enough to have a Daily Mail/Express equivalent, Javier Bardem would be one of their hate figures. He is trying to help at least two groups of illegal immigrants survive in Barcelona – for a cut. He's also a paid psychic, is dying, and has two kids who will need to be looked after by someone. Does it all go well? Of course not…

What's good: The performances. Bardem got the 'Best Actor' award at Cannes (albeit shared) and nominations for the Academy Award and BAFTA awards, but they're all very, very good.

The atmosphere – this is the mean streets of Barcelona, rather than anything the tourist board would like to show.

Some of the short-hand film-making, like showing Bardem's psychic ability or his history of drug use, is great. There's no need to show that he's right about the watch, for example, because we are never in any doubt that he's right. Does his daughter have the gift too? I think so, simply based on the way that a conversation carries on after his lips have stopped moving.

What's not so good: The story-telling. We see how economical director Alejandro González Iñárritu can be, so why is so much of it so dragged out?

The big life-changing incident is not a surprise. Show something ordinary twice and it's obvious that something very different will happen the third time.

Music: A mix of atmospheric score, borrowed music and some deliberately discordant annoying noises.

Miscellany: IMDb reckons this took 14 months to edit.

The DVD sleeve says 'From the director of Amores perros, 21 Grams and Babel' – what it doesn't say is that all of those are better than this.

Overall: With such strong acting and a gritty hand-held documentary look, it's an enormous shame that the film as made is 30-50 minutes too long and that the story is treated so badly. It's a rule of thumb that a film needs to be about the most dramatic part of someone's life, and this is. You have a psychic who knows he's dying soon and needs to worry about what to do with his kids as well as failing to help two groups of people failing to survive in the city. There's a much better film to be made with that, even if it will not have such a strong set of performances.

How much of a missed opportunity is this film? Well…

TL;DR It is easy to imagine a remake being better

Film: 2.5/5
DVD: 4/5

Interviews, trailers – making it look a lot more exciting plus showing what we never see: what they're going towards in the forest scene that tops and tails the film – and notes.

Written by Ian

December 29th, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

Marion and Geoff series two (2003)

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Concept: 'I'm absolutely useless at jokes…'

Rob Brydon is back as the optimistic Keith, now working as a chauffeur for an American family in London. They turn out to be almost as dysfunctional as Keith's…

At the start, it's been two years, three months and six days since he's seen his 'little smashers' and he's going to allow at least five hours for the one hour journey for a supervised contact visit the next day. What could go wrong?

What's good: The quality of writing and performance are still there, with some lovely unexpected twists to lines.

What's not so good: It's not as good as the first series. Partly, it's the thirty minute episode length being a bit long – twenty minutes would have been better, and partly there's less of a story arc for Keith: he's spending more time observing the disintegration of someone else's family.

Music: A few tracks used well again.

Miscellany: He's driving around Dulwich in SE London this time – it was SW London in the first series.

Overall: Despite the extremely powerful final episode, it would be interesting to see a version that's half to two-thirds the length of this.

As if to prove that sometimes less is more, the included A Small Summer Party, a full cast version of the fateful events on the day when Marion left with Geoff, shows how good the first series was: the ten minute episode on the same incident in that is much, much better.

TL;DR More of the same, but not quite as good

Film: 4/5
DVD: 3/5

The only extra is the 'director's cut' (slightly extended in this case) of A Small Summer Party.

You can also get series one and two together.

Written by Ian

December 3rd, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Posted in DVDs,TV

Marion and Geoff series one (2000)

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Concept: 'We won't laugh at you when you boo-hoo-hoo because we love you'

Rob Brydon is Keith, a minicab driver whose life is falling apart. He doesn't get any work and he's in the middle of a divorce from his wife Marion who has left him for her more successful work colleague Geoff. She has his two sons, the 'little smashers', who he'd love to see again, but things keep going wrong. Despite this, and his trapped wind, he is hopelessly optimistic and talks to a camera in his car as he drives around.

What's good: The writing. As well as a genuine and believable story arc, there is the combination of deeply moving scenes – such as his repeated failure to see the little smashers – and unexpected humour. Keith is on the side of the underdog and, over the series, moves from being victim of events to someone in control of them, at least in part.

Any monologue based show depends on the central performance and Brydon's is astonishingly good.

What's not so good: The vast majority of the time is a single static shot of Brydon driving and not telling jokes. I like it, but the 'one long programme' (OLP) version pushes the format to the limit and, for some people, beyond. If you're one of those, there's also the option to see the original ten minute episodes.

Music: A few tracks used well.

It's not acknowledged on the cover but there is the odd musical edit for 'contractual reasons' (i.e. it cost too much to use the original track for the DVD).

Miscellany: The story about the primates at the zoo is, apparently, true. The OLP version has the sign of the zoo edited, but the episode version shows which it was.

Overall: You can see why the BBC were initially reluctant to commission this. On paper, it sounds unpromising. Fortunately for us, it was also cheap – no sets, large cast or crew!

Unlike Alan Partridge or The Office's David Brent, Keith is thoroughly likeable. It is not the cringe-making comedy of embarrassment of the other two, but more like Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. Whether or not you appreciate Marion and Geoff as much as I do depends on how much you like its utterly dry humour.

TL;DR The modern Candide

Film: 5/5
DVD: 5/5

The OLP edit with the original ten ten minute programmes as an extra – there are a few minor differences (such as the scene post-credits on the airport/zoo episode) and, as noted above, for some people, it's better watched in small chunks. The OLP has a good commentary from Brydon and co-writer, producer and director Hugo Blick, and there is also a Comic Relief special plus some out-takes and still photos.

You can also get series one and two together.

Written by Ian

December 3rd, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Posted in DVDs,TV

Junior Bonner (1972)

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Concept: A gentler 'end of an era' film from Sam Peckinpah.

Steve McQueen is in the title role, a fading rodeo rider, moving from event to event. Injured in one when thrown by a bull, he goes to visit his father but discovers that the house is being demolished to make way for a gravel pit owned by his brother, Joe Don Baker.

His father is recovering in hospital – he wants to go to Australia, but has spent the money from Baker and McQueen is broke. The two brothers fight, with Baker punched through a window.

Believing he can be the first to conquer the bull that threw him, McQueen bribes the rodeo owner to rig the draw for that event. With that done, he and his father ride out of the promotional Independence Day parade to get a drink.

Come the rodeo, McQueen just fails to win two events before it's time to see if he can last the full eight seconds on the bull…

What's good: Peckinpah's use of slow motion is as good as ever, except here it's used for machinery vs a home and man vs horse/cow/bull rather than people being shot.

There's a nice sense of humour – an extended bar fight is stopped by the band playing The Star Spangled Banner.

Some of the best of the story-telling is done very economically: we see how successful McQueen isn't by comparing his car and horse trailer with a rival who over takes him.

What's not so good: It wasn't what the audience was expecting: action and killing.

Too much of the story-telling is too slow moving: there's a lot of padding.

Music: Forgettable.

Miscellany: While some of the catching cows rodeo footage visibly do involve McQueen, the shots of 'him' on a bucking horse or bull are clearly a stunt man: they're shot from much further away than all those of the other contestants and 'his' face is obscured.

Overall: It's a kinder, gentler end of an era film from Peckinpah – it's a PG! – and the more violent films are better.

There was one quote I was tempted to add to this, but I could not be bothered to go back to find it (and IMDB doesn't have it either…)

There are better Peckinpah films, better Steve McQueen films, and a better Peckinpah film with Steve McQueen, but if you're not in the mood for a bloodbath, this is the one for you with another effortlessly cool performance from McQueen.

TL;DR Once is enough, but worth seeing once

Film: 2.5/5
DVD: 1/5

OK, I saw it via a cover disk, originally free with a newspaper, but the 4:3 format ruins the cinematography.

The region 2 (also 4:3) and, ah ha, it looks like you need to get the US version:

Written by Ian

November 30th, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

The President's Analyst (1967)

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Just to show I do see films by someone else 🙂 There was a string of paranoia films involving government conspiracies in the late 60s and early 70s. The Parallax View is possibly the most famous, but this one's the best.

Concept: It's not paranoia if they are out to get you.

We pull back from an enormous zoom on an American flag, with a disclaimer that the FBI FBR and CIA CEA did not approve of this film. We're somewhere in New York's garment district. One spy passes a folder to another and they walk off. An African American, Geoffrey Cambridge, is pushing a rack of clothes along. He gets to one of the spies, stabs him and drops the body into the bottom of the rack. Meanwhile psychoanalyst James Coburn is on a couch, talking to his analyst, before listening to a string of clients himself. The last one is Cambridge. He talks about killing the Albanian double agent, comes out as a CEA agent and says that he's bugged the office. They go to his car where Coburn is told that he's to be the President's analyst. His reaction is to do the NY sights, have sex with his divorcee girlf, and propose.

Washington airport. The CEA director and the head of the FBR tell him he'll be topmost secret, and the FBR objects to his sexual morals – having sex with someone he's not married to. Soon Coburn's driving an electric buggy down the underground tunnel between his new office and the White House for the President's first session. He's about to start with his girlf, when he's summoned for another session. And again. And again. And again. Before long, the FBU have the girlf taken away to a hotel – Coburn violates the National Security Act by talking in his sleep.

Soon, Coburn's noticing people looking at him. Even when no-one is, he thinks they are. He goes to lunch at a restaurant with his girlf and complains that now he has no analyst he can talk to. He can't quit, because everyone will be after him to get the President's secrets. He fakes being shot and sees that everyone else in the room is pulling guns on each other, including his girlf. He wakes up from the nightmare and rings her. It turns out that his girlf is indeed recording him, although she's not happy about it. It's time to get out.

Coburn joins a party of tourists on the White House tour, and tells William Daniels' New Jersey family he's surveying their opinion on behalf of the President. As he leaves with them, he's being watched by the FBR and everyone else. Soon the Russians, Vietnamese, an African nation, and the British want him alive, to get the President's secrets. The FBR want him dead. The CEA are bugging the FBR and would prefer him alive, but Cambridge is ordered to kill him if anyone else is going to get him. Coburn is finally caught, but by whom?

When the FBR finally catch up with Coburn, there's a problem: the agent with the licence to kill has run out of bullets killing someone else. It'd take too much time to get more – he's promised his wife he won't be working late – but the other agent can't lend him his gun, because it's against regulations: "Field manual C, page one one two, paragraph heading 'Having licence to kill', sub-paragraph three." Coburn's protestations that he's a citizen of the United States who hasn't broken any laws and "there's a constitution that prevents you going around killing people!" are ignored. "I don't know what you did, I don't know what you didn't do. All I do is follow orders … The FBR does not make mistakes."

What’s good: Theodore J Flicker's direction is fine, even if he does love his zooms a bit much. But his script is wonderful, especially given the politics of the time it was written. Take Cambridge's session with Coburn when he talks about learning about niggers – he was five, and a bunch of his schoolmates started yelling, 'Run, run, here comes the nigger'. He joined in, running up to his older brother. "And he hit me. Then he did something worse – he told me what a nigger was. .. I hated him and I hated me." So it's perhaps not surprising that his best relationship is with the Russian spy rather than anyone in the FBR ("Hope you don't mind if I have to eliminate some of your FBR…" "Mind? Surely you jest!")

The family boast of being liberals, sponsoring the 'Negro doctor' to be allowed to live in their neighbourhood – the 1968 Civil Rights Act which banned racial discrimination in housing would not be passed until next year – and complain of the right wing neighbours who dare to fly the flag every day: "Real fascists, ought to be gassed!" The son is bugging the home phone with his junior spy kit, reports Coburn to the FBR, and is delighted with their planned murder. "You going to kill (him)?" "Yes son, we're going to kill him." "Oh boy!"

There's also a great section where Coburn is making out with someone in a field, and there's a string of killings as various spies eliminate the competition, get close and are eliminated in turn. They've spent too much time killing each other for the survivor to get him.

Coburn, who'd done the 'Flint' series of Bond-spoofs, is good, but much of the rest of the cast is wonderful, particularly Cambridge.

What’s not so good: While the basic plot and much else remains bang up to date, some sections have dated, particularly the hippies and their music.

The interior scenes on the boat were clearly shot nowhere near water.

It could also easily be ten to fifteen minutes shorter without losing anything significant.

Music: One of Lalo Schifrin's orchestral scores, trying to be 'swinging' and 'hip'. It's ok.

Miscellany: It's sometimes obvious that the actors are talking about the FBI and CIA – the change to the fictional organisations was done in post-production after complaints by the FBI.

You can tell it was made by Paramount – the sound effects used for the lift doors are the same as used in their Star Trek TV series.

Overall: It's absolutely a film of the late 60s, but take out the hippies and it hasn't dated. The President is even worrying about Libya, and the Russian spy talks about how his spy father could be Premier of Russia with a bit more ambition. That's before we get to inter-service rivalry, the problems of bureaucracy, the US agencies' unconstitutional assassinations and bugging of everyone, and how the enemies of the US benefit from American actions…

Like Brazil, it's almost a documentary now, but unlike Brazil, amongst the deeply cynical black humour, there's hope. The Russian spy predicts, "Every day your country becomes more socialistic, my country becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands." And everyone still hates the phone company.

TL;DR Very cynical, very funny, but also very hopeful.

Film: 4/5
DVD: 2/5

Widescreen, the picture is somewhat desaturated (turn the colour settings up!) It'd be fascinating to hear the director / author talk about it – was the initial killing filmed via 'candid camera' with real New Yorkers going past? – but nope.

UK DVD, and cheaper US and European imports:

Written by Ian

July 6th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs