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In a Lonely Place – The Criterion Collection #810 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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If you love film noir, the Criterion Collection’s release of “In a Lonely Place” is worth watching and owning. Showcasing the wonderful performance by both Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame and also fantastic direction by filmmaker Nicholas Ray, you’ll see why “In a Lonely Place” is considered a classic. Recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1950, renewed in 1977.  Columbia Pictures Industries, LLC. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: In a Lonely Place – The Criterion Collection #810

YEAR OF FILM: 1950

DURATION: 93 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Monaural

COMPANY: Columbia Pictures/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: May 10, 2016


Directed by Nicholas Ray

Written by Andrew Solt

Adaptation by Edmund H. North

Story by Dorothy B. Hughes

Produced by Robert Lord

Associate Producer: Henry S. Kesler

Music by George Antheil

Cinematography by Burnett Guffrey

Edited by Viola Lawrence

Art Direction by Robert Peterson

Set Decoration by William Kiernan

Costume Design by Jean Louis


Starring:

Humphrey Bogart as Dixon Steel

Gloria Grahame as Laurel Gray

Frank Lovejoy as Det. Sgt. Brub Nicolai

Carl Benton Reid as Capt. Lochner

Art Smith as Agent Mel Lippman

Jeff Donnell as Sylvia Nicolai

Martha Stewart as Mildred Atkinson

Robert Warwick as Charlie Waterman

Morris Ankrum as Lloyd Barnes

William Ching as Ted Barton

Steven Geray as Paul

Hadda Brooks as Singer


When a gifted but washed-up screenwriter with a hair-trigger temper—Humphrey Bogart, in a revelatory, vulnerable performance—becomes the prime suspect in a brutal Tinseltown murder, the only person who can supply an alibi for him is a seductive neighbor (Gloria Grahame) with her own troubled past. The emotionally charged In a Lonely Place, freely adapted from a Dorothy B. Hughes thriller, is a brilliant, turbulent mix of suspenseful noir and devastating melodrama, fueled by powerhouse performances. An uncompromising tale of two people desperate to love yet struggling with their demons and each other, this is one of the greatest films of the 1950s, and a benchmark in the career of the classic Hollywood auteur Nicholas Ray.


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From Nicholas Ray, the legendary filmmaker of “Rebel Without a Cause”, “Johnny Guitar”, “King of Kings” and “Bigger Than Life” is his 1950 film noir “In a Lonely Place”.

The film is an adaptation by Edmund North which is based on the novel of the same name by Dorothy B. Hughes.

The film would star Humphrey Bogart (“Casablanca”, “The Maltese Falcon”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The Big Sleep”), Gloria Grahame (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Oklahoma!”, “The Big Heat”), Frank Lovejoy (“The Adventures of McGraw”, “House of Wax”, “The Hitch-Hiker”), Carl Benton Reid (“The Little Foxes”, “The Great Caruso”, “Pork Chop Hill”), Art Smith (“Letter from an Unknown Woman”, “Quicksand”), Jeff Donnell (“Sweet Smell of Success”, “Tora! Tora! Tora”), Martha Stewart (“Daisy Kenyon”, “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now”, “Doll Face”) and Robert Warwick (“Sullivan’s Travels”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “The Awful Truth”).

Considered as one of Humphrey Bogart’s finest performances in a film, the film has been included in top 100 lists and in 2007, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

And now “In a Lonely Place” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection May 2016.

The film revolves around Dixon “Dix” Steele (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart), a Hollywood screenwriter who has a violent temper and has not had a hit screenplay since before the war.

While Dix is driving to meet with his agent, Mel Lippman (portrayed by Art Smith), he gets into a confrontation at the stoplight with another driver in which Dix threatens to fight the man.

As Dix and Mel meet, Mel tries to convince Dix to adapt a book for a film.  Dix meets the hat-check girl, Mildred Atkinson (portrayed by Martha Stewart) and she reads his screenplay which she loves.  Meanwhile, Dix has another violent outburst when a young director bad mouths Dix’s friend Charlie (portrayed by Robert Warwick), who has not had any success in a very long time and is considered a washed-up actor.

Too tired to read the novel, he invites Mildred to come home with him and read it.   As the two walk towards his apartment, they pass by one of the new tenants, Laurel Gray (portrayed by Gloria Grahame).  As Dix and Mildred enter his home, Dix tries to let her know that she is there to read and he’s not trying to seduce her.  But as she describes the book, Dix loses interest and thinks the book is trash and tells Mildred to go home, giving her cab fare, as he is tired.

The following morning, his old army friend and currently a police detective, Brub Nicolai (portrayed by Frank Lovejoy) comes to visit and tells Dix that he needs to come downtown for questioning by Captain Lochner (portrayed by Carl Benton Reid).

They explain to Dix that Mildred, the hat-check girl was found murdered and that Dix is the subject.  Meanwhile, Laurel Gray is brought in to confirm that Dix and Mildred came home together, which she confirms.

While Brub doesn’t think Dix is guilty, Captain Lochner is not put off by the fact that Dix is not showing any sadness, sympathy or emotion towards the death of Mildred.  But the Captain is not aware that after the questioning, Dix anonymously sends two dozen white roses to Mildred.

When Dix goes home, he connects with Laurel and finds out that she is an aspiring actress.  They eventually start to fall in love and Dix gets the passion to write the screenplay adaptation.  But Laurel starts to notice Dix’s violent outbursts and starts to question her relationship with him but also wondering if he may be responsible in the murder of Mildred Atkinson.


VIDEO:

“In a Lonely Place – The Criterion Collection #810” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio in 1080p High Definition. Picture quality is fantastic, the film features great clarity, wonderful detail and sharpness.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This 2K digital transfer was created on a Spirit datacine from a new 35 mm fine grain master positive made him from the original camera negative.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “In a Lonely Place – The Criterion Collection #810” in LPCM 1.0 Monaural audio.  The lossless soundtrack is crystal clear with no signs of major hissing, crackle or audio pops.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24 bit from the original 35 mm soundtrack negative at Chace Audio by Deluxe in Burbank, California, under the direction of Grover Crisp and Bob Simmons.  Additional restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“In a Lonely Place – The Criterion Collection #810” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring the audio commentary by film scholar Dana Polan.
  • I’m a Stranger Here Myself: A Portrait of Nicholas Ray – (40:33) A 1975 documentary about director Nicholas Ray, presented in a slightly condensed form.  Featuring interviews with Ray, filmmakers Francois Truffaut and actors Natalie Wood and John Houseman, among others.
  • Gloria Grahame – (16:39) Author Vincent Curcio (“Suicide Blonde: The Life of Gloria Grahame” discusses her talents, her marriage to Nicholas Ray and her unforgettable life.
  • “In a Lonely Place”: Revisited – (20:23) Filmmaker Curtis Hanson discussing “In a Lonely Place” and why its an enduring cinema classic.
  • Suspense Episode 287 – (59:56) (audio) A radio adaptation of Dorothy B. Hughes novel which differs from Nicholas Ray’s film.  Priginally broadcast on March 6, 1948 as part of the CBS radio series “Suspense”.  Stars Robert Montgomery and Lurene Tuttle.
  • Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “In a Lonely Place”.

EXTRAS:

“In a Lonely Place – The Criterion Collection #810” comes with a six-page foldout which comes with the essay “An Epitaph For Live” by Imogen Sara Smith (author of “In Lonely Places: Film Noir Beyond the City” and “Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy”).


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Years after “In a Lonely Place” debuted in theaters, the film has become a film noir classic.

Beloved by classic film fans for the performances by legendary actor Humphrey Bogart and actress Gloria Grahame.

But for cineaste, many found it to be as captivating because of the director Nicholas Ray and how the two characters in the film, were inspired by the real life relationship and failed marriage between Ray and his wife, the film’s lead actress, Gloria Grahame.

A film that would make one wonder, is the character Dix innocent or is he actually guilty for murder?  Known for his violent temper, the way Nicholas Ray would manage to find balance in trying to portray the character as possibly innocent and possibly worked to the film’s efficacy.

But for actress Gloria Grahame, this is probably the film that would showcase the actress in a whole new light, allowing her to be the leading lady of a screen legend but showing that she is fully capable to take on a lead role in which the character goes through many emotional highs and lows.

The film benefits from the cinematography of Burnett Guffey, for example, one scene in which Bogart describes how Mildred may have been murdered, he is able to shine a light on Bogart, making the character visually frightening as the character of Dix starts to beam during his discussion of something quite macabre.

I also have to say the film also incorporates great writing and the quotes are memorable, especially:

“I was born when you kissed me. I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.”

As for the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, the film does a great job of honoring both Nicholas Ray and his return to filmmaking after leaving the industry while he was one of the most wanted directors in Hollywood but also the good times and also the troubled life of actress Gloria Grahame (and how her fourth marriage would be to her ex-husband, Nicholas Ray’s son).  You also get a the radio episode from 1948 of “In a Lonely Place” included as well!

As expected from the Criterion Collection, the picture quality of the film features wonderful clarity and sharpness and a clear soundtrack.  No damage and the film looks and sounds great in HD.

Overall, if you love film noir, the Criterion Collection’s release of “In a Lonely Place” is worth watching and owning.  Showcasing the wonderful performance by both Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame and also fantastic direction by filmmaker Nicholas Ray, you’ll see why “In a Lonely Place” is considered a classic.  Recommended!

Mojin – The Lost Legend – (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Mojin – The Lost Legend-” was a film that I was highly anticipating but felt a little let down due to poor character development and disjointed pacing, but as a popcorn action film, the film works best at that level and nothing more.

Images courtesy of © 2015 All Rights Reserved by Wanda Media Co., Ltd. Huayi Brothers Media Corporation Enlight Media. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Mojin – The Lost Legend –

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 125 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Cantonese, Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English subtitles

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: NR

Release Date: May 3, 2016


Directed by Wuershan

Screenplay by Zhang Jialu

Produced by Kuo-fu Chen, Kun Tao, Xuejun Wu, Jerry Ye

Co-Producer: Jennifer Dong, Chang-tian Wang, Tongyuan Wang, Zhongjun Wang

Associate Producer: Xiaobei Cao, Helen Li, Felix Liu, Baozhou Ma, Huang Weihai, Kelly Wu, Bernard Yang

Cinematography by Jake Pollock

Music by Koji Endo

Casting by Wayne Chang, Yong Lu

Production Design by Yi Hao, Roxy Martinez

Art Direction by Lingtong Bai, Sonal Naroth

Set Decoration by Lauren Brown, Carlene Wang De Chen, Rocio Gimenez

Costume Design by Aminah Haddad, Kui Zhao


Starring:

Shu  Qi as Shirley Yang

Angelababy as Ding Sitian

Kun Chen as Hu Bayi

Bo Huang as Wang Kaixuan

Cherry Ngan as Yoko

Xia Yu as Da Jin Ya

Liu Xiaoqing as Ying Caihong


Some people have a special gift. They’re able to travel between the realms of the Living and the Dead…and Tomb Raiding can mean Big Business. Welcome to the world of the Mojin. Based on the #1 Bestselling series of novels and starring Shu Qi, Chen Kun, Angelababy, and Huang Bo, MOJIN: THE LOST LEGEND pits a trio of legendary grave robbers against scholars, rivals, and the law until an offer from a mysterious stranger tempts them into one last heist…an adventure that will test their skills, their friendship, and ultimately their mortal souls.


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From Mongolian filmmaker Wuershan  (“The Butcher, The Chef and the Swordsman” and “Painted Skin: The Resurrection”) comes his big budget film, “Mojin – The Lost Legend -“.

Starring Shu Qi (“The Transporter”, “Journey to the West”, “The Assassin”, “Three Times”), Kun Chen (“Flying Swords of Dragon Gate”, “Painted Skin”, “Painted Skin: The Resurrection”), Bo Huang (“Journey to the West”, “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen”, “Dearest”) and Angelababy (“Hitman: Agent 47”, “Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon”, “Tai Chi Hero”, “Tai Chi Zero”).

The film, based on the popular adventure novel series “Ghost Blows Out the Light” by Zhang Muye about grave robbers.

The first film “Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe” was based on the series first four volumes but after Wanda Meda acquired the rights to the last four volumes, “Mojin – The Lost Legend” which is based on the series’ last four volumes features a different cast, as other production companies added to the financial product and thus a bigger production, filmed in different parts of the world.

The film was released in 2D, 3D, IMAX and IMAX 3D formats in China and was released in the US and Canada ala 2D.  

The film was a success in the box office as “Mojin – The Lost Legend” was budgeted at $37 million, would go on to earn $278.3 million worldwide.  And would become the highest-grossing IMAX film of all time in China.

And now the film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA.

The film is set in the 1990’s and begins with tomb explorers Hu Bayi (portrayed by Chen Kun), Wang Kaixuan (portrayed by Huang Bo) and Shu Qi (portrayed by Shirley Yang) on a tomb raiding expedition.

As Hu Bayi opens a tomb, he lifts the veil and sees a girl that is familiar to him.  It happens to be his first love Ding Sitian (portrayed by Angelababy).  A hole appears and she reaches out to him, he tries to reach out to Ding but is unable to grab her hand.  Ding is sucked into the hole.

Fast forward as the group is now living in New York and Hu Bayi is supposed to marry Shirley, but before his wedding, he is unable to as his thoughts about Ding has haunted him.

Shirley is upset but Hu Bayi explains what happened in the past.

Long ago, Hu Bayi and Wang Kaixuan were part of a group that would raid tombs, along with Ding Sitian.  But when they went to Mongolia, their group was wiped out by deadly insects that were kept underground by structures which the group had knocked down.

When many of them found a secret location, they come in contact with dead Japanese soldiers who look as if their life was sucked out of them.  But when the group continues to touch things inside an ancient tomb, the Japanese soldiers awaken as zombies.

Many of the group were killed, but Hu, Wang and Ding, tried to escape.  But for some reason, only Hu and Wang were able to escape.  And it has haunted both men for the last 20-years.

But a mysterious businesswoman/cult leader named Ying Caihong (portrayed by Liu Xiaoqing) has hired the two men to find the ancient tomb of a Mongolian princess.

Hu Bayi is hesitant but Wang Kaixuan wants to return to complete his mission in memory of Ding Siian in finding a relic.  Shirley who is upset that Hu Baiyi’s memories still are with Ding Sitian, can’t forgive him but joins the two on the adventure, whether they like it or not.


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VIDEO:

“Mojin – The Lost Legend -” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  It’s important to note that the film was originally shown in theaters in 3D, so when watching the visual effects, you can literally tell that the way the effects were geared to have things breaking up in front of the screen, it was meant to be seen in 3D.  Unfortunately, the film was not released in 3D on Blu-ray.

But during outdoor scenes, may it be in New York or in Asia, the film looks vibrant and full of detail.  Closeups show great detail and visual effects look good as well.  I did feel that the underground tombs looked a bit CG at times but for the most part, picture quality is very good.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Mojin – The Lost Legend -” is presented in Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and features a lossless soundtrack that has crystal clear dialogue, music and offers a good amount of surround sound during moments of action or even hearing rocks crumbling, water building up or splashing.

Subtitles are in English and Chinese.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Mojin – The Lost Legend -” comes with the following special features:

  • Making Of – (4:00) Featuring a short making-of featurette for”Mojin – The Lost Legend -“.
  • Behind-the-Scenes – (Around 3 minutes each) Short behind-the-scenes with Chen Kun and Huang Bo.
  • Trailer –  Theatrical trailer for”Mojin – The Lost Legend -“.

Prior to watching “Mojin – The Lost Legend”, I admit that I was excited to watching this film and seeing actress Shu Qui in another action film but also being paired by two very talented actors Chen Kun and Huang Bo.  But also seeing newcomer Angelababy in another action film since the “Tai Chi Hero” and “Tai Chi Zero” films.

After watching the film, I felt that not only was this film more of a popcorn action film, it’s a film that tried to be too many things and overall film suffered because of it.

The storyline revolves around three tomb hunters or grave robbers looking for treasure and we get scenes of the group in the present (which Shu Qi is part of) and then the past (which Angelababy is part of).

Part of the problem is that the first film was created with a different cast and released in theaters in September 2015. The film (based on the first four novels) would establish all three characters effectively but instead, a new film with more financial backing and thus hiring better known talent to create “Mojin – The Lost Legend -” based on the last four novels.

The character development, especially with the relationship between Hu Bayi and Shirley Yang is not well-executed and Hu Bayi is stoic and distant, while Wang Kaixuan is more in the film for comedic effect.  I felt the film doesn’t utilize the talents effectively, and while I found Shu Qi to be absolutely charming in the film, after her performance in “The Assassin”, it seemed that her appearance in the film was far too subdued.

Watching the film in 2D didn’t help matters as the film looked as if it was really geared for 3D and the effectiveness of feeling the danger of the tombs and things shattering, it doesn’t work all that well in 2D, so in some ways, I felt “Mojin – The Lost Legend-” would have been a great 3D/2D Blu-ray release.

What I did enjoy is the overall adventure and at some moments the costume design and visual effects were well-done. But in truth, the moments I did enjoy are the breathtaking outdoor scenes in New York or Mongolia, which were gorgeous to look at in HD.

As for the Blu-ray release, “Mojin – The Lost Legend-” looks great in HD.  Great close-up details, vibrant outdoor scenes, picture quality is top notch.  But as mentioned, many scenes that were meant for 3D, look a bit too CGI at times.

Lossless audio was effective during the more rockier and water-heavy scenes, especially action scenes.  So, good to hear the surround channels being well-utilized.

Special features were short but won’t complain as a lot of Asian cinema on Blu-ray released in the US typically come without special features.  Better getting a little something rather than nothing.

Overall, “Mojin – The Lost Legend-” was a film that I was highly anticipating but felt a little let down due to poor character development and disjointed pacing, but as a popcorn action film, the film works best at that level and nothing more.

DuRaRaRa!! x2 Vol. 3 (A J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 20, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Durarara!! x2” is becoming more interesting as the series continues. Some may find the large cast of characters to be a bit much, but similar to other series with large casts (ie. “Bleach”, “Naruto”), these characters do tie-in to the storyline and you really can’t miss an episode because of that. But it’s a series that you need to stick with it, watch the storyline gradually reveal itself from episode to episode and you’ll start to realize how awesome “Durarara!! x2” really is! Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2015 ANIPLEX INC. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Durarara!! x 2 Volume 3

YEAR OF SERIES RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 13-18 (150 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Japanese and English Linear PCM Stereo 2.0, English Subtitles

COMPANY: Aniplex Inc.

RATED: Suggested 13 and Up

Release Date: March 22, 2016


Originally created by Ryohgo Narita

Directed by Takahiro Omori

Series Composition by Noboru Takagi

Music by Makoto Yoshimori

Original Creator: Ryohgo Narita

Character Design by Takahiro Kishida

Art Director: Akira Ito

Chief Animation Director: Akira Takata

Anime Production: Shuka


Featuring the voices of:

Miyuki Sawashiro/Kari Wahlgren as Celty Sturluson

Toshiyuki Toyonaga/Darrel Guilbeau as Mikado Ryūgamine

Akio Ohtsuka/Doug Stone as Shingen Kishitani

Atsumi Tanezaki/Karen Strassman as Emilia

Ayahi Takagaki/Mela Lee as Erika Karisawa

Daisuke Ono/Crispin Freeman as Shizuo Heiwajima

Hiroshi Kamiya/Johnny Yong Bosch as Izaya Orihara

Jun Fukuyama/Yuri Lowenthal as Shinra Kishitani

Kana Hanazawa/Michelle Ruff as Anri Sonohara

Kazuma Horie/David Earnest as Seiji Yagiri

Mamoru Miyano/Bryce Papenbrook as Masaomi Kida

Mariya Ise/Kira Buckland as Mika Harima

Sanae Kobayashi/Bridget Hoffman as Namie Yagiri

Takaya Kuroda/Patrick Seitz as Simon Brezhnev

Takuma Terashima/Spike Spencer as Saburou Togusa

Yuuichi Nakamura/Steven Blum as Kyōhei Kadota

Yuuki Kaji/Brian Beacock as Walker Yumasaki


The story continues as more chaos ensues—

In the aftermath of the assault against Izaya Orihara, the information broker, signs of new disorder begin to develop like ripples across the water. Holding his own ideals, Mikado gains the powers of both the “Dollars” and the “Blue Squares” and started “cleaning” the bad seeds inside the Dollars. Meanwhile, Shizuo Heiwajima and Tom Watanabe end up hiring Varona for their debt collecting business. Paths cross and trouble brews as the plot thickens in this complicated web of conspiracies.


We have watched Dollars leader, Mikado Ryugamine wanting to stay true to his ideals, meeting and having new friends along the way.

But since Mikado has become the temporary leader of the Blue Squares, many are starting to see a change in him.  What is going on with Mikado?

Meanwhile, Russian assassin Vorona has tried many times to defeat and kill Shizuo Heiwajima.  Having failed, what happens when Shizuo and Tom Tanaka hire Vorona for their debt collection agency?  And why is little Akane jealous?

And how far will Namie Yagiri, Chief of Yagiri Pharmaceuticals go to stop Mika Harima from being close to her brother Seiji?

And there is a sicko who has been stalking, idol Ruri Hijiribe.  Who is this guy?

Find out what happens in “Durarara!! x2 vol. 3” now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Aniplex!

What is “Durarara!!” all about?

Back in 2004, light novelist Ryohgo Narita, who won a Gold Prize in the 9th Dengeki Novel Prize for “Baccano!” returned with “Durarara!!” and teaming up with illustrator Suzuhito Yasuda (known for his video game work “Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor”).

With a total of eight volumes published in Japan by ASCII Media Works (ala their Dengeki Bunko imprint), a manga adaptation would be created by Akiyo Satorigi and published in the shonen magazine “Monthly GFantasy” in 2009. The popularity of Narita’s works, especially with “Baccano!” would lead to an 26-episode animate adaptation of “Durarara!!” in January 2010 and an ongoing series in 2015 titled “Durarara!! x2”.

The anime production for “Durarara!! x2” is now by Shuka (first series was by Brains Base) and the series is directed by Takahiro Omori (“Aruna”, “Gakuen Alice”, “Kuragehime”, “Zoku Natsume Yujin-Cho”) with series composition/script by Noboru Takagi (“Baccano!”, “C”, “Koi Kaze”). Character design is by Takahiro Kishida (“Cheburashka Arere”, “Dragon Half”, “Ninja Cadets”) and art direction by Akira Ito (“Elfen Lied”, “Shadow Star Narutaru”, “Street Fighter Alpha”).

The series features an ensemble cast and their experience living in Ikebukuro, Tokyo but how their storylines are somewhat connected to each other.

Mikado Ryugamine is a young man who transfers to school from a small country town to the big city in Tokyo and his childhood friend Masaomi tries to show him the ropes of Ikebukuro, which can be dangerous as color gangs have corrupted the city.

Before the yellow scarves were the dominant gang and now on top of the gangs are a mysterious group known as the Dollars, with a leader that no one knows about, all that is known is that members are chosen and are hooked up through the Internet. But recently, there have been several deaths causes by a murderer dubbed “The Slasher” and also rumors of a headless woman riding a motorcycle.

In “Durara!! x 2” Volume 3 (episodes 13-18), chaos continues in Ikebukuro as people pretending to be Dollars are attacking innocent people.  Meanwhile, Namie wants to take her revenge on Mika.

Meanwhile, Russian assassin Vorona has tried many times to defeat and kill Shizuo Heiwajima.  Having failed, what happens when Shizuo and Tom Tanaka hire Vorona for their debt collection agency?   And why would she want to help out her enemy? And why is little Akane so jealous of Vorona?

And there is a crazed maniac who has been stalking, idol Ruri Hijiribe.  Who is this guy?


The main characters of “Durarara!! x2” are:

  • Mikado Ryugamine – A first year high schooler who moves to Ikebukuro, Tokyo after his childhood friend Masaomi had invited him. A shy guy, Mikado is trying to learn the ropes and restart his life. He becomes a class rep and starts to follow for the female class rep, Anri and because his friend Masaomi also likes her, it becomes a bit of an interesting love triangle. Mikado just wants to change and not be normal.
  • Masaomi Kida – Mikado’s childhood friend. He seems very over-confident with girls, when actually he is not good at it. Also, he has a mysterious backgrounds and something happened to a girl he knew… Like Mikado, he also likes Anri.
  • Anri Sonohara – A girl who wears glasses and is a class rep. She is shy and timid and hangs out with Mikado and Masaomi.
  • Celty Sturluson – A headless rider who is looking for her lost head. Celty is a Dullahan from Ireland (a headless woman) who has black smoke coming out of her body. Despite being depicted as monster and killer during the old days, she has been taken in by doctor Shinra Kishitani and carries out missions. Despite not having true emotions, she feels love towards Shinra but unable to understand the feelings that she has due to not having any living DNA.
  • Shinra Kishitani – A underground doctor who lives with Celty. His father was the first to operate on Celty (in exchange of giving her a place to stay) and even was given a chance to learn how to do surgery at the age of 4. He works for corporations underground in trying to help them remove memories from people. He is also in love with Celty and is able to understand her emotions despite her not having a head. He also a childhood friend of Shizuo and Kasuka.
  • Izaya Orihara – Known as the information broker. He sells information and likes to start trouble or loves to examine human’s when they are conflicted. He is a master of using a knife and causes problems for Shizuo Heiwajima.
  • Shizuo Heiwajima – A blonde guy with a very short temper who wears a bartender suit and has enormous power. He can take a lot of pain and it is not known how he is able to have enormous strength and to heal from major injuries. He is friends with Celty, his brother Kasuka (who goes by Yuuhei Hanejima) is a popular actor in Japan and if there is anything he hates more than anything, it is Izaya Orihara. Izaya’s presence makes his blood boil so much that he ends up destroying property around him.
  • Simon Brezhnev – A Black Russian who works outside a Russian sushi restaurant. He is known for his great strength.
  • Kyohei Kadota – Also, known as “Dotachin” (a nickname that he hates), he is a member of the Dollars and leader of his group of friends which include Walker, Eri and Saburo.
  • Walker Yumasaki – A carefree otaku and manga fan who hangs out with Eri. A member of the Dollars and hangs out with Dotachin.
  • Eri Karisawa – An otaku and close friend of Walker, a member of the Dollars and Kadota’s group.
  • Saburo Togusa – A member of the Dollars and Kyohei’s driver.
  • Seiji Yagiri – A classmate of Mikado’s. He quit school to be with Mika but in truth, he is obsessed with the severed head of Celty’s that was put on Mika.
  • Namie Yagiri -The older sister of Seiji. A chief of Yagiri Pharmaceuticals and regrets introducing her younger brother to Celty’s head and for his obsession with it. She appears to also have feelings for her younger brother. She is also responsible for the human experimentation going on in the city.
  • Mika Harima – Anri’s good friend who, for some reason, has Celty’s head. She was Seiji’s stalker and now lover. Namie wants to get her revenge on Mika because Seiji just wants to be with her fulltime. Meanwhile, Celty is looking for her (because she has her head).
  • Kasuka Heiwajima – Shizuo Heiajima’s younger brother.
  • Ruri Hijiribe – An idol singer with a mysterious past.
  • Aoba Kuronuma – A mysterious 1st year student at Raira Academy and what is his connection to the Blue Square gang?
  • Shingen Kishitani – Shingen is the father of Shinra who wears a gas mask.
  • Mairu Orihara – Youngest sister of Izaya and twin sister of Kururi. Wears glasses.
  • Kururi Orihara – Youngest sister of Izaya and twin ster of Mairu.
  • Akane Awakusu – Daughter of Mikiya and granddaughter of Dougen.  Not aware her family is a powerful yakuza group.
  • Mizuki Akabayashi – A.k.a. “Red Demon”, a high-ranking member of the Awakusu Family.

VIDEO:

“Durarara!! x 2” is presented in 1080p High Definition. I praised the first season’s animation and character design as Brain’s Base really put everything they had into the series. With Shuka now in charge, there is not much divergence because nearly the same crew behind the first series, is back for the second.  Vibrant animation can be seen throughout the series thus far.

“Durara!! x 2” continues to feature great character design and wonderful art backgrounds. Art director Akira Ito and crew continues to do a magnificent job in capturing the look and feel of Ikebukuro, Tokyo. There is a slight difference in quality but Shuka did a good job.

AUDIO:

“Durarara!! x 2” is presented only with a Japanese and English Linear PCM Stereo 2.0 soundtrack. Both Japanese and English soundtracks are well-acted and with that being said, dialogue and music is crystal clear through the front channels.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Durarara!! x 2” vol. 3 comes with no special features.

EXTRAS:

“Durarara!! x 2” comes with a slipcase with an illustration Takahiro Kishida (Character Design), six collectible postcards, a 16-page deluxe booklet.


The craziness in Ikebukuro continues with the release of “Durarara!! x 2”!

And I personally like the story shift that we are starting to see with episodes 13-18.

For one, you get a good combination of action, humor and a dark storyline.

The episodes kick off with the crazy Namie Yagiri learning about Seiji and Mika and going crazy about it and wanting to take revenge against Mika for spending too much time with her brother.

The next episodes are more humor and action-oriented as Vorona ends up joining the debt collection agency that Tom and Shizuo runs.  And having seen Vorona try over and over to kill Shizuo Heiwajima, it’s interesting to see her now join them (of course, she looks at it as gaining intel, but could it be that she’s starting to admire his strength?).  Of course, little Akane is jealous as she wants to be the person to kill Shizuo, even though she adores him.

And the other episodes is in relation to Ruri and her stalker.  Her stalker is strong, sadistic and has a thing about eating and licking Ruri’s photos.  So, it will be interesting to see what kind of a foe he ends up being for Ruri and her friends. But from the look of his overall design, you have no doubt, he is going to be a crazy antagonist.

Meanwhile, there is an interesting storyline as others worry about Mikado and how he has changed as a person.  Mikado played such a big role in the first season, but he is going through this darker transformation that makes you wonder if this good-natured guy is slowly being consumed by something much darker.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see in future episodes.

As for the Blu-ray release, the original crew is back but while produced by Shuka, overall quality for the series is still good. Colors are vibrant in HD and you get an LPCM 2.0 Japanese and English soundtrack. Once again, the English dub for “Durarara!!” is awesome and very well-done. I was enjoying the Japanese soundtrack but after watching the English dub track, everything fits and each voice actor that was cast is perfect for the role they play.

Unfortunately, no special features in this latst volume but you also get the Aniplex swag of six postcards and a deluxe 16-page booklet as well.

Overall, “Durarara!! x2” is becoming more interesting as the series continues.  Some may find the large cast of characters to be a bit much, but similar to other series with large casts (ie. “Bleach”, “Naruto”), these characters do tie-in to the storyline and you really can’t miss an episode because of that.

But it’s a series that you need to stick with it, watch the storyline gradually reveal itself from episode to episode and you’ll start to realize how awesome “Durarara!! x2” really is!

Recommended!

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 Tolernace – (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 Messenger (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

themessenger

“The Messenger” is a visually thrilling documentary with an urgent message of why we should be aware of the depletion of the population of birds around the world.   Recommended!

Images courtesy of © SONGBIRDSSOS PRODUCTIONS INC. & FILMS. 2016 Kino Lorber Inc. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Messenger

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 90 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1 Original Aspect Ratio, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: N/A

Release Date: March 3, 2016


Directed by Su Rynard

Story/Written by Su Rynard

Co-Written by Sally Blake

Executive Produced/Produced by Sally Blake, Martin de la Fouchardiere, Joanne Jackson, Su Rynard, Diane Woods

Music by Philip Strong

Cinematography by Amar Arhab, Laurent Charbonnier, Daniel Grant

Edited by Sally Blake, Carole Larsen, Eamonn O’Connor


For thousands of years, songbirds were regarded by mankind as messengers from the gods. Today, these creatures woven inextricably into the fabric of our environment are vanishing at an alarming rate. Under threat from climate change, pesticides and more, populations of hundreds of species have dipped dramatically. As scientists, activists and bird enthusiasts investigate this phenomenon, amazing secrets of the bird world come to light for the first time in the acclaimed and visually thrilling documentary The Messenger. Find out what s killing our songbirds, and what can be done about it. As in ancient times, songbirds may once again be carrying a message to humans one that we ignore at our own peril.


From director and writer Su Rynard comes her 2015 documentary film “The Messenger”.

A look at why the population of songbirds throughout the world are depleting and why this is problematic to humans and the world.  And what some countries are trying to do to protect them.

And now “The Messenger” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

In “The Messenger”, Su Rynard shows our connection to birds and their uncertain fate might mirror our own.

Considering that birds are humankind’s early warning system, for thousands of years, humans have looked at birds to foretell the future.  From the coming of storms, the change of season and more, from man-made structures, pesticides, trapping to even cats, have led to the depletion of the population of songbirds.  Many birds who have become extinct since the 1960’s.

Featuring research that explores the Boreal Forest, the wetlands in Mount Ararat, the streets of New York City, Canada, France and more, we start to learn of how a mass depletion of songbirds on multiple continents are taking place and why it should be taken seriously.


VIDEO:

“The Messenger” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:78:1 aspect ratio). Featuring video footage from multiple locatons throughout the world, picture quality is vibrant, featuring amazing detail but what is amazing is the use of technology in order to capture video and images of songbirds in flight, courtesy of the scientists at Western University’s unique Avian research facility, AFAR.

Despite a small crew using a Phantom camera and a series of prime lenses, the film crew were able to capture wonderful images of these songbirds.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Messenger” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD.  Dialogue is crystal clear, as the sounds of the bird and surrouding environments which were well-captured.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Messenger” comes with the following special features:

  • Behind-the-Scenes Featurette – (4:45) How the Messenger film crew were able to film the birds at Western University’s Advanced Facility for Avian Research.
  • A Coffee Primer for Birds and People – (3:33) A connection with birds and coffee.
  • Deleted Scene – (6:07) A deleted scene on checking out woodthrush nests and their eggs and trying to find out who the predators are and there dwindling population.
  • Interview with Director Su Rynard – (8:49) An interview with director Su Rynard.
  • Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “The Messenger”.

EXTRAS:

“The Messenger” comes a ten page booklet which includes information about the film, information from the director and the press the film has received.


Whether or not you appreciate birds or not, the dwindling population of various bird species is important to know and perhaps be aware of, in hopes to preserve the populations.

And for those who need to know why it is important, one can look back in the late ’50s.

What many may not be familiar with is “The Great Sparrow Campaign” that took place in China between 1958-1962, which was a goal to eliminate mosquitoes, flies, rats and sparrows.

The reason why the birds were eliminated was because the birds ate grain sees and it was thought that the birds were robbing from the people.  So, sparrows and other birds were shot, eggs were broken, nestlings were killed and citizens kept banging pots and pans, drums in order to scare the birds from landing and they eventually died of exhaustion.

But by 1960, Chinese leaders realized that the birds were important because they ate the insects and unfortunately, the locust population grew increasingly and swarmed the country and helped in ushering the Great Chinese Famine, which would to 20 million people dying of starvation.

With Su Rynard’s “The Messenger”, her inspiration of creating the film was due to the dwindling of populations and not seeing or hearing the birds that was part of her childhood.

Her and the crew would research of why the songbirds have disappeared and the reasons were troubling but at the same time, we learn how much of the problem is manmade.

Many of us have seen birds head straight to the windows and die.  Birds see the windows which reflect foliage and the sky and so they fly directly into it.  Up to 1 billion birds die from window strikes in the US alone, can you imagine worldwide?

While some countries have taken action and using special windows, many countries have not done anything and so the problems of birth deaths continue.

Of course, with pesticides, many birds are dying because of the chemicals mixed in water and what they drink.

Another is cats, a predator of birds and while it is recommended to keep cats indoors, many of us know that owners simply don’t do it.

While Rynard and crew are able to showcase many reasons of why there are dwindling populations, some may be surprised of the death of ortolans.  Birds that French have eaten for decades, but despite the French government enforcing ignored laws to protect the birds (ortolan hunting has been banned in France since 1999), many continue to hunt and eat them.

Many may also be surprised to find out the importance of birds their relation to coffee.  With many areas using harmful pesticides to coffee that run into streams and rivers, billions of pounds of the noxious chemicals are injected into natural ecosystems that support wildlife and communities.

And so there are coffee companies who are taking a step forward with their coffee by showing a “Bird Friendly certification” as a prerequisite if they are going for organic certification.

So, by purchasing coffee with the bird friendly label or even requesting your supermarket to carry it, goes a long way in the preservation of birds.

The Blu-ray release of “The Messenger” is vibrant with great detail.  Lossless audio of dialogue, bird sounds and ambiance was crystal clear.  But I was impressed with how the film crew captured the birds in flight.  Working with Western University’s Avian research facility, AFAR, Rynard and crew were able to capture these songbirds in flight with efficacy. There was great care in making sure how these birds were filmed and it’s good to see this in the special features.

If there is one thing that I’m proud of “The Messenger” is that it builds awareness and how one can make a difference.

It’s important to note that Rynard also shows the other side to the equation, for example, why there are those who capture ortolans and eat them.  And why there are those who risk their lives to stop these hunters.

If anything, the documentary does a great job of delivering an urgent message to viewers and one can hope that many will learn from the film and take action.

Overall, “The Messenger” is a visually thrilling documentary with an urgent message of why we should be aware of the depletion of the population of birds around the world.   Recommended!

The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 13, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

kennedyfilms-a

An intimate portrayal not typical of documentaries of its time, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” will be remembered for its groundbreaking documentary style and filmmaking.  And is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © Drew Associates Inc. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808

YEAR OF FILM: Primary (1960), Adventures of the New Frontier (1961), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963), Faces of November (1964)

DURATION: Primary (53 Minutes), Adventures of the New Frontier (52 Minutes), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (53 Minutes), Faces of November (12 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Monaural LPCM 1.0

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2016


Primary (1960)

Directed by Robert Drew

Written by Robert Drew

Produced by Robert Drew

Cinematography by Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles

Adventures on the New Frontier (1961)

Directed by Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker, Kenneth Stilson

Executive Produced by Robert Drew

Produced by Bo Goldman

Edited by Robert Farren, Peggy Lawson, Larry Moyer, Anita Posner

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

Directed by Robert Drew

Executive Producer: Robert Drew

Producer: Gregory Shuker

Faces of November (1964)

Directed by Robert Drew


Starring:

Primary (1961)

Robert Drew

Hubert H. Humphrey

Joseph Julian as Narrator (voice)

Jacqueline Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Adventures on the New Frontier (1961)

McGeorge Bundy

Paul B. Fay Jr.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Arthur Goldberg

Richard Goodwin

Albert Gore Sr.

Walter W. Heller

Hubert H. Humphrey

Joseph Julian

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Jacqueline Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Evelyn Lincoln

John J. McCloy

Kenneth P. O’Donnell

Pierre Salinger

Haile Selassie

Theodore Sorensen

John Steinbeck

Gerhard Mennen Williams

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963)

John F. Kennedy

George Wallace

Robert F. Kennedy

Vivian Malone 

James Hood

Michael LeMoyne Kennedy

Burke Marshall

Nicholas Katzenbach

John Dore

Jack Greenberg

Creighton Williams Abrams

Kerry Kennedy

Peyton Norville

Henry Graham

Dave McGlathery

James Lipcomb (Narrator)

Faces of November (1964)

Lyndon Johnson

Caroline Kennedy

John Kennedy Jr.

Peter Lawford


Seeking to invigorate the American documentary format, which he felt was rote and uninspired, Robert Drew brought the style and vibrancy he had fostered as a Life magazine correspondent to filmmaking in the late fifties. He did this by assembling an amazing team—including such eventual nonfiction luminaries as Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker, and Albert Maysles—that would transform documentary cinema. In 1960, the group was granted direct access to John F. Kennedy, filming him on the campaign trail and eventually in the Oval Office. This resulted in three films of remarkable, behind-closed-doors intimacy—Primary, Adventures on the New Frontier, and Crisis—and, following the president’s assassination, the poetic short Faces of November. Collected here are all four of these titles, early exemplars of the movement known as Direct Cinema and featuring the greatest close-up footage we have of this American icon.


kennedyfilms-b

When it comes to American documentaries, Robert Lincoln Drew is considered a pioneer of the genre.

Also called the father of “cinema verite” (a.k.a. “Direct Cinema”), Drew said in a 1962 interview that he wanted to create “a form of documentary that would ‘drop word logic and find a dramatic logic in which things really happened’.  It would be ‘a theater without actors; it would be plays without playwrights; it would be reporting without summary and opinion; it would be the ability to look in on people’s lives at crucial times from which you could deduce certain things and see a kind of truth that can only be gotten from personal experience.”

Drew would recruit filmmakers with the same view to crew Drew Associates” which included filmmakers Richard Leacock (“Queen of Apollo”, “A Stravinsky Portrait”, “Lulu in Berlin”), D.A. Pennebaker (“Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back”, “The War Room”, “Monterey Pop”), Terence Macartney-Filgate (“Lewis Mumford on the City”, “Blood and Fire”, “Vladimir Nabokov”) and Albert Maysles (“Grey Gardens”, “Gimme Shelter”, “Salesman”).

Among Robert Drew and his associates most famous works were focused on President John F. Kennedy and the Criterion Collection will bring four of his films on Blu-ray titled “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates”.

The first is titled “Primary” and is a 1960 Direct Cinema documentary film about the Wisconsin primary election between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey for the United States Democratic Party nomination for the President of the United States.  The film was directed by Robert Drew and shot by Richard Leacock and Albert Maysles and edited by D.A. Pennebaker.

This documentary was seen as a major breakthrough in documentary film style as it gave viewers much more intimacy thanks to the use of mobile cameras and lighter sound equipment.

And the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1990 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The second documentary featured is “Adventures on the New Frontier” which gave a rare and candid glimpse inside the Oval Office and follows John F. Kennedy on his daily work routine.  The film was aired on ABC television as part of its “Close-Up!” series in 1961.

The third documentary “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” centered on the University of Alabama’s “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” integration crisis and focused on President John F. Kennedy, attorney general Robert F. Kennedy, Alabama governor George Wallace, deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach and students Vivian Malone and James Hood.  Wallace would do what he can to block the two black students from enrolling in the university, while the JFK administration discusses on the best way to react to Wallace’s promise.  The documentary was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress” in 2011 as it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The fourth documentary is “Faces of November” and is a 12-minute short film covering the Kennedy’s state funeral and capturing the family mourning but also the many people mourning the death of JFK.


VIDEO:

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” is presented in 1:33:1 aspect ratio in black and white and presented in 1080p High Definition. The film looks amazing as the picture quality is well-contrast in some footage, but with different film sources, picture quality differs from scene-to-scene.  But for the most part, black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are sharp and the film looks fantastic in HD!

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner.  ‘Primary’ and ‘Cris’ were created from Academy Film Archive – preserved 16mm fine-grain positives; ‘Adventures on the New Frontier’ from an Academy Film Archive – preserved 16 mm fine-grain positive; and ‘Faces of November’ from the original 16mm A/B camera negative.  Preservation of the three Academy Film Archive fine-grain positives was done by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in collaboration with The Film Foundation.  2K digital restoration was undertaken by the Criterion Collection.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, jitter and flicker.”

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” is presented in English monaural LPCM 1.0.  Dialogue is clear without any buzzing, hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit.  ‘Primary’ was remastered from a 16mm magnetic track; ‘Adventures of the New Frontier’ from a 16mm optical soundtrack print; ‘Faces of November’ from a 35mm optical soundtrack print; and ‘Crisis’ from the original 35mm soundtrack negative.  Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX 4”.

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” comes with the following special features:

  • Robert Drew in His Own Words – (34:13) Featuring multiple interviews with filmmaker Robert Drew to present a portrait of the man who conceived a new way of creating nonfiction cinema, then marshaled an amazing array of talent to realize his vision.
  • Jill Drew and D.A. Pennebaker – (26:22) Drew Associates general manager Jill Drew interviews D.A. Pennebaker and his working relationship with Robert Drew and the joys and challenges of filming the President of the United States.
  • Andrew Cohen on Crisis and Its Outtakes– (46:24) Historian Andrew Cohen, author of “Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History” discusses what was and what was not included in the film.
  • Sharon Malone and Eric Holder – (26:16) Sharon Malone, sister of Vivian Malone (the female student in “Crisis”) and her husband, former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder, discuss the film and her sister’s place in history.
  • Richard Reeves – (27:13) Historian Richard Reeves, author of “President Kennedy: Profile of Power” discusses JFK’s primary campaign and the inner workings of his White House.
  • Drew Associates at the Museum of Tolerance – (26:41) In October 1998, at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences premiered restorations of Drew Associates’ Kennedy films.

EXTRAS:

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates – The Criterion Collection #808” comes with a 28-page booklet with the essay “Capturing the Kennedys” by Thom Powers.


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The Criterion Collection is best known for their dedication in bringing out titles to the masses, films which are important classic and contemporary films.

“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” is a collection of several films by American documentarian Robert Drew and his fellow filmmakers who had their own respective careers in filmmaking: Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles, D.A. Pennebaker and Kenneth Stilson.

Robert Drew is looked at as the pioneer for Cinema Verite and his crew were known for bringing an intimacy towards its subjects that has never before been seen in a non-fiction film.

In “Primary”, viewers get to see the behind-the-scenes Democratic primary between John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey; “Adventures on a New Frontier” featuring a day-in-the-life of President John F. Kennedy in the oval office; “Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment” which prominently features President JFK’s brother Robert F. Kennedy as we see the strategy of Governor George Wallace trying to prevent two Black students from getting an education at the University of Alabama and RFK and staff doing what they can to counter him.  It’s quite fascinating to watch the two differing perspectives.

For “Faces of November”, the video is short footage capturing family and friends of the Kennedy’s and the many people (of all ages, of all races) who are mourning President Kennedy.

The collection of these four films are no doubt early examples of Direct Cinema but the significance of what Robert Drew and his crew were able to accomplish was magnificent.  And to know that the other talents who were part of Drew Associates, would go on to create big things for their own respective careers.

Leacock, Maysles, Pennebaker and Stilson were documentary legends in their own right and people love and respect their work in the present.

The Blu-ray release features very good picture quality, despite the difference of scenes showing better clarity.  The monaural LPCM 1.0 soundtrack is clear with no signs of hiss.  And special features are captivating as Criterion Collection did a remarkable job in paying tribute to Robert Drew and his associates.

As a person who is fascinated by John F. Kennedy’s life and presidency, it’s great to see a collection that pays tribute to the legendary filmmaker Robert Drew, his crew of talented filmmakers but most of all bringing together these four Kennedy films to a new generation of audiences who may be familiar with John F. Kennedy but want to see these politicians in their true natural state.

An intimate portrayal not typical of documentaries of its time, “The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” will be remembered for its groundbreaking documentary style and filmmaking.  And is highly recommended!

Ip Man 3 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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“Ip Man 3” features drama and action but is less about Ip Man taking on challenges alone, but also learning in life of what is important and what in life is worth fighting for. If you enjoyed the first two films, “Ip Man 3” is worth checking out!

Images courtesy of © 2015 Pegasus Motion Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Ip Man 3

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 105 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Cantonese, English, Spanish and French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English subtitles

COMPANY: Well Go USA Entertainment

RATED: PG-13

Release Date: April 19, 2016


Directed by Wilson Yip

Written by Tai-Li Chan, Lai-yin Leung, Edmond Wong

Produced by Zheng Xu

Cinematography by Xiofei Song

Costume Design by Cho Ting Chung


Starring:

Donnie Yen as Ip Man

Lynn Hung as Cheung Wing-sing

Jin Zhang as Cheung Tin-chi

Mike Tyson as Frank

Patrick Tam as Ma King-Sang

Karena Ng as Miss Wong

Kai-Chung Cheung as Chui Lek

Kent Cheng as Fatso

Ka-Yan Leung as Master Tin

Kwok-Kwan Chan as Bruc Lee

Xiao Long Li as Ching

Sung Man Ban as David

Wang Yan Shi as Ip Ching


Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2) ignites the screen in a return to the role that made him an icon – as Ip Man, the real-life Wing Chun grandmaster who mentored Bruce Lee. In this explosive third installment of the blockbuster martial arts series, when a band of brutal gangsters led by a crooked property developer (Mike Tyson) make a play to take over the city, Master Ip is forced to take a stand. Fists will fly as some of the most incredible fight scenes ever filmed play out on the big screen.


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With the enormous success of the previous two “Ip Man” films starring Donnie Yen, the third film features a return to the drama of the first film and the action of the second.

Director Wilson Yip returns to direct the third film, Donnie Yen (“Hero”, “Blade II”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, “Shanghai Knights”) reprises his role as Ip Man and Lynn Hung (“My Sassy Girl 2”, “All’s well, Ends Well 2010”) reprises her role as Ip Man’s wife, Cheung Wing-sing.  The film also stars Jin Zhang (“Kill Zone 2”, “The Grandmaster”, “The Bounty”), boxing legend Mike Tyson (“The Hangover”, “The Hangover Part II”), Patrick Tam (“Zu Warriors”, “Port of Call”, “The Merger”), Karena Ng (“Magic to Win”, “Hotel Deluxe”, “All’s Well, Ends Well 2012”), Kent Cheung (“Crime Story”, “Once Upon a Time in China”, “Ip Man 2”) and Kwok-Kwan Chan (“Shaolin Soccer”, “Kung Fu Hustle”, “The Legend of Bruce Lee”).

The film is set in 1959 and Ip Man is a popular Wing Chun teacher and living with his wife Cheung Wing-sing.  His eldest son Ip Chun has went to Foshan to study, while his youngest Ip Ching lives with them.

The film begins with a young Bruce Lee (portrayed by Kwok-Kwan Chan) asking Ip Man to become one of his students and demonstrate how quick he is.  Ip Man tells the young man to come back.

Meanwhile at school, young Ip Ching is fighting with his classmate Cheung Fung.  Both are disciplined but as Ip Man is late to pick up his son, he tells the school that he will take both boys and Cheung Fung can pick his son up at his home.

Cheung Fung is surprised to see that Ip Ching’s father also has a wooden dummy to practice his Wing Chun martial arts.  When Ip Man asks Cheung Fung who his mentor is, he mentions his father, Cheung Tin-chi (portrayed by Jin Zhang), who works as a rickshaw operator.

Cheung Tin-chi learned from another master taught by Ip Man’s master, but both have different perspectives on how to utilize their Wing Chun.  Cheung Tin-chi who wants to build his own school as the true Wing Chun school one day.

Cheung Tin-chi helps pay the bills by also participating in a black market boxing match and so far, he is undefeated.  The organizer is a local triad leader named Ma King-sang (portrayed by Patrick Tam), who works for American property developer and boxer, Frank (portrayed by Mike Tyson).

Frank wants a piece of land occupied by the local school which both Ip Ching and Cheung Fung attend.  When Ma King-sang and his gang try to assault the school headmaster, he is saved by Ip Man who quickly beats the men.

The men try to show their power towards the school the following day by trying to lock up the school but once the school breaks the locks, Ma King-sang sends many of his men to kidnap the headmaster and immediately, Ip Man and his class fend off the gang, with the help of Cheung Tin-chi.

Meanwhile as Ip Man tries to defend the school from thugs, he is unaware that his wife Cheung Wing-sing wishes he is home more often. But also that she is very ill.

Ip Man must prepare for upcoming challenges that lie ahead.


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VIDEO:

“Ip Man 3” is presented in 1080p High Definition and shot in 2:35:1.  It’s important to note that the film was originally shown in theaters in 3D but for the most part, close-ups on facial features and clothing show amazing detail.  The film looks natural with a cooler setting with no issues of artifacts or banding.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Ip Man 3” is presented in Cantonese, English, French and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and features a lossless soundtrack that has crystal clear dialogue, music and offers a good amount of surround sound for crowd ambiance and action scenes. Also, good use for the surround channels during the action sequences.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Ip Man 3” comes with the following special features:

  • Making Of – Featuring two short making of featurettes: Story (2:29) and Action (2:52)
  • Interviews – Featuring interviews with Donnie Yen (6:04), Mike Tyson (7:27), Donnie Yen and Mike Tyson for the “Ip Man Press Day” (5:27) and Director Wilson Yip (9:05)
  • Behind-the-Scenes – (2:19) Short behind-the-scenes from “Ip Man 3”.
  • Trailers –  Teaser, Theatrical trailer and International Trailer for “Ip Man 3”.

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After watching the first “Ip Man” film, I immediately realized that the film was one of my favorite martial arts films I have seen probably in the last decade, possibly within the last 15 years.

The film was loosely based on Yip Kai-Man, a Chinese martial arts master who taught Wing Chun and one of his famous students who became a teacher was legendary martial arts film actor Bruce Lee.

The first film showcased Ip Man’s (played by Donnie Yen) Wing Chun style of martial arts which was well-revered in his hometown of Foshan.

Married and living a good life teaching Wing Chun, life changed miserably after the Japanese occupied the area during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Chinese spirits were demoralized as Chinese were killed by Japanese, homes and possessions were lost and Chinese were forced to live in poverty without any food. This includes the well-respected Ip Man and his family.

In the first film, many Chinese martial artists were pit against a Japanese military leader or Japanese soldiers in fighting competitions to show which country had the best martial arts.

For many Chinese martial artists, not only was it to defend their country but it was their way of getting food to bring home to their family but while some were able to bring food home, many were killed for no reason.

Having seen enough of the injustice, Ip Man has no choice but to fight against Miura in a final battle.

The film ends with Ip Man and his family being rescued by his friend, businessman Zhou Qing Quan (played by Simon Yam) who will try to escape with Ip Man to Hung Kong.

“Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster” begins with flashbacks from the first film and showing us that their friend Zhou Qing Quan was shot in the head by a Japanese soldier.

The film then focuses on Ip Man as he tries to gain the respect of the local martial arts masters of Hung Kong, especially Master Hung who leads the group that allows martial artists to have their own school.

Ip Man must now take on the other martial artists and Master Hung in competition but with hostilities between Ip Man’s students and Hung’s students at an all time high, will the two become friends or enemies?

Also, unbeknown to the local Hung Kong martial artists, an arrogant British champion boxer named Taylor “The Twister” Milos (played by Darren Shahlavi) is wanting to test Western Boxing againstChinese martial arts.

But the local martial artists quickly realized that Twister is a savage beast in the boxing ring and is insulting to the Chinese
people and Chinese martial arts.

I criticized the second film for straying away from what made the first film so magnificent and also straying away from the family dynamic between Ip Man and his wife.

The third film is a mashup of both.  The drama featuring a wife who wants her husband to pay more attention to her and the family rather than his school and his duty but Ip Man learning not martial arts, but what is more important to him.

Of course, “Ip Man” films are always action-driven and this film features plenty of action choreography as Ip Man takes on many thugs, a fight with Frank, portrayed by Iron Mike Tyson.  But a battle of the two Wing Chun masters on who’s Wing Chun is the best.

The first “Ip Man” film was magnificent because it was slightly based on true events and also the time period between China vs. Japan, while the second film featured the battle between two martial arts film legends, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung.  But it strayed too far from the first film’s concept, was more popcorn action and was average at best.

The third film tries its best to balance drama and action and while the drama was the film’s most endearing moments, the action in this film was good but lacked substance when compared to the first film.  And it’s tough because that first film raised the bar for quality storytelling and action.  Action with substance and their was true meaning.

For me, “Ip Man 3” tries very hard to appeal to people of all ages and where the first film was able to taking things far in terms of story and action but also a strong feeling of dread, these last two films felt diluted.  In “Ip Man 3”,  if thugs had kidnapped Ip Man’s son, I don’t think they would have failed with hundreds of people fighting Ip Man to make a statement or make him feel desperate enough to save his son.

Every action scene felt too safe for its own good. And while the film is action-packed, the first “Ip Man” film still blows it out of the water in terms of storytelling, action and characters.  The first film made us root for Ip Man to defeat the antagonist, for the third film, the antagonists never really posed too much of a threat to Ip Man.

While Mike Tyson is a big antagonist in terms of character, he’s only a small part of the film and that is a good thing.

The true battle of “Ip Man 3” is between Donnie Yen’s Ip Man and Jin Zhang’s Cheung Tin-chi and unfortunately, the film’s build-up doesn’t make us care too much about his character, which is fine, but it doesn’t make us vilify or hate him.  Perhaps if he was a true antagonist, we can root for Ip Man but unlike the first film where the antagonist was of true evil, Cheung Tin-chi is a man that is just full of ego and because it’s an “Ip Man” film, we know how the film will end.

But the true story of “Ip Man 3” is the relationship between Ip Man and his wife, Cheung Wing-sing who is severely ill.  We watched this couple take on challenges in the first two films but this is a challenge that many of us who have lost a love one to cancer, unfortunately knows too well (especially before technological advances) on how this will end.

Donnie Yen does a great job of playing the well-disciplined Ip Man, but it was great to see director Wilson Yipp give actress Lynn Hung a much juicier role in which she is able to showcase her emotions with true efficacy.

The Blu-ray release is very good, as the film shows great detail in HD.  The lossless soundtrack also utilizes the action sequences and ambiance very well and you get a few (short) special features as well.

Overall, “Ip Man 3” features drama and action but is less about Ip Man taking on challenges alone, but also learning in life of what is important and what in life is worth fighting for. If you enjoyed the first two films, “Ip Man 3” is worth checking out!

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!

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

starwars-7

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” on Blu-ray is a five-star release.  “Star Wars” fans who loved this seventh film, the videophiles and audiophiles will no doubt love watching the film on Blu-ray.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2016 & TM Lucasfilm Ltd LLC.


TITLE: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 136 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 2:40:1 Aspect Ratio, English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Language Tracks, Subtitles: English SDH, French and Spanish

COMPANY: Disney

RATED: PG-13 (For Sci-Fi Action Violence)

Release Date: April 5, 2016


Based on the Characters by George Lucas

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt

Produced by J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Bryan Burk

Executive Producer: Tommy Harper, Jason D. McGatlin

Associate Producer: Michael Arndt

Co-Producer: Tomy Gormley, Michelle Rejwan, Ben Rosenblatt, John Swartz

Music by John Williams

Cinematography by Daniel Mindel

Edited by Maryann Brandon

Casting by Nina Gold, April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg

Production Design by Rick Carter, Darren Gilford

Set Decoration by Lee Sandales

Costume Design by Michael Kaplan


Starring:

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren

Daisy Ridley as Rey

John Boyega as Finn

Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron

Lupita Noyong’o as Maz Kanata

Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke

Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux

Anthony Daniels as C-3P0

Max von Sydow as Lor San Tekka

Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca

Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma

Simon Pegg as Unkar Plutt


Visionary director J.J. Abrams brings to life the motion picture event of a generation. As Kylo Ren and the sinister First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing when the galaxy needs him most. It’s up to Rey, a desert scavenger, and Finn, a defecting stormtrooper, to join forces with Han Solo and Chewbacca in a desperate search for the one hope of restoring peace to the galaxy.


It was the one of the most anticipated films of 2015.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” was a film that no one knew what to expect after Disney purchased Lucasfilm.

A “Star Wars” without George Lucas, a teaser trailer that left people up at arms.  The announcement of J.J Abrams (“Lost”, “Mission: Impossible III”, “Star Trek”, “Super 8”) as director scared many die-hard fans.

That was until the movie premiered and positive reviews kept rolling in and the film shattered box office records, becoming the highest-grossing installment of the franchise, the highest grossing film in North America, the third highest grossing film of all time with more than $2 billion gross worldwide.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” received five Academy Award nominations and now their is high anticipation for the two sequels “Episode VIII” (2017) and “Episode IX” (2019).

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” was directed by J.J. Abrams who co-wrote the film alongside Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars” original trilogy films, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, “Inside Out”).

The film would feature the return of original trilogy cast members Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Anthony Daniels as C-3P0 and Pete Mayhew as Chewbacca.

The film would star Adam Driver (“Frances Ha”, “Inside Llewyn Davis”, “What If”), Daisy Ridley (“Lifesaver”, “Scrawl”, “Only Yesterday”), John Boyega (“Attack the Block”, “Imperial Dreams”, “My Murder”), Oscar Isaac (“Inside Llewyn Davis”, “Ex Machina”, “Drive”), Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”, “Non-Stop”), Andy Serkis (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”, “The Prestige”), Domnhall Gleeson (“Ex Machina”, “The Revenant”, “About Time”), Max von Sydow (“Minority Report”, “The Exorcist”, “Shutter Island”) and Gwendoline Christie (“The Zero Theorem”, “Game of Thrones”, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2”).

And the film will be released on Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD in April 2015.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is set 30 years after the destruction of the second Death Star.  Jedi Luke Skywalker has disappeared and a new threat known as The First Order has risen, led by their Supreme Leader Snoke (portrayed by Andy Serkis).

The Resistance is backed by the Republic and is led by General Leia Organa, who has been searching for her twin brother, Luke.

We are introduced to ace Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron (portrayed by Oscar Isaac) who has met with village elder Lor San Tekka (portrayed by Max von Sydow) on the planet Jakku.

The map of Luke Skywalker’s location is give to Poe, but when the Stormtroopers led by Kylo Ren (portrayed by Adam Driver).  Poe gives the map to his droid, BB-8 who escapes.

Meanwhile, Poe is captured and everyone in the village is slaughtered.  One stormtrooper, FN-2187 (portrayed by John Boyega) is alarmed by the killing and can’t make sense of any of it.

We are then introduced to a scavenger on Jakku named Rey (portrayed by Daisy Ridley).  Trying to find and sell parts in the desert to survive, she finds BB-8 near her home (in the junkyard).

Kylo Ren tries to get information of the whereabouts of the map from Poe Dameron using the Force and learns that his droid, BB-8 has it.  The First Order is now looking for the BB-8.

FN-2187 comes into the holding room of Poe and helps him escape, as he no longer wants to be part of the First Order.  As the two escape, Poe names FN-2187 to “Finn” but as they are outnumbered by the First Order, they are shot down.

When Finn wakes up, he can’t find Poe and thinks he may have been killed.  All he finds is Poe’s jacket, which he puts on, as he discards his Stormtrooper outfit.

As Finn wanders to Jakku, he finds the junkyard settlement and sees a young woman fighting off thieves and then sees BB-8.  As Ren and BB-8 come in contact with Finn and to find out why he is wearing Poe’s jacket, Finn tells her that he is with the Resistance and that he helped Poe escape and that Poe is dead.

But because there is a bulletin out on a BB-8 droid, the First Order is contacted and attempts to capture the droid and begins to attack Ren and Finn.

The three manage to escape and pilot the stolen, rundown ship, the Millennium Falcon.

As the three manage to defeat and escape from the First Order Tie Fighters that were after them, the Millennium Falcon breaks down and is captured.  But those who have captured it has turned out to be Han Solo and Chewbacca, who have come to reclaim their vessel.

Ren tells them that the BB-8 has information that must be given to the Resistance.  Seeing the importance of the message, Han and Chewbacca decide to help Ren and Finn reach the Resistance in any way possible, if it can help to defeat the First Order.


VIDEO:

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio). The film looks absolutely wonderful in HD with closeups showing detail of skin pigments to seeing the detail in clothing. Outdoor scenes are vibrant and the CG utilized for the film is incredible. This is reference quality video and the film on Blu-ray looks fantastic!

For the most part, I didn’t notice any problematic issues with banding or artifacts during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is presented in English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Description Audio and also on French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Also, in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital.

Dialogue is crystal clear and there is good use of surround channels as chase scenes and shots and explosions can be heard all around.  The lightsaber battles and each spacecraft battle and onground battle scenes are immersive.  Action sequences are just fantastic to listen to, dialogue and music are crystal clear and yes, like the video, the film on Blu-ray features reference lossless audio.  Fantastic!

Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” comes with the following special features on a second Blu-ray disc:

  • Secrets of the Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey – (1:09:14) Featuring a four part making-of that goes into Disney acquiring the franchise, hiring J.j. Abrams, bringing back the original cast, the use of technology for the special effects, shooting on location, the droids, the fate of a main character and the cast and crew’s thoughts of the movie.
  • The Story Awakens: The Table Read – (4:01) A table read between cast and crew.
  • Crafting Creatures – (9:34) Constructing the characters of the film and bringing them to life.
  • Building BB-8 – (6:03) A featurette about the design of BB-8 and more.
  • Blueprint of a Battle: The Snow Fight – (7:02) A featurette on the final lightsaber battle from the film.
  • ILM: The Visual Magic of the Force – (7:55) A featurette on the digital effects used in the film courtesy of ILM.
  • John Williams: The Seventh Symphony – (6:51) Featuring discussions of Williams music used for Star Wars and the music created for the film.
  • Deleted Scenes – Featuring six deleted scenes.
  • Force for Change – (3:22) The charity work contributions thanks to the film.

EXTRAS:

“The Hateful Eight” comes with a slipcover and UltraViolet code. A DVD for the film is also included.


As a huge “Star Wars” fans, like many others, I was skeptical on a new “Star Wars” film without George Lucas.

While I am quite aware of J.J. Abrams work and a good number of them that I truly enjoyed, I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a new “Star Wars” film.  I watched every film at the theater, I collected the toys and it was a strong part of my youth.  I was also aware of the written work of Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, so

But I also believe that there is always a story to be told and I was quite impressed with what J.J. Abrams and were able to put together.

Because after watching the film in the theater, it was almost the same experience I had watching “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”.

The feeling of excitement, sadness and hope and a feeling of wanting to watch the film again, because I enjoyed it tremendously.

Which leads us to the Blu-ray release of “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”.  When I watched the film for the very first time in the theater, I was mesmerized by the visual effects and how seamlessly reality and CG worked together.  The costume designs were fantastic, the overall settings were gorgeous.

And as expected, watching this film in HD is truly magnificent.  But I can only sense how much better this film would also look in 4K possibly in the near future.

The film looked crisp and vibrant, details were magnificent.  The lossless audio was immersive and knowing immediately that videophiles and audiophiles will have a film they would no doubt enjoy.

But when you combine it with a wonderful storyline that works with the “Star Wars” franchise, you can’t help but be excited for the film but also how the next generation of sci-fi fans, the next generation of “Star Wars” fans, will now have too look forward to.

Now we know J.J. Abrams is not the director for “Star Wars: Episode VIII” but I’m hoping that if they can be consistent with quality with storytelling, visual effects, audio, etc., I have no doubt that this latest trilogy can potentially be the best in the “Star Wars” franchise.

Seeing the original cast is great, but I also thought that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega did a wonderful job with this film.

And as mentioned about the Blu-ray, picture quality and lossless audio were both magnificent.  And there are also a good number of special features included on this Blu-ray release.

And while my heart will always be biased towards the amazing “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” as the best “Star Wars” film ever made, I can’t help but say that I really enjoyed this latest film!  It’s of course derivative but I absolutely was captivated by this blockbuster film and whether or not George Lucas enjoyed it or not, I know I did.

“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” on Blu-ray is a five-star release.  “Star Wars” fans who loved this seventh film, the videophiles and audiophiles will no doubt love watching the film on Blu-ray.  Highly recommended!

Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

March 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

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Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” is a brilliant film of the Italian neorealism genre and a true masterpiece of not just the genre but of cinema in general. Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1972 by Richard Feiner and Company, Inc. 2016 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374

YEAR OF FILM: 1948

DURATION: 89 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:37:1 aspect ratio, Italian Monaural with English SDH Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: March 29, 2016


Directed by Vittorio De Sica

Based on the novel by Luigi Bartolini

Story by Cesare Zavattini

Screenplay by Oreste Biancoli, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerrieri, Cesare Zavattini

Produced by Giuseppe Amato

Music by Alessandro Cicogini

Cinematography by Carlo Montuori

Edited by Eraldo Da Roma

Production Design by Antonio Traverso


Starring:

Lamberto Maggiorani as Antonio Ricci

Enzo Staiola as Bruno Ricci

Lianella Carell as Maria Ricci

Gino Saltamerenda as Baiocco


Hailed around the world as one of the greatest movies ever made, the Academy Award–winning Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio De Sica, defined an era in cinema. In poverty-stricken postwar Rome, a man is on his first day of a new job that offers hope of salvation for his desperate family when his bicycle, which he needs for work, is stolen. With his young son in tow, he sets off to track down the thief. Simple in construction and profoundly rich in human insight, Bicycle Thieves embodies the greatest strengths of the Italian neorealist movement: emotional clarity, social rectitude, and brutal honesty.


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Considered as one of the greatest films of Italian neorealism and one of the greatest films of all time, “Ladri di biciclette” (Bicycle Thieves) receives the HD treatment on Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

Directed by Vittorio De Sica (“Umberto D.”, “Indiscretion of an American Wife”, “Boccaccio ’70”), the 1948 film stars Lamberto Maggiorani (“Mamma Roma”, “Attention! Bandits!”, “Don Camillo e l’on  Peppone”), Enzo Staiola (“The Barefoot Contessa”, “Times Gone By”, “Lucky Nick Cain”), Lianella Carrell (“The Gold of Naples”, “Love and Troubles”, “Me, Me Me…and the Others”) and Gino Saltamerenda (“When Love Calls”, “The Thief of Venice”).

“Bicycle Thieves” is set in post-World War II Val Melaina in Rome.

Antonio Ricci (portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani) is down on his luck about not making any income for his family and he is becoming desperate.

One day, he is offered a job to post advertising bills, but there is one thing he needs to get the job…he must own a bicycle.

His wife Maria (portrayed by Lianella Carell) sells the family bedsheets to a pawn shop which she acquired as part of the dowry and is the family’s prized possession.  And the money they get back is enough for Antonio to purchase a pawned Fides bicycle.

The couple are excited and can’t wait to be making money, meanwhile his son Bruno (portrayed by Enzo Staiola) is concerned about the bikes maintenance.

On the first day of work, Antonio out on a job is posting an advertising bill and his bicycle is stolen by a thief.  And as Antonio tries to chase him down, he is thrown off the trail by one of the thief’s comrades, who pretends to be a good Samaritan that is helping out Antonio.

While Antonio goes to the police, they don’t do anything.  Desperate to get his bicycle back, as he needs it to work, Antonio and a friend check out Piazza Vittorio market, where many stolen bike parts are sold.

Persistent about getting his job back, how far will Antonio go to find it?


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VIDEO:

“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” is presented in 1:37:1 aspect ratio in black and white and presented in 1080p High Definition. The film looks amazing as the picture quality is well-contrast.  Black levels are nice and deep, white and grays are sharp and the film looks fantastic in HD!

According to the Criterion Collection, “this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scannity film scanner from a 35 mm optical safety fine-grain master made from the original nitrate negative.  The restoration was performed by Digital Film Restore in Chennai, India.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, “Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” is presented in Italian LPCM 1.0.  Dialogue is clear without any buzzing, hiss or crackle.

According to the Criterion Collection, “the original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm optical soundtrack print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and Izotope RX 4.”

Subtitles are in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” comes with the following special features:

  • Working with De Sica – (22:40) Interviews with film scholar Callisto Cosulich and “Bicycle Thieves” co-screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico and actor Enzo Staiola.
  • Life As It Is: The Neorealist Movement in Italy – (39:56) Film scholar Mark Shiel, author of “Italian neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City” discusses the history of Italian neorealism and the place of “Bicycle Thieves” within the movement.
  • Cesare Zavattini – (55:38) A documentary directed by Carlo Lizzani, exploring writer Cesare Zavattini’s career and more.

EXTRAS:

“Bicycle Thieves – The Criterion Collection #374” comes with a 36-page booklet with the essay “A Passionate Commitment to the Real” by Geoffrey Cheshire, “Bicycle Thieves: Rememberances” by Vittorio De Sica, Lianella Carell, Luisa Alessandri, Sergio Leone, Manuel De Sica and Maria Mercader.


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Actor Vittorio De Sica is well-known in Italian cinema, considering De Sica has appeared on the big screen since 1917.

His big break as a director would begin in 1940 with “Rose scarlatte” but his big break would come in 1944 with “The Children Are Watching Us”, the first collaboration with writer Cesare Zavattini.

Exploring real struggles during post-war Italy, Italian neorealism showed audiences the struggles which Italians faced.  And while Roberto Rosselini would be started by Roberto Rossellini’s 1945 film “Rome, Open City”, De Sica and Zavattini wanted to give viewers a new degree of realism.

By 1945, De Sica would show the world the destruction of childish innocence with his film “Shoeshine”.

But it’s his 1948 film “Bicycle Thieves” and followed by his 1952 film “Umberto D.” which resonates strongly with audiences and also with me.

What makes these films work is that the emphasis is not purely on the characters but the unfortunate times they are living in.  Post-war Italy was no doubt desperate times as work was scarce, families starved and it pushed people to do things they would have never have done.

De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” utilizes the mise-en-scene style of his previous film “Shoeshine” by combining realistic elements and a storyline that is no less gutwrenching.  It’s one thing to have a desperate father wanting to provide for his family, but you have a young boy who will do anything to help his father and you see the eyes of a boy who absolutely adores his father, start to see his desperate father change.

De Sica’s characters are representative of not a single person but they represent the people of Italy who were no doubt suffering and were desperate.  The portrayals were genuine but yet the film was met with hostility because many felt it portrayed Italians in a negative way.

Granted, it’s understandable why the creator of “Bicycle Thieves” ala the novel was upset because of the departure of De Sica’s patriarch from the novel version which “the protagonist was a middle class intellectual and the theme was the breakdown of civil order in the face of anarchic communism” (according to Robin Healey’s “Twentieth-Century Italian Literature in English Translation: An Annotated Bibliography 1929-1997”).

Personally I felt that as an actor De Sica knew how to bring out a character thanks to his trusting of hiring non-actors for the role of Antonio and Bruno. Both Lamberto Maggiorani and Enzo Staiola are able to genuinely bring out the bond but also the emotions of these characters, making us believe in the characters but also making us understand where they are coming from.

Could you imagine “Bicycle Thieves” portrayed by popular actors?  It could have happened as David Selznick offered to finance the film if De Sica cast Cary Grant for the leading role.

But “Bicycle Thieves” was planned methodically.  De Sica choreographed the market vendors, the crowd scenes, down to casting his talent based on facial expressions and walking mannerisms.

But the film showed us that non-actors, no elaborate sets were needed to create a captivating film.  A film no doubt which many can see various types of messages, may it be political, socioeconomic issues for that time or even a transition of the bonding between father and son, one can find various messages with each viewing of the film.

As for the 2016 Blu-ray release of “Bicycle Thieves”, having owned this film on LaserDisc and then later via DVD, the Blu-ray is fantastic in the way the film shows much more clarity and sharpness.  The contrast and detail are superb and the lossless audio is free from hiss or crackle.  While the special features are not numerous, you still get a lengthy documentary on writer Cesare Zavattini, a look at Italian neorealism and “Bicycle Thieves” place for the genre and more.

Overall, Vittorio De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” is a brilliant film of the Italian neorealism genre and a true masterpiece of not just the genre but of cinema in general.

Highly recommended!

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