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

April 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

sonofsaul

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

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


TITLE: Son of Saul

YEAR OF FILM: 2015

DURATION: 107 Minutes

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

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

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

RELEASE DATE: April 26, 2016


Directed by Laszlo Nemes

Written by Laszlo Nemes, Clara Royer

Produced by Gabor Rajna, Gabor Sipos

Executive Producer: Judit Stalter

Associate Producer: Robert Vamos

Line Producer: Krisztina Pinter

Music by Laszlo Melis

Cinematography by Matyas Erdely

Edited by Matthieu Taponier

Casting by Eva Zabezsinszkij

Production Design by Laszlo Rajk

Art Direction by Hedvig Kiraly

Set Decoration by Dorka Kiss, Judit Varga

Costume Design by Edit Szucs


Starring:

Geza Rohrig as Saul Auslander

Levente Molnar as Abraham Warszawski

Urs Rechn as Oberkapo Biederman

Todd Charmont as Bearded Prisoner

Marcin Czarnik as Feigenbaum

Sandor Zsoter as Dr. Miklos Nyiszli


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO:

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

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

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

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

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

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

SPECIAL FEATURES:

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

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

EXTRAS:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

cominghome

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

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


TITLE: Coming Home

YEAR OF FILM: 2014

DURATION: 109 Minutes

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

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Some Thematic Material)

RELEASE DATE: March 8, 2016


Directed by Zhang Yimou

Based on the Novel by Geling Yan

Screenplay by Jingzhi Zou

Produced by Turi Vasile, Luggi Waldfeitner

Music by Benedetto Ghiglia, Piero Piccioni

Cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi

Edited by Franco Fraticelli

Production Design by Maurizio Chiari

Set Decoration by Bruno Cesari

Costume Design by Maurizio Chiari


Starring:

Li Gong as Feng Wanyu

Daoming Chen as Lu Yanshi

Huiwen Zhang as Dan Dan, the daughter

Tao Guo as Officer Liu

Ni Yan as Officer Li

Chun Li as Cui Meifang

Jia-yi Zhang as Doctor Dai

Peiqi Liu as Officer Liu

Jiali Ding as Mr. Fang’s Wife


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


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

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

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

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

Lu Yanshi has escaped and is headed home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO:

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

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

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

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

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

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Coming Home” comes with the following special features:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 16, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

labyrinth

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

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


TITLE: Labyrinth of Lies

YEAR OF FILM: 2014

DURATION: 123 Minutes

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

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RELEASE DATE: February 16, 2016


Directed by Giulio Ricciarelli

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

Produced by Turi Vasile, Luggi Waldfeitner

Music by Benedetto Ghiglia, Piero Piccioni

Cinematography by Armando Nannuzzi

Edited by Franco Fraticelli

Production Design by Maurizio Chiari

Set Decoration by Bruno Cesari

Costume Design by Maurizio Chiari


Starring:

Alexander Fehling as Johann Radmann

Andre Szymanski as Thomas Gnielka

Friederike Becht as Marlene Wondrak

Johannes Krisch as Simon Kirsch

Johann von Bulow as Staatsanwalt Otto Haller

Robert Hunger-Buhler as Oberstaatsanwalt Walter Friedberg

Hansi Jochmann as sekretarin Schmittchen

Lukas Miko as Hermann Langein

Gert Voss as Generalstaatsanwait Fritz Bauer

Tim Williams as Major Parker


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO:

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

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

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

Features English, English SDH and French subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

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

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

 

EXTRAS:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 31, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

grandma

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

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


TITLE: Grandma

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 102 Minutes

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

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Language and Some Drug Use)

Release Date: February 9, 2016


Directed by Paul Weitz

Written by Paul Weitz

Executive Producers: Dan Balgoyen, Stephanie Meurer, Danielle Renfrew

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

Co-Producer: Brenda Vogel

Associate Producer: Laura Tuck

Music by Joel P. West

Cinematography by Tobias Datum

Edited by Jon Corn

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

Production Design by Cindy Chao, Michele Yu

Set Decoration by Brittany Ruiz

Costume Design by Molly Grundman


Starring:

Lily Tomlin as Elle Reid

Julia Garner as Sage

Marcia Gay Harden as Judy

Judy Greer as Olivia

Laverne Cox as Deathy

Elizabeth Pena as Carla

Nat Wolff as Cam

John Cho as Chau

Sam Elliott as Karl


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO:

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

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

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

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

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Grandma” comes with the following special features:

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

EXTRAS:

“Grandma” comes with a slipcover.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

truth

“Truth”, as like most political thrillers, the film is no doubt subject to the individual.  And if you have strong liberal or conservative ideals, one will either love or despise this film.  But the fact is that the crew of “Truth” had a goal in mind with this film and that was to create dialogue and give the viewer a chance to make their own decision about the film.  “Truth” is a film worth checking out!

Image courtesy of © RatPac Truth, LLC. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Truth

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 102 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 Aspect Ratio), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Audio Description Track, Subtitles: English, English SDH

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Language and a Brief Nude Photo)

Release Date: February 2, 2016


Based on the book by Mary Mapes

Directed by James Vanderbilt

Screenplay by James Vanderbilt

Executive Producers: Antonia Barnard, Mikkel Bondesen, James Packer, Steven Silver, Neil Tabatznik

Produced by Brad Fischer, Doug Mankoff, Brett Ratner, William Sherak, Andrw Spaulding, James Vanderbilt

Co-Producer: Martin Cohen, Alaric McAusland

Music by Brian Tyler

Cinematography by Mandy Walker

Edited by Richard Francis-Bruce

Casting by Niki Barrett, John Papsidera

Production Design by Fiona Crombie

Art Direction by Fiona Donovan

Set Decoration by Glen W. Johnson

Costume Design by Amanda Neale


Starring:

Cate Blanchett as Mary Mapes

Robert Redford as Dan Rather

Topher Grace as Mike Smith

Dennis Quaid as Lt. Colonel Roger Charles

Elisabeth Moss as Lucy Scott

Bruce Greenwood as Andrew Heyward

Stacy Keach as Lt. Colonel Bill Burkett

John Benjamin Hickey as Mark Wroistad

David Lyons as Josh Howard

Dermot Mulroney as Lawrence Lanpher

Rachael Blake as Betsy West

Andrew McFarlane as Dick Hibey


Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett star in TRUTH, based on a riveting true story of one of network news’ biggest scandals. As a renowned producer and close associate of Dan Rather (Redford), Mary Mapes (Blanchett) believes she’s broken the biggest story of the 2004 election: revelations of a sitting U.S. President’s military service. But when allegations come pouring in, sources change their stories, document authenticity is questioned, and the casualties begin to mount. This dramatic thriller goes behind the scenes to expose the intricacies of journalistic integrity and what it takes to reveal the TRUTH.


From James Vanderbilt, the writer of the first two “The Amazing Spider-Man” films, “White House Down”, “Zodiac” and “The Losers”, comes his directorial debut with the an American political docudrama titled “Truth”.

Based on American journalist and television news producer Mary Mapes’ memoir “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power”, the drama focuses on the controversial Killian documents controversy which took place months before the 2004 presidential election and asserted that in the early 1970’s, President George W. Bush received preferential treatment from officials of the Texas Air National Guard.

During the research of the documents, producer Mary Mapes and news anchor Dan Rather reported the news, which immediately received criticism and also allegations which were called into question and would subsequently lead to the firing of Mary Mapes, the resignation of Dan Rather and others for CBS News losing their jobs.

The film would star Cate Blanchett (“Lord of the Rings” films, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Robert Redford (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “The Sting”, “All the President’s Men”), Topher Grace (“That ’70s Show”, “Spider-Man 3”, “Interstellar”), Dennis Quaid (“The Day After Tomorrow”, “Frequency”, “Vantage Point”), Elisabeth Moss (“Madmen”, “Girl, Interrupted”, “Get Him to the Greek”), Bruce Greenwood (“Stark Trek”, “I, Robot”, “Star Trek Into Darkness”), David Lyons, John Benjamin Hickey (“Transformers: Re”Flags of Our Fathers”, “The Bone Collector”, “Pelham 123”) and Stacy Keach (“Nebraska”, “The Bourne Legacy”, “American History X”).

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

“Truth” focuses on the “60 Minutes Wednesday” news crew which includes producer Mary Mapes (portrayed by Cate Blanchett) and CBS national news anchor Dan Rather (portrayed by Robert Redford).

As the crew is known for their award-winning journalism, months before the US 2004 Presidential election, with President George W. Bush seeking re-election, the crew which also includes Kt. Colonel Roger Charles (portrayed by Dennis Quaid), Mike Smith (portrayed by Topher Grace) and Lucy Scott (portrayed by Elisabeth Moss) are researching their next big story.

CBS News producer Mary Mapes obtained copies from Lt. Col. Burkett, a former officer in the Texas Army National Guard, that President George W. Bush had received preferential treatment in the early ’70s by the Texas Air National Guard.  Allegations which include concealing Bush’s failure to meet minimal training and performing requirements, in addition to being absent from the Air Guard for most of 1972 following a transfer to the Alabama Air National Guard.

The papers were made by Bush’s commander, the late Lt. Col. Jerry B. Killiam who criticized Bush’s service.

As Mapes and her crew did their research and felt they did all the work they needed to do on this story, they went public with Dan Rather reporting on the breaking news story.

But immediately, a variety of sources questioned the Killian documents and that they were not real but forgeries.  The memos were scrutinized and that they were not created by a typewriter but on Microsoft Word, thus invalidating the documents.

How would Mary Mapes, Dan Rather and their team react to the scrutiny in regards to their research?

What is the truth?


VIDEO:

“Truth” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio).  The film looks absolutely wonderful in HD as skin tones are natural, close-ups show very good detail.  With a good mix of indoor and outdoor shots, the scenes are well-lit and outdoor scenes are vibrant.  I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

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

Subtitles are in English and English SDH..

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Truth” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentary with director James Vanderbilt, Brad Fischer and William Sherak.
  • Deleted Scenes – (12:11) Featuring six deleted scenes.
  • The Reason for Being – (11:32) Dan Rather and Mary Mapes discuss their experience of what transpired and “the definition of truth”.
  • The Team – (8:44) The cast discuss working on “Truth”.
  • Q&A with Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss and Director/Writer James Vanderbilt – (33:00) Jenelle Riley interviews director/writer James Vanderbilt, actress Cate Blanchett and Elisabeth Moss.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Truth”.

EXTRAS:

“Truth” comes with a slipcover and Ultraviolet code.


“Truth” is a fascinating, yet controversial thriller about what transpired in 2004 with the CBS news crew.

One of the well-known media news faux pas in modern times, “Truth” is a gripping film that is based on the memoir of fired CBS news producer Mary Mapes and CBS News anchor Dan Rather and with their sources, going through with a potentially election damaging news report about President George W. Bush going AWOL from the Texas Army National Guard.

The film does not skirt around the subject that Mapes and her crew did not thoroughly have the documents authenticated, but at the same time, with the number of sources they had, it was unfortunate because the crew and the senior news executives have had wonderful success in their careers prior to the uncovering of the Killian documents.

Which brings me to how I felt about “Truth”.  As I tried to put myself on both sides and playing devil’s advocate, my first thought was if you were going after the President of the United States, one should make sure they have all the facts needed before going public.

I felt that the lack of authentication is no doubt the primary issue and for media professionals, it was a grave error and with media and bloggers coming out to disprove the report, because of CBS News’ involvement, it was a problem that was too big to fix and it doesn’t help that this was exposed before the election. Mary Mapes was terminated. Executive Producer Josh Howard and Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy resigned and Dan Rather apologized and stepped down.

But at the same time, I felt that Dan Rather, Mary Mapes and her crew stood for what they believed in and believed that while the documents turned out to be false, the underlying story is true.

With that being said, I understand CBS’ position in the matter and how CBS chief spokeman Gil Schwartz felt that “the film tries to turn gross errors of journalism and judgment into acts of heroism and martyrdom” (“Fortune” Magazine, October 16, 2015).

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality was very good and the lossless soundtrack features crystal clear dialogue and musical score.  There are interesting featurettes included such as the real Mary Mapes and Dan Rather discussing the pursuit of “truth”, interviews with the cast members and there is also an informative Q&A session plus audio commentary included as well.

“Truth”, as like most political thrillers, the film is no doubt subject to the individual.  And if you have strong liberal or conservative ideals, one will either love or despise this film.  But the fact is that the crew of “Truth” had a goal in mind with this film and that was to create dialogue and give the viewer a chance to make their own decision about the film.

“Truth” is a film worth checking out!

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

diaryteen-a

Marie Heller’s “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a unique and entertaining film about sexual discovery and features an amazing performance by Bel Powley.  Definitely a film worth checking out!

Image courtesy of (C) 2015 Diary the Movie, LLC.  All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 102 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:42:1 Aspect Ratio), English, Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Strong Sexual Content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language)

Release Date: January 19, 2016


Based on the Novel by Phoebe Gloeckner

Directed by Marielle Heller

Screenplay by Marielle Heller

Executive Producers: Amanda Marshall, Amy Nauiokas, Michael Sagol, Jorma Taccone

Produced by Miranda Bailey, Anne Carey, Bert Hamelinck, Madeline Samit

Co-Producer: Debbie Brubaker, Corentine De Saedeleer

Associate Producer: Shani Geva

Music by Nate Heller

Cinematography by Brandon Trost

Edited by Marie-Helene Dozo, Koen Timmerman

Casting by Nina Henninger

Production Design by Jonah Markowitz

Art Direction by Emily K. Rolph

Set Decoration by Susan Alegria

Costume Design by Carmen Grande


Starring:

Bel Powley as Minnie

Kristen Wiig as Charlotte

Abby Wait as Gretel

Alexander Skarsgard as Monroe

Miranda Bailey as Andrea

Carson D. Mell as Michael Cocaine

John Parsons as Burt

Madeleine Waters as Kimmie

Austin Lyon as Ricky Wasserman

Quinn Nagle as Chuck

Willie as Domino the Cat


In 1976 San Francisco, Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) is growing up at the crossroads of the fading hippie movement and the dawn of punk rock. Like most teenage girls, Minnie is longing for love, acceptance and a sense of purpose in the world. Minnie begins a complex love affair with her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend, “the handsomest man in the world,” Monroe Rutherford (Alexander Skarsgård). What follows is a sharp, funny and provocative account of one girl’s sexual and artistic awakening, without judgment.


diaryteen-d

From actress/filmmaker Marielle Heller (“MacGruber”, “A Walk Among the Tombstones”) comes  her indie directorial debut “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”.

Having won various awards including “Best New Filmmaker” at the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, “Best Feature Film” and the “Berlin International Film Festival” and more.

The film stars Bel Powley (“A Royal Night Out”, “Side by Side”), Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids”, “The Martian”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”), Alexander Skarsgaard (“True Blood”, “Battleship”, “Generation Kill”, “Melancholia”), Christopher Meloni (“Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”, “Man of Steel”, “42”, “Bound”) and Abby Wait.

And now “The Diary of the Teenage Girl” will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The coming-of-age film is set in 1976 and begins with an introduction to Minnie (portrayed by Bel Powley) and is often thinking about wanting to lose her virginity, but at the same time, having esteem issues of feeling that she is unattractive.

Minnie and her young sister Gretal (portrayed by Abigail Wait) live with their Bohemian mother Charlotte (portrayed by Kristen Wiig).  And Charlotte is often partying with her boyfriend Monroe Rutherford (portrayed by Alexander Skarsgard) and often drunk or on drugs.

As Minnie is an inspiring cartoonist, she is inspired by cartoonist Aline Kominsky.  And as she starts to hang out with Monroe, she does all she can to attract him and make him have sex with her.  But after sex, she often wonders if there is more to the sex and is wanting to have more with Monroe, despite him being his mother’s boyfriend.

But as Minnie wants to learn more about her sexuality, will this sexual fling with her mother’s boyfriend continue and for how long?  And through these experiences, what will Minnie discover about herself?


diaryteen-c

VIDEO:

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio).

The film features a combination of the film and animated scenes (often when Minnie is thinking and recording herself) but overall picture quality is good.  Because the film tries to energetic a look to the past, where intentional softness is used in the film to make the setting of the ’70s feel realistic.

For the most part, picture quality is good and I didn’t notice any issues with artifacts.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is presented in English and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French and Spanish Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital.  The film is primarily dialogue and music score driven with surround channels more geared towards the ambiance.  But overall audio is crystal clear.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio commentary with director Marie Heller, actress Bel Powley and actor Alexander Skarsgard.
  • Deleted Scenes – (5:25) Featuring three deleted scenes.
  • Marielle’s Journey: Bringing the Diary to Life – (23:07) How the novel became a film and interviews with director Marie Heller and the cast.
  • Q&A with Marielle Heller, Alexander Skarsgard and Bel Powley – (25:19) Q&A from the Los Angeles Film Festival.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

EXTRAS:

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” comes with a slipcover and Ultraviolet code.


diaryteen-b

Far often, the majority of the films dealing with coming-of-age revolve around boys discovering love and also their sexuality.

With “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, the film focuses on a female perspective and it’s perhaps a film that genuinely feels natural, neither unnatural and literally explores the character of Minnie and the self-esteem issues of her body and her thoughts about sex.

With the backdrop of the mid-’70s and the exploration of sexuality of a young woman, Bel Powley’s performance of a young woman wanting to have a sexual connection with her mother’s boyfriend is rather interesting.  Especially knowing that things are not going to go as well when caught.

Actor Alexander Skarsgard does a wonderful job of playing the role of Minnie’s attraction, but also her mother’s boyfriend.  A person that lives a bohemian lifestyle where everything goes and life is pretty much drinking, doing drugs and partying, he’s a person without true boundaries.

Kristen Wiig does a fine job in a non-comedy role and showing us that she can do serious character roles (2015 also featured Kristen Wiig in a serious role for “Nasty Baby”), but for this film, a mother who also lives a bohemian lifestyle, loving to party, drink and do drugs in front of her children.  But starts to notice her boyfriend’s attention towards her oldest daughter.

I do commend director Marielle Heller and crew for creating a film in 24 days in San Francisco on such a small budget.  The film looks great but I also enjoy the fact that she was determined on creating a film after enjoying the original book and remaining persistent in getting the rights for the film adaptation and exploring a young woman’s sexual and artistic discovery.

It’s a story which many of us can relate to.  Feelings of inadequacy, feelings of self-doubt and also those awkward moments which we have experienced in our life.  If anything, the performances sold the film and no doubt made this film much more enjoyable for me.

As for the Blu-ray release, as the film utilizes a bit of softness in order to create a ’70s atmosphere, picture quality is good and lossless audio features crystal clear dialogue and music.  Also, includes are informative featurettes including an entertaining LA Film Festival Q&A and audio commentary.

Overall, Marie Heller’s “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a unique and entertaining film about sexual discovery and features an amazing performance by Bel Powley.  Definitely a film worth checking out!

Jimmy’s Hall (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

jimmyshall

“Jimmy’s Hall” is a fascinating story of one man’s determination and the perseverance of many to ensure they have a place to meet and dance.  But the conflicts that arise when Gralton’s influence challenges traditional ways of thinking.  A fascinating film based on a true story , Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall” is recommended!


TITLE: Jimmy’s Hall

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 109 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), English, Gtrnvh 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Language and a Scene of Violence)

Release Date: November 17, 2015


Directed by Ken Loach

Screenplay by Paul Laverty

Play by Donal O’Kelly

Executive Producers: Pascal Caucheteux, Andrew Lowe, Vincent Maraval, Gregoire Soriat

Produced by Rebecca O’Brien

Music by George Fenton

Cinematography by Robbie Ryan

Edited by Jonathan Morris

Casting by Kahleen Crawford

Production Design by Fergus Clegg

Art Direction by Stephen Daly

Costume Design by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh


Starring:

Barry Ward as James Gralton

Francis Magee as Mossie

Aileen Henry as Alice

Simone Kirby as Oonagh

Stella McGirl as Stella

Sorcha Fox as Molly

Martin Lucey as Dessie

Mikel Murfi as Tommy

Shane O’Brien as Finn

Denise Gough as Tess

Jim Norton as Father Sheridan

Aisling Franciosi as Marie


In 1921, Jimmy Gralton’s sin was to build a dance hall on a rural crossroads in Ireland on the brink of Civil War. Young people could come to the hall to learn, to argue, to dream . . . but above all to dance and have fun. As the hall grew in popularity, its socialist and free-spirited reputation brought it to the attention of the church and politicians, who forced Jimmy to flee and the hall to close. A decade later, as Jimmy reintegrates into the community and sees the poverty and growing cultural oppression, the leader and activist within him is stirred. He makes the decision to reopen the hall in the face of whatever trouble it may bring.


 

In the 1933, James Gralton became the first Irish to be deported from his own country and sent to the United States for leading public protests of the Revolutionary Workers’ Group of Leitrim (a predecessor of the Communist Party of Ireland).

He was also the owner that ran a dance hall in Effrinagh, which went against the Catholic priests and he and anyone who took part in the dances were branded as anti-Christ.

His story would be the basis of the film “Jimmy’s Hall” directed by Ken Loach (“Sweet Sixteen”, “Kes”, “Angel’s Share”) and a screenplay by Paul Laverty (“Sweet Sixteen”, “Even the Rain”, “Angel’s Share”).

The film stars Barry Ward (“Watchmen”, “The Claim”, “Lip Service”), Simone Kirby (“Season of the Witch”, “Notes on Blindess”, “Hamlet”), Francis Magee (“Layer Cake”, “Sahara”, “House of Anubis”) and many more.

The film will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics on November 2015.

The story begins with the return of Jimmy Gralton (played by Barry Ward) returning to Ireland to help his mother run a family farm.

Known for being mischievous when he was younger, having lived in the United States for the last ten years, he wants to be a better person.

But times have changed in Ireland as a new government is in power in Ireland, ten years after the end of the Civil War.

While back in County Leitrim, the youth of the area want Jimmy to run a hall.  The people will build it but they want a place where people can meet to dance, study or talk.

Seeing the passion that people have in building the hall, Jimmy decides to give it a try.  Immediately, the hall becomes popular as dance lessons are held, meetings are held but to the ire of the Church and local landowners.

Seeing Jimmy as the source of the problems and his history and involvement with the republican movement (which many brand him a communist), anyone who partakes in dancing at the hall will be branded as anti-Christ and against Irish culture (as Jimmy brought over American jazz music via records and a record player from the 1920 and 1930’s to the area, the Church and its patrons looked at his free spirit ways of promoting another country’s pop culture instead of promoting the traditional Irish pop culture as communism and promoting music from “darkest Africa” as troublesome).

But because of his rebellious nature against the Church and members of the community, he begins to receive communist support and while continuing to encourage study and dancing at the hall.

But what steps would the Church and its patrons take to make sure that Jimmy’s hall will close permanently?


VIDEO:

“Jimmy’s Hall” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio).  The film features a good amount of grain throughout the film.  Colors lean more to the cooler side, but for the most part, picture quality and detail are very good on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Jimmy’s Hall” is presented in English, French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital.  The lossless soundtrack is primarily dialogue and music-driven, which are crystal clear, but you can also hear moments of surround channel usage for environment and ambiance.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Jimmy’s Hall” comes with the following special features:

  • Commentary with Barry Ward and Simone Kirby – Audio commentary with actor Barry Ward and actress Simone Kirby.
  • Deleted Scenes – (7:33) Featuring six deleted scenes.
  • Making of Jimmy’s Hall – (34:45) A featurette about the making of “Jimmy’s Hall” with interviews with screenwriter Paul Laverty, producer Rebecca O’Brien, director Ken Loach and the cast of the film.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Jimmy’s Hall”.

I have to admit that when I first saw the theatrical trailer for “Jimmy’s Hall”, the first thing that I pictured in my mind was a “Footloose” type of film, in which authority was against a group of youngsters dancing.

But having watched the film and learning more about James Gralton, I realized that the film is something more.

Before I get into my review, I just want to say that I’m not an erudite when it comes to Irish history or the conflicts involving the Irish Republican Army.  I don’t know how many Irish feel about James Gralton today, so I’m going by what I see in this film.

Watching “Jimmy’s Hall”, my feelings that Irish at the time was a closed society.  With James Gralton having lived in the United States, took part in the city life in America and tried to bring that passion of dancing and jazz music to his town, brought conflict with the Church who were strict conservatives and saw any introduction of other cultures as poisoning their traditional way of thinking.

This is nothing new as it has happened in many other countries in which history has shown political tensions due to international trade with other countries and also bringing in people with a background or culture different from their own.  This still plays out in today’s modern society as many people are trying to escape their country and bringing concern from the locals of how it would change the dynamics of their country or city.

The same can be applied to James Gralton’s return to his home in the 1930’s.  His perspective was different, nor did he follow the church, which at the time, made him different.  Because of his activities of living in New York and him playing American jazz music sung by women who were Black, this caused concern with those in the church and anyone who listened to that music would be seen as anti-Christ.

Once again, in some societies and some religious circles, this is still a concern in modern society as some religious groups are against today’s modern pop culture, especially the music.

James Gralton as depicted in the film, didn’t see things that way.  He just saw a hall in which people can come and have a fun time by dancing, learning how to dance and also using the hall as a way to have meetings.

The film shows us the conflict between the groups but nothing is more visual than a moment when a father finds out that his daughter was attending dances at the hall, is embarrassed that his daughter’s name was mentioned that he takes her into the family barn in which the teenage girl is whipped multiple times on her back.  It was possibly the most shocking scene of the film that you start to favor what James Gralton and those who are involved with the promotion of the hall were doing.

But there is no doubt a respect that you have for a man who stood up for what he believes in.  In today’s modern society, the use of social media and any sign of oppression, would always be seen as a negative.  But watching this film, one must remember to put themselves in that era in time, and you can see things on both perspectives.  James who wanted people to have the freedom to dance and have fun at the hall, while conservatives look at what he is doing with the hall as a way to taint traditional Irish upbringing.

So, I did enjoy this film but also understanding that what James did was quite rebellious for that era.  While the film does paint James Gralton as an inspirational leader who had so much to lose (his mother and his newfound love), because it tends to lean towards one side of the story, you have to know that the film may not be balanced and wonder really transpired behind-the-scenes for the country to really deport him.  There must be more to the story leading to Gralton’s deportation from Ireland.

As for the Blu-ray review, “Jimmy’s Hall” looks very good on Blu-ray.  There is a good amount of grain and there is great detail for closeups.  For the most part, picture quality is good, while the lossless soundtrack is more dialogue, music-driven with ambiance showcasing outdoor environments and also the activities in the dance hall.  As for special features, there is a solid making of featurette and also audio commentary by the main male and female lead.

Overall, “Jimmy’s Hall” is a fascinating story of one man’s determination and the perseverance of many to ensure they have a place to meet and dance.  But the conflicts that arise when Gralton’s influence challenges traditional ways of thinking.  A fascinating film based on a true story , Ken Loach’s “Jimmy’s Hall” is recommended!

Testament of Youth (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

October 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

testament-a

“Testament of Youth” is a wonderful yet tragic film with a clear defining message paying great respect to author Vera Brittain.  James Kent’s film adaptation of “Testament of Youth” is well-crafted and worth watching!


TITLE: Testament of Youth

FILM RELEASE: 2015

DURATION: 150 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 Aspect Ratio), English, German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Czech, Hungarian, Polish VO, Spanish, Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Bulgarian, Chinese Traditional, Croation, Czech, French, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian Buhasa, Korean, Polish, Romanish, Serbian, slovak, Slovena, Spanish, Thai, Turkish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (Thematic Material Including Blood and Disturbing War Related Images)

Release Date: October 20, 2015


Based on the Autobiography by Vera Brittain

Directed by James Kent

Screenplay by Juliette Towhidi

Executive Producers: Hugo Heppell, Zygi Kamasa, Christine Langan, Richard Mansell, Joe Oppenheimer, Henrik Zein

Produced by Rosie Alison, David Heyman

Co-Producer: Celia Duval

Music by Max Richter

Cinematography by Rob Hardy

Edited by Lucia Zucchetti

Casting by Lucy Bevan

Production Design by Jon Henson

Art Direction by Philip A. Brown

Set Decoration by Robert Wischhusen-Hayes

Costume Design by Consolata Boyle


Starring:

Colin Morgan as Victor Richardson

Alicia Vikander as Vera Brittain

Taron Egerton as Edward Brittain

Dominic West as Mr. Brittain

Emily Watson as Mrs. Brittain

Kit Harington as Roland Leighton

Joanna Scanalan as Aunt Belle

Miranda Richardson as Miss Lorimer


Testament of Youth is a powerful story of love, war and remembrance, based on the First World War memoir by Vera Brittain, which has become the classic testimony of that war from a woman’s point of view. A searing journey from youthful hopes and dreams to the edge of despair and back again, it’s a film about young love, the futility of war and how to make sense of the darkest times.


 

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In 1933, the memoir of author Vera Brittain was released.  Titled “Testament of Youth” which covered Vera Brittain’s life from 1900-1925 (followed by “Testament of Experience” of her years from 1925-1950 and “Testament of Friendship” about her colleague and friend Winifred Holtby), Vera Brittain’s books are historically important in British literature, as well as feminist literature.

“Testament of Youth” is acclaimed for its depiction of World War I but also the lives of women and the middle-class of Great Britain.  It’s also important as it is considered a classic in feminist literature depicting a woman’s struggle to have an independent career in a society where educated women were not too tolerated by society.

And in 2014, a film adaptation of the life of Vera Brittain was brought to the big screen courtesy of director James Kent (“Margaret”, “The Thirteenth Tale”, “The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister”) and writer Juliette Towhidi (“Calendar Girls”, “Love, Rosie”).

The film stars Alicia Vikander (“Ex Machina”, “A Royal Affair”, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), Kit Harrington (“Game of Thrones”, “Pompeii”, “How to Train Your Dragon 2”), Colin Morgan (“Merlin”, “Legend”, “Parked”), Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”, “Legend”, “The Smoke”), Dominic West (“300”, “The Wire”, “Chicago”), Emily Watson (“War Horse”, “Red Dragon”, “Breaking the Waves”), Joanna Scanlan (“Notes on a Scandal”, “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, “Stardust”) and Miranda Richardson (“Sleepy Hollow”, “Empire of the Sun”, “The Phantom of the Opera”).

The film will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in October 2015.

“Testament of Youth” revolves around Vera Brittain (portrayed by Alicia Vikander), a young woman who desires to become a novelist and to attend Somerville College in Oxford.

At first her father is against her attending Oxford as he thinks its a waste of money to pay for a young woman’s education and would rather see her focus on playing the piano and marrying a man.

But after her brother Edward (portrayed by Taron Egerton) has his friend Roland Leighton (portrayed by Kit Harington) come over and vouch for her to attend college, her father allows her to attend Somersville College.

She eventually begins to fall in love with Roland and the two have a romantic relationship.  Both plan to go to Oxford together and enjoy their time in college.

But life changes when Roland, Edward and his friend Victor Richardson (portrayed by Colin Morgan) join the military to serve their country in World War I.

The film features Vera’s life as a student in Somerville College as she is being mentored by feminist Miss Lorimer (portrayed by Miranda Richardson), her experience during World War I to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment as a nurse for both the British and the enemy who were wounded in combat but also her life with her brother Edward, her fiance Roland and their friends Victor and Geoffrey.

And how out of tragedy, a story of a woman became an amazing story of courage, independence but also the struggles for an educated woman in society during the early 1900’s.


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VIDEO:

“Testament of Youth” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:39:1 aspect ratio). I have to admit that there were interesting cinematic directions coming from cinematographer Rob Hardy (“Ex Machina, “Boy A”, “Blitz”) during the making of this film.

For one, capturing the emotion and vitality of actress Alicia Vikander as Vera Britain was well-done.  Capturing the emotions and the tragedies of war was also well-done.  Although, it’s rather interesting to see the director shoot bokeh-driven scenes when showcasing her and her brothers in the countryside, I think the location shots and the close-ups were well-done.

Picture quality is very good, there is a good amount of grain, with some moments of softness but for the most part, closeups show great detail and if anything, while not necessarily vibrant, the film shows a sort of moody, melancholic atmosphere, which probably matches a lot of the unfortunate experiences which Vera had to go through in her life.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Testament of Youth” is presented in English, German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Czech, Hungarian, Polish VO, Spanish and Thai 5.1 Dolby Digital.  The film is primarily dialogue and music score driven with surround channels more for ambiance.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Bulgarian, Chinese Traditional, Croation, Czech, French, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian Buhasa, Korean, Polish, Romanish, Serbian, slovak, Slovena, Spanish, Thai and Turkish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Testament of Youth” comes with the following special features:

  • Commentary with Kit Harington and James Kent – Audio commentary with director James Kent and actor Kit Harrington (who plays the character Roland).
  • Testament of Youth Behind the Scenes – (6:30) A behind-the-scenes of “Testament of Youth” and the cast and crew discussing the film.
  • Deleted Scenes – (5:23) Featuring four deleted scenes.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Testament of Youth”.

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“Testament of Youth” is for the most part a wonderful film adaptation of British author Vera Brittain’s memoir written about her experience prior to World War I.

A woman of independence, well-educated and strong-willed, she is also a woman of courage and compassion and director Jeff Kent has done a magnificent job of portraying Brittain and her life and trying to keep a fine balance between what is autobiographical and a little change in order to make for a coherent and enjoyable film.

I have to admit that I was surprised when I watched this film, as I am not familiar with Vera Brittain’s literary classic but to find out how much pain she had to endure, but the strength she had to pursue what she believed in.

I really don’t want to spoil the film, although those familiar with Vera Brittain already know the tragedies that she faced one after another during the war and unfortunately, there is more pain that she had to endure (that is brought up in the informative audio commentary by director James Kent) not included in the film but in the memoir.

It was interesting to see how she was treated because she was a well-educated woman who wanted to further her education in Oxford.  Her father saw it as a waste of his money to use his money for her college education, others treated her unfairly because she went to Oxford.  But she persevered, despite the pain she had to endure quite often in her life.

While the film takes place during World War I, this is not a war film but more about a woman who learned from war, up close & personal.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander delivered a wonderful performance throughout the film and while featuring a notable cast, it is Vikander who carries this film on her shoulders and delivers her greatest performance thus far.

Picture quality of the Blu-ray is very good, but not vibrant, in fact more on the melancholic side, which fits the film quite well.  The lossless soundtrack is primarily dialogue and musically driven.  And there are a few special features including audio commentary, deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Overall, “Testament of Youth” is a wonderful yet tragic film with a clear defining message paying great respect to author Vera Brittain.  James Kent’s film adaptation of “Testament of Youth” is well-crafted and worth watching!

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

September 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

aloft

“Aloft” is not a deep, nor a compelling film.  While it was interesting to learn through flashbacks of why a mother and son became estranged, if you are expecting anything else deeper than that, this is not that kind of film.


TITLE: Aloft

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 97 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:30:1 Aspect Ratio), English, Portuguse, Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Portuguese, Spanish

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (for language and some sexuality)

Release Date: September 29, 2015


Directed by Claudia Llosa

Screenplay by Claudia Llosa

Produced by Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Christophe Lambert

Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Genevieve Lemal, Olivier Pere

Music by Bertrand Bonello

Cinematography by Josee Deshaies

Edited by Fabrice Rouaud

Casting by Richard Rousseau

Production Design by Katia Wyszkop

Costume Design by Anais Romand


Starring:

Jennifer Connelly as Nana Kunning

Cillian Murphy as Ivan

Melanie Laurent as Jannia Ressmore

Oona Chaplin as Alice

Peter McRobbie as Ike

Ian Tracey as Hans

Zen McGrath as Young Ivan

William Shimell as Young Ivan

Winta McGrath as Gully


As we follow a mother (Jennifer Connelly) and her son (Cillian Murphy), we delve into a past marred by an accident that tears them apart. She will become a renowned artist and healer, and he will come into his own as a peculiar falconer who bears the marks of abandonment. In the present, a young journalist (Mélanie Laurent) will bring about an encounter between the two that puts the very meaning of life and art into question, so that we may contemplate the possibility of living life to its fullest, despite the uncertainties littering our paths.


From Peruvian director Claudia Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow”, “Madeinusa”) comes her latest film titled “Aloft”.

The film stars Jennifer Connelly (“Requiem for a Dream”, “A Beautiful Mind”, “Blood Diamond”, “Hulk”), Cilian Murphy (“Inception”, “The Dark Knight”, “Batman Begins”), Melanie Laurent (“Inglorious Basterds”, “Now You See Me”, “Enemy”) and Oona Chaplin (“Quantum of Solace”, “The Longest Ride”, “What If”).

The film made its debut at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival and now the Blu-ray and DVD will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on Sept. 2015.

“Aloft” begins with an introduction to Nana Kunning (portrayed by Jennifer Connelly), a single mother with two sons, Ivan and Gully.  The two travel to an isolated location to meet with a healer known as “The Architect”, who heals people by constructing small sculptures out of branches and then bringing patients inside them.

But in order for one to be healed, they must be the one chosen by a random lottery.

We learn that Nana’s youngest son Gully has an inoperable brain tumor and when people look into their lottery, they realized that they were not chosen.

As everyone watches the healing, the first up is a young blind boy. Before the Architect is about to work on his magic, Ivan’s falcon has flown away and goes into the structure.  As Nana tries to get the hawk out, the hawk breaks out and destroys the structure, infuriating everyone around.  Leading to someone shooting the falcon down.

The story then flashes forward many years later and a journalist named Jannia Ressmore (portrayed by Melanie Laurent) visits a home and sees hawks everywhere.  The journalist talks to the man, who happens to be Ivan (portrayed by Cillian Murphy).

At first, she tells him that she wants to do an interview on the hawks that he breeds and raises and when she asks if he is in contact with her mother, he cuts the interview short.  Before she leaves, she leaves him a disc with a DVD of her mother.

The story then shifts to the past.  One day, Nana is visited by the Architect and is told that she healed the blind boy when she touched the structure and that he never even touched the boy’s eyes.  Not long after, the person responsible for shooting young Ivan’s hawk and pleads with him to please save his child as he can no longer wait for the Architect’s next healing.

Nana goes to the Architect to be trained in creating structures in order to heal people.

Flash foward to the past and Ivan decides to go with Ressmore, leaving his wife and child behind but taking one of his hawks in order to find his mother.

And through the various flashbacks, we learn why Ivan and his mother have become estranged, but also the true purpose of why Jannia has visited Ivan and wanted to interview Nana.


VIDEO:

“Aloft” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:30:1 aspect ratio). The film is quite detailed during closeups and for the most part, a lot of scenes are shot in the wintry, cold environments of Northwest Canada.  The film utilizes natural light and I didn’t notice any artifacts or any negative issues during my viewing of the film.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Aloftt” is presented in English, Portuguese and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital. The film is primarily dialogue and music-driven, so it’s a center and front-channel soundtrack with occasional surround channels used for ambiance and a few times during the film (ie. rifle shot, crackling of ice, etc.).

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, Portuguese and Spanish.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Aloft” comes with no special features.


As a fan of Jennifer Connelly’s work, I was really excited to see her once again in a more recent film.  And with “Aloft”, while Connelly is possibly the more notable name of the film, the film primarily centers around the characters of Ivan (portrayed by Cillian Murphy) and Jannia Ressmore (portrayed by Melanie Laurent), a journalist who wants to interview Ivan’s mother.

The film is primarily trying to answer the story of how a son and his mother became estranged.  Why have they not talked to each other after many years and also the true purpose of Jannia’s character wanting to interview Ivan’s mother, Nana.

While I thought that the film was about something deeper, something possibly ominous and was focused about a mother and her two sons, I was thinking that this was a film dealing with a single mother and her dying young son.

Instead, the film tries to piece together with flashbacks about how Ivan and his mother have not spoken or seen each other for years.  We are introduced to those who heal people via lottery and many travel long destinations in hopes to heal their child or family member.

We eventually learn that Nana has this gift as well.  But it takes a while to fully understand later in the film, with the revelation of what happened to Ivan’s younger brother Gully and why both never talked to each other again.  We eventually start to learn why Jannia was so intent in looking for Nana.

As for the Blu-ray release, picture quality is very good as the scenes outdoors is cold to showcase the freezing cold location but indoor scenes are natural and skin tones are well-saturated, while close-ups feature plenty of detail.  Even the makeup work of a much older Nana was done well.  Lossless audio is primarily dialogue and musically driven, with a little surround use for ambiance.  Unfortunately, there are no special features.

While “Aloft” gave me an impression that this was more of a Jennifer Connelly film and a young mother’s plight to keep her young son alive, it’s more of a film piecing together of why a mother and son stopped talking to each other and the true journey for a journalist searching for the mother.

“Aloft” is not a deep, nor a compelling film. While it was interesting to learn through flashbacks of why a mother and son became estranged, if you are expecting anything else deeper than that, this is not that kind of film.

“Aloft” is just an average film that you can either rent or catch it later on cable, but not a film worth watching for a second time.

Saint Laurent (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

saintlaurent

“Saint Laurent” is a fascinating biographic film that comes short in its introduction to those close to Yves Saint Laurent, but when covering his life as a fashion icon and showcasing his creative genius but also his own personal faults, director Bertrand Bonello does a wonderful shop in showing audiences that even the man behind the iconic fashion brand.


TITLE: Saint Laurent

FILM RELEASE: 2014

DURATION: 150 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English, English SDH, French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (for graphic nudity/strong sexual situations, substance abuse throughout and some language)

Release Date: September 22, 2015


Directed by Bertrand Bonello

Screenplay by Thomas Bidegain, Bertrand Bonello

Produced by Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Christophe Lambert

Co-Producer: Remi Burah, Genevieve Lemal, Olivier Pere

Music by Bertrand Bonello

Cinematography by Josee Deshaies

Edited by Fabrice Rouaud

Casting by Richard Rousseau

Production Design by Katia Wyszkop

Costume Design by Anais Romand


Starring:

Gaspard Ulliel as Yves Saint Laurent

Jeremie Renier as Pierre Berge

Louis Garrel as Jacques de Bascher

Lea Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise

Amira Casar as Anne-Marie Munoz

Aymeline Valade as Betty Catroux

Helmut Berger as Yves Saint Laurent en 1989

Michae Lescot as Monsieur Jean-Pierre

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Mme Duzer


Dive into the color and lush textures of the incredible life of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent. Explore the mind of a creative genius, the intricacies that turned a haute-couture label into a worldwide phenomenon, and the glamour and decadence that followed Saint Laurent’s footsteps of fame and fortune.


Yves Saint Laurent, the legendary French fashion designer who built a remarkable brand around his name, but best known for igniting the synergy of couture in the sixties and was no doubt a creative man that was ahead of his time.

Known for his ready-to-wear products and creating tuxedo jackets for women and using multicultural models early in his career, while YSL was a prominent luxury fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent and his brand died in 2008.

In 2015, his brand was revived by Hedi Slimane and boutiques with Saint Laurent merchandise continues the Yves Saint Laurent name.

But as for Yves Saint Laurent, many are curious about the man behind the fashion, aside from the more available news of his addiction to alcohol and drugs during the ’60s and ’70s and his love for his French Bulldog, Moujik, outside of his circle, not many people know about the life of Yves Saint Laurent.

And thus, two films were created in 2014.  “Yves Saint Laurent”, the 2014 French biographical drama directed by Jalil Lespert (who was granted access by Pierre Berge to the YSL archives) and the more well-received and critically-praised French biography drama film co-written and directed by Bertrand Bonello (“The Pornographer”, “House of Tolerance”, “Tiresia”).

The latter will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics in September.

The film stars Gaspard Ulliel (“Hannibal Rising”, “Paris, je t’aime”, “A Very Long Engagement”) who plays the younger Yves Saint Laurent, Jeremie Renier (“In Bruges”, “L’enfant”, “The Kid with a Bike”, “La Promesse”), Louis Garrel (“The Dreamers”, “The Beautiful Person”, “Regular Lovers”, “Love Songs”), Lea Seydoux (“Blue is the Warmest Color”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Inglorious Basterds”, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), Amira Casar (“Sulvia”, “Anatomy of Hell”, “Why Not Me?”), Aymeline Valade and Helmut Berger (“The Godfather Part III”, “Ludwig”, “Conversation Piece”) as the older Yves Saint Laurent.

The film focuses on the life of Yves Saint Laurent from 1968-1978 and the final years of his life.

“Saint Laurent” begins with Yves Saint Laurent discussing how he was committed during his service for the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence and how he suffered disorders because of that experience.

A quick shot then shows Yves Saint Laurent lying on the ground bleeding.

The film then switches to different time periods.

In 1968, seamstress are working on designs for Saint Laurent.  We are introduced to a man who likes to play classical music while working on his designs.

We are introduced to the closest people to him, the head of YSL studio, Anne-Marie Munoz (portrayed by Amira Casar) and his partner and co-founder of Yves Saint Laurent Couture House, Pierre Berge (portrayed by Jeremie Renier).

The film then goes to the gay bar, where he would meet Chanel model Betty Saint (portrayed by Aymeline Valade), a woman who would one day be one of Saint Laurent’s closest friends and a woman in which Yves saw himself as and often called her his twin or reincarnation.  But in the scene, Saint Laurent tries to get Betty to represent YSL, but she resists because she is representing Chanel.

But not long after, we see Betty modeling Saint Laurent’s suit and then we see his creation of tuxedoes for women.

The film then switches to 1971 and introduces us to Saint Laurent’s haute couture and introduces us to another woman close to Saint Laurent, his good friend Loulou de La Falaise (portrayed by Lea Seydoux), who would later become the fashion muse and designer of fashion, accessories and jewelry for Yves Saint Laurent.

As Saint Laurent and his friends have alcohol and drug parties, we are introduced to Saint Laurent’s good friend, actress Talitha Getty (portrayed by Jasmine Trinca),  who we often seen shooting up on heroin.

The film would then showcase the press and those at a YSL fashion event in surprise after seeing the models in suits and ready-to-wear clothing (which were haute coteur, but yet showing how people didn’t understand it at the time).  The tepid response would send Saint Laurent in a fit.

By 1972, American investors are upset in seeing the lowest in YSL revenue and Pierre Berge fighting for the brand and reminding investors that they must be patient with Yves Saint Laurent as a creative visionary and to accept the risk in ready-to-wear clothing because haute couture will become internationally.  But the investors also bring up worries about Yves Saint Laurent’s health.

The film then shows us the stress which Saint Laurent endures before and after each collection.  And as he tries to seek out inspiration, he goes to his local gay disco bar and encounters Karl Lagerfeld’s protege and lover, Jacques de Bascher (portrayed by Louis Garrel).  Because Saint Laurent started to be unhappy with his relationship with Pierre Berge, he has an affair with de Bascher, which would eventually lead to the rivalry between the Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.

The film would continue the life of Saint Laurent during the ’70s but then would switch off to the his final years, wondering if Yves Saint Laurent is looked as a has-been and a name without relevance.


VIDEO:

“Saint Laurent” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio). The film is quite detailed during closeups but manages to capture the luxurious lifestyle of Yves Saint Laurent.  I didn’t notice any artifacts or banding and for the most part, the film looks fantastic on Blu-ray.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Saint Laurent” is presented in French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English Audio Description Track 5.1 Dolby Digital. The film is primarily dialogue and music-driven, so it’s a center and front-channel soundtrack with occasional surround channels used for ambiance.

Subtitles are in English, English SDH and French.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Saint Laurent” comes with the following special features:

  • Bertrand Bonello – (1:37) A short featurette with director Bertrand Bonello discussing the making of the film.
  • The Characters – (2:24) A few of the cast members discuss Yves Saint Laurent.
  • Theatrical Trailer – Theatrical trailer for “Saint Laurent”.

For those with interest and knowledge to the life of Yves Saint Laurent, Bertrand Bonello’s “Saint Laurent” is a fascinating film that tries to incorporate a lot of details of Saint Laurent’s life, his relationships with Pierre Berge and Jacques de Basher and his friendships to important women in his life.

But for those not familiar with Yves Saint Laurent, they will view this film of a man who is depressed, who drunk a lot of alcohol and did a lot of drugs, while creating fashion that was ahead of its time and people didn’t really understand.

Unfortunately, there are no introductions to why these people are important in the life of Yves Saint Laurent, you have to read, watch or do research on his personal life to know who these people are.

We see Anne-Marie Munoz and Loulou de la Falaise, two important people in the Yves Saint Laurent circle shown throughout the film.  We know they are important, we know they are close to Saint Laurent, but without knowledge of these two individuals, their presence as characters are lost to the viewers.

The same can be said of Chanel model Betty Catroux (or known as Betty Saint).  She is often seen hanging out and partying with Saint Laurent but viewers are probably are also lost of who this character is and why Yves Saint Laurent keeps seeing himself when the camera is directed at her.

The same can be said about Talitha Getty.  All viewers not familiar with her, will see and remember her scenes as a woman who keeps shooting up with heroin. Not knowing her as a pivotal figure in “Bohemian” culture and fashion and married to oil heir and philanthropist John Paul Getty Jr.

But the film does go into the affair of Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld protege, Jacques de Basher.  While not showing how it led to a rival between both camps, the film does show Pierre Berge’s disdain towards the affair and toward de Basher.

The film does go into Saint Laurent’s love for his French Bulldog, Moujik and how after each dog would die, he would find one that would look like him, name the dog Moujik and continue to raise it like a son.

But despite the film’s shortcoming of its side characters and possible confusion of the jump in timelines, while others may not be as kind to the film because of this, others will probably find the film as entertaining to its eroticism and it’s portrayal of Yves Saint Laurent during the peak of YSL haute couture.

The costume design for the film is impeccable and stylish, set design as decadent and the performance by Gaspard Ulliel to be wonderful.    While I’m not an erudite of Yves Saint Laurent fashion oeuvre, I was able to do my research of various characters prior to watching the film.

The film is not critical of Yves Saint Laurent as the alcohol and drugs were the life of a fashion jetsetter, especially during the time of the ’60s and ’70s.  The criticism were primarily by the press which is actually shown in the film as rumors of his bad health or his demise was ongoing.

“Saint Laurent” also goes to show how persistence, a great team and of course, Saint Laurent’s vision of ready-to-wear attire would become popular and there is no doubt that many other companies were inspired by his designs and that inspiration and fashion can be seen today’s modern fashion.  He was a man ahead of his time, a creative genius.

As for the Blu-ray release, Picture quality is is wonderful as closeups show wonderful detail.  I saw no sign of artifacts, banding or any problematic issues.  Lossless audio is primarily dialogue and music-driven, but both are crystal clear.  There are short features included as well.

Overall, “Saint Laurent” is a fascinating biographic film that comes short in its introduction to those close to Yves Saint Laurent, but when covering his life as a fashion icon and showcasing his creative genius but also his own personal faults, director Bertrand Bonello does a wonderful shop in showing audiences that even the man behind the iconic fashion brand.

 

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