Top

Dark Horse (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

August 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“Dark Horse” is a fantastic underdog documentary about how a racehorse owned by a group of non-wealthy commoners would not only win a horse race but how the racehorse would make an amazing comeback after a terrible injury to race again and defy expectations. Louise Osmond’s “Dark Horse” is recommended!

Images courtesy of © Darlow Smithson Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


DVD TITLE: Dark Horse

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 86 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 2:40:1, Anamorphic Widescreen, English, English -Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH and French

COMPANY: Sony Picture Classics

RATED: PG (Some Mild Thematic Elements and Language)

RELEASE DATE: August 23, 2016


Directed by Louise Osmond

Written by Louise Osmond

Produced by Judith Dawson

Executive Producer: Adam Partridge, Anna Miralis, Anna Higgs, Lizzie Francke, Julian Ware

Cinematography by Benjamin Kracon

Music by Anne Nikitin

Edited by Joby Gee


Set in Wales, DARK HORSE is the inspirational true story of a group of friends who decide to take on the elite ‘sport of kings’ and breed themselves a racehorse. Raised on a slagheap allotment, their foal grows into an unlikely champion, beating the finest thoroughbreds in the land, before suffering a near fatal accident. Nursed back to health by the love of his owners, he makes a remarkable recovery, returning to the track for a heart-stopping comeback.


In 2014, filmmaker Louise Osmond created her 2014 documentary “Dark Horse” about the true story of a racehorse named Dream Alliance.

The story of Dream Alliance is amazing but also the story of how this champion racehorse came to be and how this amazing horse would come back to racing after a terrible racing injury.

“Dark Horse” would premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and would win a World Cinema audience award.  And now, “Dark Horse” will be available on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

In a small town in South Wales, a barmaid named Janet Vokes who is known for breeding whippets and racing pigeons decides to breed her own race horse. Overhearing a tax adviser about owning his own racehorse, she is inspired and she and her husband purchase a mare named Rewbell who was sold for cheap because it suffered injuries due to a barbed wire and had a bad temper.

Hiring the tax adviser, Howard Davies to become the racing manager, they bred Rewbell with a stallion named Bien Bien and in 2001, the foal was born.

As the Vokes reared the foal in the Cefn Forest near the town of Blackwood, they pitched to fellow commoners to pitch in money and join the effort to join an ownership syndicate and each member would contribute ten pounds per week to help develop the young horse and train him for racing.

In order to make this work, with 30 people contributing ten pounds, they can pay for the estimated 15,000 pounds a year to keep the horse trained for racing.

And by 2004, the young horse named Dream Alliance would be entered in his first race.  The horse came in fourth and eventually would take part in more races and got better.  And would eventually win his fourth race.

But in 2008, at the preparatory race for the Grand National at the Aintree Festival, Dream Alliance suffered a terrible injury and sliced a tendon.

And as a horse who would suffer such a terrible injury would be put down, Dream Alliance’s owners said that they would rather have him go back home than euthanized.

But when the syndicate made the decision to give Dream Alliance a new type of stem cell treatment, Dream Alliance would heal.  But what would come after Dream Alliance’s healing would become a miracle.


VIDEO & AUDIO:

“Dark Horse” is presented in 2:40:1 aspect ratio (Anamorphic Widescreen) in English and English – Audio Description track in 5.1 Dolby Digital.

As for the DVD, picture quality is very good as one can expect on DVD.  Picture quality is very good, with some race footage looking a tad bit aged but as most documentary archived sources are never pristine, for the most part, picture quality is good.  You also have camera footage of when Dream Alliance was born.

As for audio, the soundtrack features crystal clear dialogue and music.  Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Dark Horse” comes with a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer.


I have watched reviewed documentaries and films about horses, especially about race horses.

And if you are a viewer of horse racing, the story of Dream Alliance is quite fascinating because the horse survived a terrible accident which many horses would often be put to sleep.

But with stem cell treatment, Dream Alliance became the first horse to make a comeback to horseracing after a terrible injury due to the new treatment but also the first horse to win a horse race after stem cell treatment.

In many ways, one can root for the horse and its syndicate because they were the underdogs.

Where most horses come from affluent families and are trained by the top trainers, the storyline of Dream Alliance is fascinating because the horse was trained courtesy of the investment by commoners living in Blackwood in South Wales and it all began with a barmaid named Jan Vokes who overheard a local tax adviser talking about a racehorse he owned.

Jan would eventually be inspired to breed a racehorse and she and her husband would purchase an injured horse named Rewbell, mate it with a stallion named Bien Bien (first year at stud in the UK) and next thing you know, a foal was born.

Jan would make Howard Davies, the tax adviser the racing manager and commoners of Blackwood would donate ten pounds a week as part of a syndicate that would pay for Dream Alliance’s race training.

Of course, because they were commoners and not wealthy, nor were they from families that raised horses and passed down the raising of horses from generation after generation.  The syndicate were looked down by the horseracing community.

Many race horses are bred for many generations and are worth over millions of dollars.  Dream Alliance was born from the injured, chubby and bad tempered mare named Rewbell who only cost 350 pounds.

And so when Dream Alliance raced, not much was expected from the horse because the horse was owned by non-wealthy commoners.  But these commoners believed in their horse and looked at treated him like family and sure enough, the horse defied expectation.

But of course, Dream Alliance would defy any expectation when it bounced back from a terrible injury, spared from being put down and would achieve a miracle.

As for the DVD, picture quality is as good as one can expect on DVD, and as for audio, the documentary features crystal clear dialogue and music.  There are not many special features included but a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer.

Overall, “Dark Horse” is a fantastic underdog documentary about how a racehorse owned by a group of non-wealthy commoners would not only win a horse race but how the racehorse would make an amazing comeback after a terrible injury to race again and defy expectations.

Louise Osmond’s “Dark Horse” is recommended!

 

Maggie’s Plan (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

maggiesplan

“Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary romantic comedy that goes against the usual Hollywood trend of happily ever after. Because of this, it may not be for everyone, but for those who are open to a contemporary romantic comedy, may find Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” to be smartly written, delightful and entertaining. “Maggie’s Plan” is recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2016 Lilly Harding Pictures, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Maggie’s Plan

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 124 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio, English, 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Russian VO, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Russian, Thai, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Some Language and Brief Sexuality)

RELEASE DATE: August 23, 2016


Directed by Rebecca Miller

Written by Rebecca Miller

Story by Karen Rinaldi

Based on the book by Colin Escott, George Merritt, William MacEwen

Produced by Gabor Rajna, Gabor Sipos

Executive Producer: Judit Stalter

Associate Producer: Robert Vamos

Line Producer: Krisztina Pinter

Music by Laszlo Melis

Cinematography by Matyas Erdely

Edited by Matthieu Taponier

Casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij

Production Design by Laszlo Rajk

Art Direction by Hedvig Kiraly

Set Decoration by Dorka Kiss, Judit Varga

Costume Design by Edit Szucs


Starring:

Greta Gerwig as Maggie

Bill Harder as Tony

Ethan Hawke as John Harding

Maya Rudolph as Felicia

Julianne Moore as Georgette

Wallace Shawn as Klieger

Mina Sundwall as Justine

Jackson Frazer as Paul


In Rebecca Miller’s witty romantic comedy, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a vibrant New Yorker, who without success in finding love, decides to have a child on her own. But when she meets John Harding (Ethan Hawke), an anthropology professor and struggling novelist, she falls in love for the first time. Complicating matters, John is in an unhappy marriage with Georgette (Julianne Moore), an ambitious academic who is driven by her work. With some help from Maggie’s eccentric best friends, married couple Tony (Bill Hader) and Felicia (Maya Rudolph), Maggie sets in motion a new plan that intertwines their lives and connects them in surprising and humorous ways.


From filmmaker/writer Rebecca Miller (“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee”, “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”, “Personal Velocity”) comes her romantic comedy, “Maggie’s Plan”.

Based on an original story by Karen Rinaldi, the film stars Greta Gerwig (“Frances Ha”, “Mistress America”, “No Strings Attached”, “Greenberg”), Ethan Hawke (“Gattaga”, “Before Sunset”, “Before Sunrise”, “Training Day”), Julianne Moore (“The Big Lewbowski”, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”, “The Kids Are All Right”), Bill Hader (“Superbad”, “Saturday Night Live”), Maya Rudolph (“Bridesmaids”, “Gattaca”, “Idiocracy”), Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride”, “My Dinner with Andre”, “Personal Velocity”) and Travis Fimmel (“Warcraft”, “Vikings”, “The Baytown Outlaws”).

And now “Maggie’s Plan” will be available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The film revolves around Maggie (portrayed by Gerta Gerwig), a woman in New York who likes to have everything organized and kept in c0ntrol in her life.  And now Maggie desires to become a single mother despite her best friend Tony (portrayed by Bill Hader) telling her it’s not a good idea.

Wanting her college friend Guy (portrayed by Travis Fimmel) to donate his sperm, so she can inseminate herself, things take an unexpected turn when she has an affair with a ficto-critical anthropologist named John (portrayed by Ethan Hawke).

John is married to a Columbia University Professor named Georgette (portrayed by Julianne Moore) and his marriage is falling apart.  She is consumed by work and feeling that he is not getting anything in the marriage.

And so, as Maggie and John have an affair and Maggie gets the child that she wants, while the child was what she always wanted, is John supposed to be in her life?  Or does she feel that John was supposed to be with Georgette?


VIDEO:

“Maggie’s Plan” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). Overall picture quality shows amazing detail during closeups. Skin tones are natural, black levels are nice and deep.  Many solid outdoor shots to bring a New York feel to the film.   The film looks great in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Maggie’s Plan” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Also, an English- Audio Description Track Dolby Surround, Russian VO and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital.

The lossless audio for “I Saw the Light” features crystal clear dialogue and music. Surround sound usage is primarily for crowd ambiance but for this soundtrack, the film is primarily dialogue and music driven.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), French, Russia and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Maggie’s Plan” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Rebecca Miller
  • Controlling Fate: The Making of Maggie’s Plan – (15:52) Director Rebecca and the cast discuss the film’s modern romance and how “Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary story.
  • Outtakes – (7:21) Outtakes from “Maggie’s Plan”.
  • Q&A at the Sundance Film Festival – (11:29) Featuring the Q&A from “Maggie’s Plan” at the Sundance Film Festival.
  • Theatrical Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Maggie’s Plan”.

EXTRAS:

“Maggie’s Plan” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet code.


With many romantic comedies, they are typically about traditional romance and finding love and sometimes a story that is happily ever after.

“Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary story that takes the traditional romance story and flips it upside down and what if the woman finds out the man was probably best with the woman he was originally in a relationship with.

The film also takes a modern look at the independent woman who wants to have a child but not be in a relationship.

So, “Maggie’s Plan” is very different from your average romantic comedy and for those looking for sparkle and finding true love at the end, may find “Maggie’s Plan” to be disappointing.  But for those who embrace a different and modern storyline of a woman making her own decisions, control of her own destiny and when she finds a guy that she thinks she loves but then feels… maybe not.  Then this film is for you.

The film revolves around the charming Greta Gerwig who has a career but now wants to have a child.  And in wanting to have a child, she’s not going to go through any major scientific process of having it professionally done, she is hoping one of her male friends can donate their sperm and she finds out that her college friend, a math wize named Guy will donate his sperm to her and she will inseminate herself.

Greta feels that she is ready to be a mother and that she knows that she is not a person that can stay with someone for more than six months.  And she wants to do this within four months, after she saves enough money.

In a way I enjoyed the film for its honesty.  These are things that some people (especially people that I know) feel and they make their own choices which goes against traditional society ways of thinking.  So, I appreciate the film for showing a different side of how romance starts, romance ends but in the end, just staying honest with the characters, no matter how educated and flawed they may be, no one is put in a pedestal.  It’s really an honest portrayal.

May it be Maggie with John, Maggie and her friends, Maggie with Georgette or Maggie with her young daughter.

I love the quirkiness of Maggie and I also enjoyed the film’s use of improvisation and while some may find areas of vocal stammering in a film due to the improvisation and not a smooth delivery, again, I enjoy how the film is natural, smartly written and conversations are entertaining while not complex as a Eric Rohmer film, I enjoyed “Maggie’s Plan” for its characters and smart dialogue.

I felt Greta Gerwig did a wonderful job in portraying Maggie.  It’s a quirky but smart performance which I enjoy seeing her do in films such as “Damsels in Distress” and “Frances Ha”.  And she absolutely shines in “Maggie’s Plan”.

Although, it was a little unusual to see Julianne Moore with speaking with a foreign accent but I’ll leave it up to the linguistics erudite on whether or not they felt her accent was up to par.

The Blu-ray looks great in HD.  Closeups are full of detail, outdoor scenes are vibrant, skintones look natural and for the most part, the film looks very good in HD!  The lossless soundtrack features crystal clear dialogue and music and also is adequate for this type of film.  As for special features, you get an entertaining audio commentary, featurette and also hilarious outtakes.

Overall, “Maggie’s Plan” is a contemporary romantic comedy that goes against the usual Hollywood trend of happily ever after.  Because of this, it may not be for everyone, but for those who are open to a contemporary romantic comedy, may find Rebecca Miller’s “Maggie’s Plan” to be smartly written, delightful and entertaining.

“Maggie’s Plan” is recommended!

 

I Saw the Light (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

July 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

isawthlight

While Marc Abraham’s “I Saw the Light” is not a wonderful film, it’s not a bad film either. It’s just that it’s a simple, pedestrian biopic that had the potential to be so much more.

Image courtesy of © 2016 I Saw the Light Movie, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: I Saw the Light

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 124 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1 Aspect Ratio, English, French, Thai 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Korean, Thai

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Some Language and Brief Sexuality, Nudity)

RELEASE DATE: July 5, 2016


Directed by Marc Abraham

Written by Marc Abraham

Based on the book by Colin Escott, George Merritt, William MacEwen

Produced by Gabor Rajna, Gabor Sipos

Executive Producer: Judit Stalter

Associate Producer: Robert Vamos

Line Producer: Krisztina Pinter

Music by Laszlo Melis

Cinematography by Matyas Erdely

Edited by Matthieu Taponier

Casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij

Production Design by Laszlo Rajk

Art Direction by Hedvig Kiraly

Set Decoration by Dorka Kiss, Judit Varga

Costume Design by Edit Szucs


Starring:

Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams

Elizabeth Olsen as Audrey Williams

Bradley Whitford as Fred Rose

Cherry Rose as Lillie Williams

Maddie Hasson as Billie Jean Jones

Wrenn Schmidt as Bobbie Jett

David Krumholtz as James Dolan

Josh Pais as Dore Schary

Wesley Robert Lanlois as Don Helms – Steel

Joshua Brady as Sammy Pruett- Guitar

Casey Bond as Jerry Rivers as Fiddle

Michael Rinne as Lum York – Bass

Will Beinbrink as Jim Denny


I SAW THE LIGHT is the story of the legendary country western singer Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston), who in his brief life created one of the greatest bodies of work in American music. The film chronicles his meteoric rise to fame and its ultimately tragic effect on his health and personal life. Also starring Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford, Maddie Hasson and Wrenn Schmidt.


Hank Williams is a music legend.

One of America’s influential and significant singer/songwriters of the 20th century, unfortunately Williams did not live a long life, considering he recorded 35 singles (five released after his death) and they reached the top 10 of the Billboard Country and Wester Best Sellers chart, and eleven of those 35 singles ranked number one.

Colin Escott, George Merritt and William MacEwen would detail the struggles that Williams faced as a singer/musician and his battle with drugs and alcohol in their book “Hank Williams: The Biography”.  And a film adaptation by filmmaker Marc Abraham (producer of films such as “Air Force One”, “In Time”, “Children of Men”) titled “I Saw the Light” (the title of his song released back in 1948) was released in 2015.

Starring Tom Hiddleston (“The Avengers”, “Thor”, “Thor: The Dark World”, “Crimson Peak”), Elizabeth Olsen (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”, “Godzilla”, “Captain America: Civil War”), Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”, “The Cabin in the Woods”, “Scent of a Woman”), Cherry Jones (“Signs”, “The Village”, “The Perfect Storm”),  Maddie Hasson (“God Bless of America”, “Twisted”, “The Finder”) and Wren Schmidt (“Preservation”, “Our Idiot Brother”, “13 Hours”).

“I Saw the Light” revolves around Hank Williams marriage and relationship with his first wife Audrey.  As the couple and their bandmates of the Drifting Cowboys band performed together, as much as Williams tried to put his wife first, the problem is that she is not a good singer and his manager and bandmates feel that he must end his musical relationship with her in order for Williams to succeed.

But it leads to challenges between husband and wife and it doesn’t help matters when Williams struggles with alcohol and also has sexual liaisons with other women.

But as his career starts to skyrocket and he finally is accepted for Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, how will Williams deal with the limelight but will he be able to maintain his marriage?


VIDEO:

“I Saw the Light” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1). Overall picture quality shows amazing detail during closeups. Skin tones are natural, black levels are nice and deep. The film looks great in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “I Saw the Light” is presented in English, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Also, with French and Thai 5.1 and an English- Audio Description Track Dolby Surround.

The lossless audio for “I Saw the Light” features crystal clear dialogue and music.  Surround sound usage is primarily for crowd ambiance during live performances.   But overall, the lossless audio is very good!

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“I Saw the Light” comes with the following special features:

  • Feature Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Marc Abraham
  • Deleted Scenes – (22:07) Featuring an introduction to deleted scenes by Marc Abraham, introductions to each of the deleted scenes (optional) by director Marc Abraham and eleven deleted scenes.
  • Talking Hang – (21:39) A Q&A with Peter cooper (of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum), executive music producer Rodney Crowell and actor Tom Hiddleston.
  • A Night in Nashville: Premiere and Musical Performance by Tom Hiddleston – (10:52)  The premiere of the film and Tom Hiddleston and the musicians play three songs in front of a live audience.
  • Theatrical Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “I Saw the Light”.

EXTRAS:

“I Saw the Light” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet code.


I have to admit that I really knew nothing about Hank Williams’ personal life prior to watching Marc Abraham’s “I Saw the Light”.

Despite having grown up with his music playing when I was younger via my father’s old LP’s, I knew he was a country music legend.  I just didn’t know of the challenges that he faced, the life that he lived and that he died at a young age.

Unfortunately, Williams tale is reminiscent of many other musical talents.  Alcoholism and drug use and literally wreckless living.  But to create a film about a musical legend, who was a significant talent, how would you deal with the personal life issues?

Do you go full on and show how he lived a wreckless life?  Or do you show him as a significant and talented musician?

I’m sure that in today’s society, many have come to terms that musicians aren’t perfect.  Despite their musical accomplishments, not everyone has a perfect personal life and that includes superstars.

From Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Prince, Janis Joplin, Whitney Houston, Jimmy Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and the list goes on, many talents who have suffered from drug overdoes and in Hank Williams case, his use of alcohol and drugs may have led to the hemorrhages found in his heart and neck.  But it did help end his marriage and him being dismissed by the Grand Ole Opry. Because he was constantly drunk and missing shows.

But how would you portray the character?  Would you do what Danny Boyle did in his 2015 film “Steve Jobs” and really showcase the person’s talent but also showing the person as the ultimate jerk?  Or do you focus on the musical genius that he was, the music that he creates or do you focus on the protagonist’s dysfunctional relationship?  For “I Saw the Light”, writer/director Marc Abraham chose the latter.

For “I Saw the Light”, the film was no doubt sympathetic to Hank Williams.  Part of the difficulty is finding out why Hank Williams lived such a life?  Did his marriage to Audrey drive him to drink?  Did he have this lifestyle before he was married.  If anything, the film shows the two as truly in love but Williams liked to have his fun, while Audrey was not having any of it.

And as I enjoyed the majority of the film, once Audrey leaves Hank, the film story suddenly goes on a downward trajectory.  As the storyline allows to show the drama between Williams and Audrey, showing the other women in his life is not interesting at all.  There is no drama, there really isn’t much of anything.  And that is what is disappoint, you don’t want to have a film with all the wonderful things happening in the first half, but to not build on anything for the second half.

There was potential for exploration of Williams music and why he wrote so many songs to help illustrate why he is a musical legend but filmmaker Marc Abraham chose the less riskiest path, no doubt a simple one for creating this film.

I admit that I was skeptical about English actor Tom Hiddleston playing the country music singer, but I thought his charisma and his singing voice added to the enjoyablity of this film.  Meanwhile, actress Elizabeth Olson did a wonderful job of playing the emotional wife of Williams.  Both talents had wonderful chemistry and made the film enjoyable for me.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture and lossless audio is very good.  While the special features really go into details of Tom Hiddleston’s training to take up the role of Hank Williams, to play the music and sing these classic Williams songs in front of a live audience.

Overall, while Marc Abraham’s “I Saw the Light” is not a wonderful film, it’s not a bad film either.  It’s just that it’s a simple, pedestrian biopic that had the potential to be so much more.

 

Son of Saul (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

sonofsaul

“Son of Saul” manages to be one of the most horrific, grim films on the genocide which I found to be disturbing, thought-provoking and had left me feeling unsettled days after watching it.  Knowing that the film is quite powerful and yet it felt real and troubling.  I think many will feel that way watching this film, but at the same time feeling of how well-made this film was, thanks to the direction of Laszlo Nemese and the powerful acting performance by Géza Röhrig. Overall, “Son of Saul” is a film that is most deserving of the awards it had but it’s not an easy film to watch. But it’s no doubt an impressive debut for filmmaker Laszlo Nemes and a film that I do recommend!

Image courtesy of © 2015 Lagkoon Film Group. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Son of Saul

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 107 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 Aspect Ratio, Hungarian 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Disturbing Violent Content and Some Graphic Nudity)

RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2016


Directed by Laszlo Nemes

Written by Laszlo Nemes, Clara Royer

Produced by Gabor Rajna, Gabor Sipos

Executive Producer: Judit Stalter

Associate Producer: Robert Vamos

Line Producer: Krisztina Pinter

Music by Laszlo Melis

Cinematography by Matyas Erdely

Edited by Matthieu Taponier

Casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij

Production Design by Laszlo Rajk

Art Direction by Hedvig Kiraly

Set Decoration by Dorka Kiss, Judit Varga

Costume Design by Edit Szucs


Starring:

Geza Rohrig as Saul Auslander

Levente Molnar as Abraham Warszawski

Urs Rechn as Oberkapo Biederman

Todd Charmont as Bearded Prisoner

Marcin Czarnik as Feigenbaum

Sandor Zsoter as Dr. Miklos Nyiszli


October 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau. Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian member of the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners forced to assist the Nazis. While working, Saul discovers the body of a boy he takes for his son. As the Sonderkommando plans a rebellion, Saul decides to carry out an impossible task: save the child’s body, find a rabbi to recite the mourner’s Kaddish and offer the boy a proper burial.


From director Laszlo Nemes comes his Academy Award and Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winning film, “Son of Saul”.

As the film is set for release on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, the film would star Géza Röhrig (“Eszmelet”), Levente Molnar (“Morgen”), Urs Rechn (“Eight Miles high”, “Aufrecht stehen”), Todd Charmont (“The Last of the Mohicans”, “Anatomy 2”, “We Are Young. We Are Strong.”).

The film has received critical acclaim but also controversy as the film took on the topic of the Sonderkommando (German Nazi death camp prisoners forced to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims during the Holocaust).

With a debate that Sonderkommandos participated in the death of their own, facts over the decades have shown that the death camp prisoners (who were primarily Jewish) were forced into the position under the threat of death.  They were not given advance notice of their tasks, they could not refuse or resign other than by committing suicide.  It’s important to note that there have been confusion by people of the Sonderkommandos duty, confusing them with SS-Sonderkommandos and also with the Kapos (prisoners assigned by the SS guards to supervise force labor or carry out administrative tasks in the camp, these were also victims, but given different privileges and who were brutal towards their own people).

And it was a topic which director Laszlo Nemes wanted to take on and there were immediate struggles as financiers were not wanting to invest in a film developed by a first time director and the film’s unconventional approach.  So, the film was produced entirely in Hungary.

“Son of Saul” is set in October 1944 and would focus on Sonderkommando Saul Auslander (portrayed by Géza Röhrig), a  Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The film begins with many Jews having their clothes removed and Saul and other Sonderkommandos assisting them and escorting them into a chamber.  For many of the people, they do not know that the chamber is a gas chamber.

And once that group of people are killed, the Sonderkommandos must clean all the blood on the floors and stack the bodies in preparation for a new group that will be killed.

But Saul hears a boy coughing.  He carries the boy in hopes to get him some help but he dies.  Because the boy lived for a short while, he is designated for autopsy and for Saul, because the boy did not die with the others, he wants the boy to be properly buried and to be administered by a rabbi who can give him a proper Jewish burial.

So Saul takes the boy as his own son and pleads to the prison doctor, also forced to work in the camp, Miklos (portrayed by Sandor Zsoter) to not perform the autopsy and give him a proper burial.

While Miklos is not sure how to make that happen, as he is being watched, he tries to buy some time for Saul.

Meanwhile, another member of the Sonderkommando, Abraham (potrayed by Levente Molnar) has heard that there will be a rebellion against the SS-guards with Oberkapo Biedermann (portrayed by Urs Rechn).  Abraham supports the uprising, while Biedermann wants to see photographs secretly taken of the camp’s atrocities and to smuggle the pictures outside in order to attract attention.

While working with another prisoner at the camp, which has a camera inside, Saul finds out from his friend Yankl (portrayed by Attila Fritz) that there is a rabbi in another Sonderkommando unit named Apikoyres.

This leads Saul to find a way to find the rabbi who can perform the Jewish ritual on the boys corpse.


VIDEO:

“Son of Saul” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1).  In order to create the look of the film, Nemes and cinematographer Matyas Erdely wanted to take on and shoot on 35 mm film in Budafok, Budapest.  A 40 mm lens and the Academy aspect ratio of 1:37:1 was utilized in order to showcase shallow focus and portrait-like narrow field of vision.

So, while there are images of immense tragedy that can be seen on the edges, because the focus is on the primary character in the center, the edges are purposely blurred as intended.

But overall picture quality shows amazing detail during closeups.  Skin tones are natural, black levels are nice and deep.  The film looks fantastic in HD!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Son of Saul” is presented in Hungarian 5.1 DTS-HD MA. Also, with an English – Audio Description Track Dolby Surround.

The lossless audio for “Son of Saul” features crystal clear dialogue but utilizes the surround channels very well when it comes to the environment and overall ambiance.  You can hear gun shots, metal doors closing for the crematoria, screams of people being killed and sounds that can be quite unnerving.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Son of Saul” comes with the following special features:

  • Feature Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Laszlo Nemes, actor Géza Röhrig and cinematographer Matyas Erdely.
  • Deleted Scene: Return from the River – (2:06) A deleted scene  from “Son of Saul”.
  • Q&A at the Museum of Tolerance – (1:03:27) A Q&A with director Laszlo Nemes, actor Géza Röhrig and cinematographer Matyas Erdely.
  • Theatrical Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Son of Saul”.

EXTRAS:

“Son of Saul” comes with a slipcover and an UltraViolet code.


Having watched many films and documentaries about the extermination camps during World War II, I have to admit that I was completely unnerved by the shocking images shown in “Son of Saul”.

It’s a film that filmmaker Laszlo Nemes did all his best to convey the horrors that took place in the extermination camps and also the duties of the Sonderkommando.  How they were powerless, how they could not even alert other prisoners that the corridor they were entering is a gas chamber that would kill them within minutes.

These are not the only horrors as we see countless people getting shot and killed point blank range and the film shows a reminder of how tragic, how horrifying and how terrible the moments were for the people and also for the film’s protagonist, Saul Auslander.

There is no denying that the horrors that Saul must undergo and the hellish conditions that he must contend with are intensely grim.  As a viewer, you know immediately that there is no happy ending for Saul and other Sonderkommandos.  Not many of them survived, many were replaced by incoming prisoners and they were killed.

But for Laszlo Nemes’ story, one man doesn’t care so much of what happens to himself, he cares that one dead boy, who was breathing after everyone else had died in the gas chamber, is not operated on.  That this boy receives a proper burial by a Jewish rabbi.

And that is the goal for Saul as he does whatever he can to find that rabbi, but in order to do that, the viewer will be taken through a horrific journey and see if he will be successful to get the deceased boy a proper burial.

The film is unique and for the viewer, the horrific journey of Saul will no doubt be remembered and a film that no doubt will make viewers feel unnerved.  Through the horrors, you want to root for Saul, who will do whatever is necessary to give the boy a proper burial by defying all odds, but at the same time, defying even those who try to help him.

Because Saul is a man who has seen so much death.  He knows his chances of survival is slim, so if he can do one thing with purpose for good, he will do what he can to achieve it.  And that is what captivates the viewer, in seeing the intricate and complex dealings in order for him to accomplish his goals.

As for the Blu-ray release, I found that it was a wise decision to go with the 35 mm and 40 mm lens, to limit the focus on the center, typically on Saul but not so much being overloaded with death all around him.  And as picture quality is amazing in HD, the lossless soundtrack is no doubt haunting.  From the screams of the prisoners dying, the shots that go off as a prisoner is shot in the head point-blank, the sounds of the gas chamber closing, the muffling of sounds of screams.  Once again, this film is unnerving not just visually but also through its use of audio.

There are a few special features include, with the commentary and Q&A giving us an in-depth perspective of Laszlo Nemes’ filmmaking and his approach of making “The Son of Saul”.

While the 2001 Tim Blake Nelson film “The Grey Zone” showed viewers the life of the Sonderkommandos, it took a film to a different direction compared to “Son of Saul”.

“Son of Saul” manages to be one of the most horrific, grim films on the genocide which I found to be disturbing, thought-provoking and had left me feeling unsettled days after watching it.  Knowing that the film is quite powerful and yet it felt real and troubling.  I think many will feel that way watching this film, but at the same time feeling of how well-made this film was, thanks to the direction of Laszlo Nemese and the powerful acting performance by Géza Röhrig.

Overall, “Son of Saul” is a film that is most deserving of the awards it had but it’s not an easy film to watch. But it’s no doubt an impressive debut for filmmaker Laszlo Nemes and a film that I do recommend!

 

The Lady in the Van (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

ladyvan

“The Lady in the Van” is an entertaining and endearing film but also a film that showcases a magnificent performance from Maggie Smith.  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2015 Van Productions Limited. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Lady in the Van

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 104 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Mandarin (PRC), Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Some Thematic Material)

RELEASE DATE: April 19, 2016


Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Written by Alan Bennett

Produced by Nicholas Hytner, Damian Jones, Kevin Loader

Music by George Fenton

Cinematography by Andrew Dunn

Edited by Tariq Anwar

Casting by Toby Whale

Production Design by John Beard

Art Direction by Tim Blake

Set Decoration by Niamh Coulter

Costume Design by Natalie Ward


Starring:

Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd

Jim Broadbent as Underwood

Clare Hammond as Young Margaret FAirchild

George Fenton as Conductor

Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett

Deborah Findlay as Pauline

Roger Allam as Rufus

Richard Griffiths as Sam Perry


Based on the true story of Miss Shepherd (played by a magnificent Maggie Smith), a woman of uncertain origins “temporarily” parks her van in Alan Bennett’s (Alex Jennings) London driveway and proceeds to live there for 15 years. What begins as a begrudged favor becomes a relationship that will change both their lives.Acclaimed director Nicholas Hytner reunites with iconic writer Alan Bennett to create this rare and touching portrait.


From director Nicholas Hytner (“The History Boys”, “The Object of My Affection”, “The Crucible”) and Alan Bennett, award-winning dramatist and screenwriter (“The Madness of King George”, “The History Boys”, “A Private Function”) comes a true story that revolves around a real-life experience from Bennett’s life on a factual person.

The story of Mary Shepherd, an elderly woman who lives in a dilapidated van and makes her permanent living area on Bennett’s driveway in the 1979’s and would stay living near his driveway for 15 years.

The film was shot in and around Alan Bennett’s real-life home and the area where the real Mary Shepherd parked her van.

The film would star Maggie Smith (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, “Downton Abbey”, “Harry Potter” films, “Gosford Park”), Alex Jennings (“The Queen”, “Babel”, “Bridge Jones: The Edge of Reason”), Jim Broadbent (“Moulin Rouge!”, “Gangs of New York”, “Cloud Atlas”), Roger Allam (“V for Vendetta”, “The Book Thief”, “The Queen”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”), Deborah Findlay (“Jane Eyre”, “Vanity Fair”, “Suite Francaise) and more.

The film begins with the sound of a man screaming.  The film then cuts to Miss Shepherd (portrayed by Maggie Smith) being chased by the police.  She then looks at her windshield which is cracked and has a blood stain on it.

The film then cuts to a pianist (Miss Shepherd when she was younger) playing along with a symphony as the audience watches.

We then watch as Alan Bennett (portrayed by Alex Jennings) is working on his article about Miss Shepherd, who has parked her old, dingy van in front of the driveway of Alan.

We see the two Alan Bennett’s (same person), one who is the writer that is intrigued by Miss Shepherd and the other who is becoming frustrated that her van is parked in front of their house and represents as the Alan that lives in the location.

Alan then begins his story of how he first encountered Miss Shepherd and how she moves into the neighborhood and how a homeless person in the area is received.

But how Alan and Miss Shepherd would communicate for the next 15 years as she would continue to live in her van in the neighborhood.  And would get to learn more about Miss Shepherd and her past.


VIDEO:

“The Lady in the Van” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1). The lossless soundtrack showcases the details of the closeup of Maggie Smith’s face, the dirt and rainmarks on Miss Shepherd’s vehicle.  Skin tones are natural, lighting is well-done, although the film leads more to a cooler look outdoors, and warmer for indoors.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “The Lady in the Van” is presented in English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Also, in Spanish and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, English – Audio Description Track Dolby Surround.

The lossless audio for “The Lady in the Van” is primarily dialogue and musical driven and both are crystal clear.  Surround channels are primarily for ambiance around the neighborhood, the slamming of Miss Shepherd’s car door.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Chinese (Traditional) French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Lady in the Van” comes with the following special features:

  • Feature Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Nicholas Hytner.
  • Playing the Lady: Maggie Smith as Miss Shepherd – (6:20) A featurette about how this role was written for Maggie Smith.
  • The Making of Lady in the Van – (13:43) A discussion about the real Miss Shepherd and Alan Bennett discusses the real person that inspired the film.
  • The Visual Effects – (7:29) A featurette about the visual effects (used to create the two Alan Bennett characters).
  • Deleted Scenes – (4:34) Featuring three deleted scenes.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “The Lady in the Van”.

EXTRAS:

“The Lady in the Van” comes with a slipcover.


For those who have appreciated the work of Maggie Smith, “The Lady in the Van” features a wonderful performance by the legendary actress.

Based on the true story written by Alan Bennett about his personal experience and communication with a homeless woman who sets up camp right near his home, the film explores the relationship and friendship between the two people.

Alan Bennett’s character is broken up in two roles (same person), as one represents Alan the writer, writing an article on Miss Shepherd, while the other is an Alan Bennett that is growing frustrated by Miss Shepherd and doesn’t understand why the writer can’t give up on her and let her leave to another location.

Alan find the woman intriguing because of the way she talks and promotes herself, yet has become homeless.

Who is Miss Shepherd?  What led her to his neighborhood?  And why has Alan continued to help Miss Shepherd?

We watch as the two communicate with each other and the storyline starting out early as compassion and then letter transitioning into wanting to help Miss Shepherd live a bit more comfortably but to delve deeper into her background.

Maggie Smith and Alan Jennings do a phenomenal job of playing their respective roles.  For Maggie Smith, it was more or less playing a woman with mental illness but also playing a person who had a storied past, a person who is on the run, a person who is fearful of society and a woman who has put her trust towards the popular writer.  And how Alan Bennett remained patient with her, no matter how difficult she was towards everyone.

Meanwhile, Alan Jennings does a fine job of playing two different versions of Alan Bennett.  One who is kind and generous and is a writer, the other who is “the living” one that is more questioning the thinking and perspective of the writer.  And these two are often exchanging conversations of criticism and debate towards one another

But the onscreen chemistry between Smith and Jennings was enjoyable to watch but also to see the storyline unfold.  The acting is wonderful, but it’s the storyline that I found very interesting.  And the fact that the film was shot in the same location and same home, plus the fact that Alan Bennett was involved in the film was a major plus.

The Blu-ray release features wonderful detail while the lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and musical score.  The film also features audio commentary and a few short featurettes as well.

Overall, “The Lady in the Van” is an entertaining and endearing film but also a film that showcases a magnificent performance from Maggie Smith.  Recommended!

 

Coming Home (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

cominghome

Zhang Yimou’s “Coming Home” is a powerful drama thanks to the magnificent performance of actress Gong Li.  A love story showcasing commitment and perseverance, “Coming Home” is a film that I highly recommend!

Image courtesy of © 2014 Le Vision Pictures Co. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Coming Home

YEAR OF FILM: 2014

DURATION: 109 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Mandarin (PRC), Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Some Thematic Material)

RELEASE DATE: March 8, 2016


Directed by Zhang Yimou

Based on the Novel by Geling Yan

Screenplay by Jingzhi Zou

Produced by Turi Vasile, Luggi Waldfeitner

Music by Benedetto Ghiglia, Piero Piccioni

Cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi

Edited by Franco Fraticelli

Production Design by Maurizio Chiari

Set Decoration by Bruno Cesari

Costume Design by Maurizio Chiari


Starring:

Li Gong as Feng Wanyu

Daoming Chen as Lu Yanshi

Huiwen Zhang as Dan Dan, the daughter

Tao Guo as Officer Liu

Ni Yan as Officer Li

Chun Li as Cui Meifang

Jia-yi Zhang as Doctor Dai

Peiqi Liu as Officer Liu

Jiali Ding as Mr. Fang’s Wife


Lu (Chen Daoming) and Feng (Gong Li) are a devoted couple forced to separate when Lu is arrested and sent to a labor camp as a political prisoner during the Cultural Revolution. When Lu is released years later, he returns home to find his beloved wife has amnesia and remembers little of her past. Unable to recognize him, she still patiently awaits her husband’s return. A stranger within his own family, Lu is determined to awaken his wife’s memory through gentle displays of unconditional and eternal love.


From filmmaker Zhang Yimou (“Hero”, “House of Flying Daggers”, “The Curse of the Golden Flower”) comes the 2014 drama “Coming Home”.  An adaptation of the novel by Geling Yan and a screenplay by Jingzhi Zou.

Starring Chen Daoming (“Hero”, “Infernal Affairs 3”, “Aftershock”), Gong Li (“2046”, “Hannibal Rising”, “Raise the Red Lantern”, “Miami Vice”) and Huiwen Zhang (“Forever Young”), the film was shot in Tanjin and Beijing and has received positive reviews from film critics worldwide.

And now, “Coming Home” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

“Coming Home” begins with Lu Yanshi (portrayed by Chen Daoming), a professor persecuted and sent to a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution (a sociopolitical movement in the People’s Republic of China between 1966-1976 by Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, in order to preserve “true” Communist ideology and removing all capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society).

Lu Yanshi has escaped and is headed home.

We are introduced to a young woman named Dan Dan (portrayed by Huiwen Zhang), a ballerina who is working hard to be the lead dancer in a performance.  She and her mother Feng Wanyu (portrayed by Gong Li) are asked if they had any information on the whereabouts of Lu Yanshi and are told if they do, to not confront him but report him to authorities.

But for Feng Wanyu, who hasn’t seen her husband for a decade, she desperately wants to see her husband, but her daughter tells her not to.

Because word has gotten out about Lu Yanshi’s escape, Dan Dan is not given the lead role but meanwhile, she confronts her father who is hiding in their building, planning to see his family.

While authorities are keeping a close eye on the building that Feng Wanyu and Dan Dan are living, she sees that her mom has packed her clothing and is planning to leave.  She forbids her mother to do it but her mom tells her that she has spent her life taking care of Dan Dan, but now she must take care of her mother.  Dan Dan tries to prevent her mother by blocking the door.

The following morning, Dan Dan wakes up to find out her mother has left.

Feng Wanyu and Lu Yanshi try to find each other, but Dan Dan reports to the authorities of her father’s whereabouts, after she is told that she would be receiving the lead role.  As authorities capture Lu Yanshi, they try to stop Feng Wanyu from getting close to him and she is pushed and falls on the pavement and slamming her head.  Lu Yanshi is apprehended and Dan Dan is shocked about what has happened and worries for her mother.

Fast forward to the end of the Cultural Revolution, Lu Yanshi is released and comes home to find out that Dan Dan does not live at home and is no longer a dancer and works as a textile worker.

When he goes to visit Feng Wanyu, he finds out that she does not remember him.  She suffers from amnesia and something has happened to her and when she sees Lu Yanshi, she does not think he is her husband.

So, now Lu Yanshi must do what he can in hopes to reawaken his wife’s memory but also bring together his broken family if possible.


VIDEO:

“Coming Home” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1).  While scenes tend to be focused inside the home of Feng Wanyu and the room that Lu Yanshi is staying in, the scenes are well-lit, closeup details are very good and for the most part, make-up design is well-done in showcasing Gong Li as an older woman.  But the scenes shot by cinematography Xiaoding Zhao captures emotion and the state of Feng Wanyu’s well-being.  Cinematography is well-done, colors are natural and black levels are nice and deep.

I did not notice any artifacts or banding issues while watching the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Coming Home” is presented in Mandarin (PRC), Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English – Audio Description Track and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

The film is primarily dialogue driven with a few scenes such as crowds or during Dan Dan’s performance utilizing the surround channels for ambiance.  But this is a dialogue driven film with beautifully composed music by Qigang Chen.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Coming Home” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Zhang Yimou.
  • Toronto Film Festival Q&A with Zhang Yimou – (18:46) Featuring a post-screening Q&A with director Zhang Yimou.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailers for “Coming Home”.

Zhang Yimou has created beautiful masterpiece films in his cinematic oeuvre.  While many showcase action, “Coming Home” features on a family broken apart due to the Cultural Revolution in China.

About how a husband and wife remain committed to each other, even though one of them has amnesia.  A powerful, yet sad film about love between two people that has lasted for decades, the film relies heavily on the shoulders of actress Gong Li.

Known for her beauty and sensual scenes, in “Coming Home”, Gong Li gives a fantastic performance as Feng Wanyu, a woman who was separated by her husband because of the Cultural Revolution and forbidden to see or speak of him.  So, she holds hope that one day she can be reunited with him.

Unfortunately, the day that she is to reunite with him, after her husband had escaped from prison, she hits her head on the pavement and now suffers from amnesia.

At the end of the Cultural Revolution, her husband returns home but he finds out that while she awaits for her husband’s return, despite her husband being back home, she does not recognize him, as they have aged over the years.

She doesn’t retain much memories of the past and present but she retains memories of when her husband will return but also the disappoint she has towards her daughter (who reported her father to the authorities after he had escaped).

With the task of trying to bring his broken family together, Lu Yanshi must do all that is necessary to help bring his wife’s memory but also restore the relationship between mother and daughter.

A film that is beautifully shot and a screenplay by Jingzhi Zou that captures the trials and tribulations of each family member, the film is unique but also a film that you rarely see in Chinese cinema as it is set during the Cultural Revolution.

As Gong Li was fantastic in the film, credit also has to be given to actor Daoming Chen of being a husband that is hurt by his wife’s condition but is committed in hoping to bring her memories back.  And young actress Huiwen Zhang does a good job for her acting debut in a major film, playing a daughter that desperately wants her family’s love, but feels guilty for the pain she has caused.

The Blu-ray release features great cinematography and picture quality, while lossless audio is dialogue and music-driven.  You get a few special features such as a commentary, Toronto Film Festival Q&A and a theatrical trailer.

Overall, Zhang Yimou’s “Coming Home” is a powerful drama thanks to the magnificent performance of actress Gong Li.  A love story showcasing commitment and perseverance, “Coming Home” is a film that I highly recommend!

 

Labyrinth of Lies (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

labyrinth

“Labyrinth of Lies” is a powerful and thought-provoking film based on real events of how post-war Germany was trying to move forward from World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime, but how a prosecutor was determined to go after as many Nazi soldiers who were involved in atrocities at Auschwitz, despite pressures for him to give up and quit. Giulio Ricciarelli’s “Labyrinth of Lies” is recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2014-2015 Claussen-Putz Filmproduktion GmbH and naked eye filmproduction. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Labyrinth of Lies

YEAR OF FILM: 2014

DURATION: 123 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:35:1, German 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RELEASE DATE: February 16, 2016


Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli

Screenplay by Elisabeth Bartel, Giulio Ricciarelli, Amelie Syberg (collaboration)

Produced by Turi Vasile, Luggi Waldfeitner

Music by Benedetto Ghiglia, Piero Piccioni

Cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi

Edited by Franco Fraticelli

Production Design by Maurizio Chiari

Set Decoration by Bruno Cesari

Costume Design by Maurizio Chiari


Starring:

Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann

Andre Szymanski as Thomas Gnielka

Friederike Becht as Marlene Wondrak

Johannes Krisch as Simon Kirsch

Johann von Bulow as Staatsanwalt Otto Haller

Robert Hunger-Buhler as Oberstaatsanwalt Walter Friedberg

Hansi Jochmann as sekretarin Schmittchen

Lukas Miko as Hermann Langein

Gert Voss as Generalstaatsanwait Fritz Bauer

Tim Williams as Major Parker


Germany 1958. In those years, “Auschwitz” was a word that some people had never heard of, and others wanted to forget as quickly as possible. Against the will of his immediate superior, young prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling) begins to examine the case of recently identified teacher who was a former Auschwitz gard. Radmann soon lands in a web of repression and denial, but also of idealization. He devotes himself with utmost commitment to his new task and is resolved to find out what really happened. He oversteps boundaries, falls out with friends, colleagues and allies, and is sucked deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of lies and guilt in his search for the truth. But what he ultimately brings to light will change the country forever.


Italian Actor and producer Giulio Ricciarelli (“Rosselini”, “Black Money”) is known for his roles on camera but this time around, the actor focused on his experience behind the camera in the 2014 German drama “Im Labyrinth des Schweigens” (Labyrinth of Lies).

Featuring a screenplay co-written by Ricciarelli and Elisabeth Bartel, the film would star Alexander Fehling (“Inglorious Basterds”, “Young Goethe in Love”, “Am Ende Kommen Touristen”), Andre Szymanski (“Wolfsburg”), Friederike Becht (“The Reader”, “Hannah Arendt”), Johannes Krisch (“Revanche”, “360”), Johann von Bulow (“The Stranger in Me”, “13 Minutes”), Robert Hunger-Buhler (“Angst”, “Unter dir die Stadt”), Hansi Jochmann (“Shining Through”, “Pfarrer Braun”) and Gert Voss (“Der Kopf des Mohren”, “Doktor Knock”).

And now the Blu-ray will be released courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Inspired on a true story, “Labyrinth of Lies” takes place in the late 1950’s.  A scene begins near a school and a Jewish artist named Simon Kirsch (portrayed by Johannes Krisch) needs a light and comes across a man named Charles Schulz (a former Auschwitz extermination camp commander) which he remembers and is scared of him.

We are then taken to a law office and are introduced to young public prosecutor Johann Radmann (portrayed by Alexander Fehling).  Not knowing how things work around his office, when he sees Walter Friedberg (portrayed by Robert Hunger-Bhuhler) and the older man ask for the law office to take on the case and how a Nazi is teaching at a school and how it’s not right.

The law office is not interested and talk about Auschwitz of being western propaganda and whatever happened in the past is past.

But when Walter goes to Radmann and gives him a paper, his boss throws the paper away and tells Radmann to focus on his own work.

But always being curious, Radmann decides to retrieve the paper and brings it up during a lawyer’s meeting with the head boss Fritz Bauer (portrayed by Gert Voss) listening and how he would like to pursue this case.  Fritz tells him that it may be a difficult because for a lot of people in the war who were Nazi, many went to go work in a variety of jobs, including the government.  He would need to have proof.

When Radmann goes to meet with Walter and Simon, he begins to research on what happened in Auschwitz and learn about the details of what really happened when the Nazi’s kept Jews imprisoned in the camps.  While Radmann wants Simon to give him more information, for some reason, Simon is not interested in talking about the past.

But Radmann and Walter end up stealing papers from Simon which detail thousands of Nazi’s who worked in Auschwitz and those who are still employed in Germany.

But when Radmann begins discussing with survivors from Auschwitz of what happened, he learns that many were tortured and killed.  Many just for glancing at Nazi soldiers.  But learns that the deaths were not a few, nor a dozen, nor a hundred, but thousands of people of all ages who were murdered.

Needing more witnesses and hoping to get Simon to be a witness, he learns the truth from Simon of why he doesn’t talk about the past.  It’s because he had two beautiful twin daughters and thinking that the doctor that he gave them to, would take good car of them in Auschwitz, he learned that the doctor was Josef Mengele, who tortured and experimented on twins.

This leads Radmann, sickened by all the witness testimonies and what happened to Simon’s children to now want to do all he can and put those who caused crimes in Auschwitz and have the proof of it, and let justice speak in behalf of the victims.

But Radmann is quick to learn, Germany has never prosecuted the Nazi’s and for whatever happened in the past, many feel it necessary to keep it in the past.


VIDEO:

“Labyrinth of Lies” is presented in 2:35:1 black and white and in 1080p High Definition. Closeups of characters and clothing show great detail.  Skin tones look natura and black levels look nice and deep.  I didn’t notice any banding or artifacts during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Labrynth of Lies” is presented in German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.  The film is primarily dialogue and music driven with surround channels showcasing ambiance or noises from the parties which the characters are in.  But for the most part, dialogue and music are crystal clear.

Features English, English SDH and French subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Labyrinth of Lies” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Giulio Ricciarelli and Alexander Fehling.
  • Deleted Scenes – (5:46) Featuring seven deleted scenes.
  • LA Jewish Film Festival Q&A – (43:01) Featuring a Q&A with director Giulio Ricciarelli and actor Alexander Fehling.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailers for “Labyrinth of Lies”.

 

EXTRAS:

“Labyrinth of Lies” comes with an UltraViolet code for digital viewing.


I think for many people who have read their history books or watched archived news of the rise and fall of the Nazi Germany, there is always something in back of your mind that wanted to know of what happened after the war.

While modern news have showcased various war criminals who have been put on trial, there is not much known outside of Germany of what happened to the soldiers who served Hitler and how Germans felt.  Nor what transpired after World War II aside from the dismantling of Germany by the Allied Forces.  Or how regular people felt about the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime.

With “Labyrinth of Lies”, the story is based on a true story of lawyers who wanted to carry out justice for the Auschwitz survivors against those who were involved in the mass killing of European Jews.

Many of those who served at Auschwitz went back home, started new careers and moved on.  Germany and its people moved on and move forward after Germany’s loss in the war.

But not many people knew about the atrocities committed by the Nazi people and what took place at the camps.  What happened was that Nazi soldiers returned back home to civilian life and they were protected by the German government and the country’s statute of limitations forbid any of the soldiers being tried unless they committed a murder.

For Italian actor/producer turned filmmaker Giulio Ricciarelli (who resides in Germany), his goal was to research and create a story based on the prosecutors who worked on the first public prosecution against war criminals in Germany and how they were determined to get all the witness statements that they can in order to persecute these individuals who had involvement in the atrocities.

“Labyrinth of Lies” is a film that doesn’t focus on the Nazi’s, Germany’s loss in the war or World War II, it’s about a young prosecutor named Johann Radmann, due to his youth and hard-headedness, wanted to take on the case against those who committed atrocities on innocents at Auschwitz and hold them accountable and let Justice carry out the punishment for those involved.

The film would show how public sentiment was towards Radmann pursuing such a case.  A superior who is dedicated to this country, feels that Radmann is bring up old wounds and he should stop.  Radmann himself and many others, unaware of what happened in Auschwitz and if they did hear of something, they pushed it aside and treated it as western propaganda.

But seeing Radmann discovering the stories of the many Jews who were imprisoned at Auschwitz and their stories of being tortured or having loved ones murdered by the Nazi’s, no doubt touched his soul to the point that the case was the mission.

But as Radmann would soon find out, going after the Nazi’s is generally going against a huge demographic of Germans who served their country and in essence, during World War II, were Nazi themselves.

So, as the film focuses on justice for the dead and those who survived Auschwitz, the film is also about learning, growing and essentially Germany learning about what really transpired at Auschwitz and why these Germans who worked at Auschwitz, who are now working as government officials, teachers or someone that works at a store one typically frequents, are unaware the devilish , tragic and disgusting things that were committed at Auschwitz.

There is no doubt that “Labyrinth of Lies” is a powerful film that took much research (it took director Ricciarelli three years to work on the script) but to also create a film that shows an apathetic Germany, it was no doubt one of the hot, possibly taboo topics for one to discuss at that time and inspired by real events, brought to the big screen over 50-years later.

Fortunately, for those who want to take a breather from the more deeper scenarios featured the film, there is a romance story between Johann Radmann and Marlene Wondrak (portrayed by Friederike Becht) that does bring a little laughter in the film.  But while I felt there were certain scenes involving the two that could have been cut out of the film.

But even the relationship starts to take a more serious direction when Radmann, who begins to lose it after discovering how Germany would choose to forget the past or what the Nazi regime did and many Germans at the time, served with the Nazi military and starts to question himself and this mega case.  Eventually Radmann’s curiousity leads him to start his own investigation and find out if his own father and Marlene’s father have a connection to the Nazi regime.

The film is no doubt an eye-opener but watching the Q&A featurette with director Giulio Ricciarelli and actor Alexander Fehling at the LA Jewish Film Festival, it was rather interesting to watch because Fehling’s reactions, having been raised in Germany to answer the questions of German’s feelings towards the genocide is no surprise, because it’s the same similar answer I get when I discuss with my friends in Japan about what Japan did to China and what the Imperial Army committed during World War II.  Many people in Japan look at what happened back then, is something that happened back then and doesn’t affect the present.  Fehling answer and how one person he knew, said something similar of, “what happened was tragic, but what does it have to do with me”.

And I often suspect, that’s how countries dealt with such situations, to distance itself from the past and move forward.  But unfortunately, because of the magnitude of the atrocities, for those living in other countries that pays respect to those who lost their lives and to family members who suffered, these are situations that one can not forget and will never forget.

It’s important to note that while the film features Radmann and team going after various Nazi soldiers, it shows Radmann wanting to go after Joseph Mengele and him working with the Mossad (the National Intelligence Agency of Israel) but also with details of how Adolf Eichmann was captured.  For those who want to know more about the trial of Eichmann, will want to watch “Hannah Arendt”, the 2012 film directed by Margarethe von Trotta.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture and lossless audio quality is very good, while special features include an audio commentary, Q&A from the LA Jewish Festival and deleted scenes.

Overall, “Labyrinth of Lies” is a powerful and thought-provoking film based on real events of how post-war Germany was trying to move forward from World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime, but how a prosecutor was determined to go after as many Nazi soldiers who were involved in atrocities at Auschwitz, despite pressures for him to give up and quit.

Giulio Ricciarelli’s “Labyrinth of Lies” is recommended!

 

Grandma (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 31, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

grandma

“Grandma” is an enjoyable comedy/drama with a solid cast, but what keeps this film entertaining is the wonderful performance by actress Lily Tomlin, in her first leading role since 1988.  Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2016 Papote, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Grandma

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 102 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), English, French, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Audio Description Track, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Language and Some Drug Use)

Release Date: February 9, 2016


Directed by Paul Weitz

Written by Paul Weitz

Executive Producers: Dan Balgoyen, Stephanie Meurer, Danielle Renfrew

Produced by Terry Dougas, Paris Kasidokostas Latsis, Andrew Miano, Paul Weitz

Co-Producer: Brenda Vogel

Associate Producer: Laura Tuck

Music by Joel P. West

Cinematography by Tobias Datum

Edited by Jon Corn

Casting by Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein, Deborah Maxwell Dion

Production Design by Cindy Chao, Michele Yu

Set Decoration by Brittany Ruiz

Costume Design by Molly Grundman


Starring:

Lily Tomlin as Elle Reid

Julia Garner as Sage

Marcia Gay Harden as Judy

Judy Greer as Olivia

Laverne Cox as Deathy

Elizabeth Pena as Carla

Nat Wolff as Cam

John Cho as Chau

Sam Elliott as Karl


Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) has just gotten through breaking up with her girlfriend when her granddaughter, Sage, unexpectedly shows up needing $600 before sundown. Temporarily broke, Grandma Elle and Sage spend the day trying to get their hands on the cash, as their unannounced visits to old friends and flames end up rattling skeletons and digging up secrets.


From filmmaker Paul Weitz (the director of “American Pie”, “About a Boy”) comes his comedy drama “Grandma”.

The closing film for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, the film marks the first film for Lily Tomlin in a leading role since 1988’s “Big Business” and features a film that was written for Lily Tomlin in mind (both work together in the 2013 film “Admission”).

The film stars Lily Tomlin (“I Heart Huckabees”, “Nine to Five”, “Nashville”), Julia Garner (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, “Electrick Children”), Marcia Gay Harden (“Into the Wild”, “Mystic River”, “The Mist”), Judy Greer (“Ant-Man”, “Jurassic World”, “13 Going on 30”), John Cho (“American Beauty”, “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”, “Star Trek”) and Sam Elliott (“Hulk”, “Up in the Air”, “Tombstone”).

“Grandma” is a film that is divided in six chapters and begins with Elle Reid (portrayed by Lily Tomlin), a lesbian poet breaking her relationship with relationship with Olivia (portrayed by Judy Greer), and is still reeling from the recent death of her partner.

Not long after, her 18-year-old granddaughter Sage (portrayed by Julia Garner) has stopped by asking for $630 to pay for her abortion.  Having no money and no credit card, Elle wants to help her grandaughter and take a road trip together in order to get the money for the abortion.

But with grandma’s temper and her need for money, she must visit people from her past…but will her temper prevent her from getting the money?


VIDEO:

“Grandma” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). The film looks absolutely wonderful in HD as skin tones are natural, close-ups show very good detail. With a good mix of indoor and outdoor shots, the scenes are well-lit and outdoor scenes are vibrant. I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Grandma” is presented in English, French and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital and Thai Dolby Digital 5.1. The film is primarily dialogue and music driven with surround channels more geared towards the news ambiance. But overall dialogue and music is crystal clear.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), French, Indonesian/Bahasa, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Grandma” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentary with director Paul Weitz, actress Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner and actor Sam Elliott.
  • A Family Portrait: Making Grandma – (25:14) Featuring interviews with director Paul Weitz and the cast.
  • Q&A with Lily Tomlin, Sam Elliott and Director Paul Weitz – (20:56) Pete Hammond interviews director Paul Weitz, actress Lily Tomlin and actor Sam Elliott.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Grandma”.

EXTRAS:

“Grandma” comes with a slipcover.


Paul Weitz’ “Grandma” is a film about self-discovery and relationships.

Broken down to various chapters, the film focuses on grandmother and famous lesbian poet Elle Reid, who is still trying to get over the death of her partner for over 35-years and having difficulty being in another relationship with another woman (who happens to be younger), Olivia (portrayed by Judy Greer).

Having a temper and also an estranged relationship with her daughter Judy (portrayed by Marcia Gay Harden), she decides to help her granddaughter Sage (portrayed by Julie Garner) who is in need of financial help.

While Elle would like to help Sage, she has no money and as the two try to get the money from her boyfriend, unfortunately he has no money and it leads Grandma and granddaughter on a road trip to get money from friends and people from her past.

But with each person Elle meets, she learns more about herself, the ways she was with people, while Sage learns more about her grandmother’s life aside from her being a famous poet.

A film created for Lily Tomlin, for her first major role since 1988, Lily Tomlin does an amazing job playing the high-temper grandmother, Elle.  The performance by Lily is wonderful and helped make this film much more enjoyable.

The film also features a good number of talents such as John Cho as a coffee shop owner trying to kick Elle out due to her loud demeanor.  The film also stars Sam Elliott as a former jilted lover of Elle who is still hurt after she left him with no notice and Marcia Gay Harden does a fine job of playing Sage’s mother and a woman who never had a close relationship with her mother Elle.  And because of her busy work, her relationship with Sage is not so strong.

The Blu-ray looks fantastic in HD and the lossless soundtrack is primarily dialogue-driven.  Special features include an audio commentary, interview with the director and cast featurette and a Sundance Q&A with filmmaker Paul Weitz, Lily Tomlin and Sam Elliott.

Overall, “Grandma” is an enjoyable comedy/drama with a solid cast, but what keeps this film entertaining is the wonderful performance by actress Lily Tomlin, in her first leading role since 1988.  Recommended!

 

« Previous PageNext Page »

Bottom