Tag Archives: Blu-ray/DVD reissues

Blu-ray reissue: That’ll Be the Day (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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That’ll Be the Day – Studio Canal (Region “B” Blu-ray)

Set in late 50s England, Claude Whatham’s 1973 film (written by Ray Connolly) is a character study in the tradition of the “kitchen sink” dramas that flourished in 60s UK cinema.

David Essex (best-known for his music career, and hit, “Rock On”) plays Jim MacLaine, an intelligent, angst-ridden young man who drops out of school to go the Kerouac route (to Mum’s chagrin). While he’s figuring out what to do with his life, Jim supports himself working at a “funfair” at the Isle of Wight, where he gets a crash course in how to fleece customers and “pull birds” from a seasoned carny (Ringo Starr) who befriends him.

Early 60s English rocker Billy Fury performs some songs as “Stormy Tempest” (likely a reference to Rory Storm, who Ringo was drumming for when the Beatles enlisted him in 1962) Also look for Keith Moon (who gets a bit more screen time in the 1974 sequel, Stardust).

While the film doesn’t look to be restored, it is still a very clean and sharp transfer, and a vast improvement over previous PAL DVD editions I’ve owned in the past. Extras include engaging interviews with producer David Puttnam and screenwriter Ray Connolly, and an insightful 10-minute video essay about the film by critic Bob Stanley.

Blu-ray reissue: Stardust (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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Stardust – Studio Canal (Region “B” Blu-ray)

Michael Apted directed this 1974 sequel to Claude Whatham’s 1973 film That’ll Be the Day. David Essex reprises his role as restless seeker Jim MacLaine, who has finally found his true passion: music.

The first third traces MacLaine’s  Beatle-like rise to fame with his beat combo “The Stray Cats” (it’s a safe bet Brian Setzer and band mates saw this film back in the day and “re-appropriated” the name).

With massive success comes the inevitable backstage squabbles and jealousies; eventually MacLaine is surrounded by music company weasels and yes-men whispering in his ear to dump his “backup” band and pursue a solo career as a rock god (who can say “no” to that?). Then comes the inevitable decline: too much drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll excess.

One of the best (and most realistic) films ever made about the music business. Clever casting of a number of veteran UK rockers like Adam Faith, Dave Edmunds, Keith Moon, Marty Wylde and Paul Nicholas adds greatly to the authenticity.

It feels like a squandered opportunity that Studio Canal didn’t just go ahead and package the film with That’ll Be the Day as a “two-fer”, but that’s a personal quibble. I’ll get over it. I’m just happy to finally have copies of both films with high-quality image and audio.

Blu-ray reissue: 1984 (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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1984 – The Criterion Collection

Nobody said a good film couldn’t be a total downer. Case in point: Michael Radford’s distressingly convincing vision of a bleak dystopia. Released (appropriately enough) in 1984, the film is a faithful adaptation of George Orwell’s cautionary 1948 novel.

John Hurt is excellent as downtrodden Everyman Winston Smith, who risks what little he’s got to be happy about by seeking a little happiness with his defiantly anti-authoritarian lover, Julia (Suzanna Hamilton). In a totalitarian society where any form of passion outside blind devotion to the state is considered an unpardonable crime against conformity, it’s only a matter of time before Big Brother summons them to answer for their sins. The film also stars an oddly inert Richard Burton.

Criterion’s new 4K restoration showcases DP Roger Deakins’ purposely de-saturated cinematography, which (quite literally) helps sets the bleak tone of the film (Deakins supervised the transfer). You have a choice of two music scores-one by The Eurythmics and the other by composer Dominic Muldowney. Extras include new interviews with director Radford, DP Deakins, and David Ryan (the author of George Orwell on Screen).

Blu-ray reissue: Local Hero ****

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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Local Hero – Spirit Entertainment (Region “B” Blu-ray)

This magical, wonderfully droll and observant 1983 social satire from Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth has been on my Blu-ray wish list for many years. I was beginning to despair that I was waiting in vain for “someone” to do a restoration/HD upgrade…and bam! Two studios simultaneously release 2K digital restorations on Blu-ray in 2019 (more on my dilemma in a moment).

Peter Reigert is perfectly cast as Macintyre, a Texas-based executive who is assigned by the head of “Knox Oil & Gas” (Burt Lancaster) to scope out a sleepy Scottish hamlet that sits on the edge of an oil-rich bay. He is to negotiate with all the local property owners and essentially buy out the entire town so that the company can build a huge refinery.

While he considers himself “more of a Telex man”, who would prefer to knock out such an assignment “in an afternoon”, Mac sees the overseas trip as a possible fast track for a promotion within the corporation. As this quintessential 80s Yuppie works to ingratiate himself with the unhurried locals (quite impatiently at first), a classic “fish out of water” transformation ensues. It’s the kindest and gentlest Ugly American tale you’ve ever seen.

Full disclosure: I can only base my assessment of image quality on the disc that I own, which is from the UK outfit Spirit Entertainment (please note it is Region “B” locked). As mentioned earlier, this is a new 2K restoration, and it’s breathtaking (it’s a beautiful looking film to begin with).

Now, the “other” studio who has put out an edition of the film is The Criterion Collection. I have not viewed their edition, but based on their product description, I can safely assume that their 2K transfer is from the same recently struck restoration. Both editions have good extra features (several of them duplicate), but what swayed me to the Spirit Entertainment version was a new 2019 interview with Mark Knopfler (which the Criterion edition does not contain) discussing his classic soundtrack.

Blu-ray reissue: The Harder They Come (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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The Harder They Come – Shout! Factory

While the Jamaican film industry didn’t experience an identifiable “new wave” until the early 80s (with films like Dickie Jobson’s Countryman and Theodoros Bafaloukos’ Rockers), Perry Henzel’s 1973 cult classic can certainly lay claim as The One That Started It All.

From its opening scene, when a wide-eyed country boy named Ivan (played by reggae’s original superstar, Jimmy Cliff) hops off a Jolly Bus in the heart of Kingston to the strains of Cliff’s“You Can Get It If You Really Want”, to its blaze of glory finale, the film maintains an ever-forward momentum, pulsating all the while to the heartbeat riddim of an iconic music soundtrack.

Shout Factory’s 4K scan is taken from the original 16mm negative; although it should be pointed out that this is not a “restoration”, per se (i.e., I noticed occasional scratches and debris in the image). Image quality on previous transfers has been consistently problematic.

That said, this is the third (or maybe fourth?) home video version that I have owned over the years, so I can attest that Shout Factory’s 2019 Blu-ray can boast the best image and sound quality yet. I haven’t plowed through all the extras yet, but the 52-minute feature “A Hard Road to Travel” is an enlightening look at the production history.

Blu-ray reissue: Godzilla: The Showa Era Films 1954-1975 (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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Godzilla: The Showa Era Films 1954-1975 – Criterion Collection

I admit that I was pretty, pretty excited when I heard about this 15-film box set. To which some of you are likely saying to yourself as you read this: “What are you, 8 years old?!” Well…as I once wrote in a short review of Godzilla vs. Hedora (aka Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster):

Who ever said an environmental “message” movie couldn’t also provide mindless, guilty fun? Let’s have a little action. Knock over a few buildings. Wreak havoc. Crash a wild party on the rim of a volcano with some Japanese flower children. Besides, Godzilla is on our side for a change. Watch him valiantly battle Hedora, a sludge-oozing toxic avenger out to make mankind collectively suck on his grody tailpipe. And you haven’t lived until you’ve heard “Save the Earth”-my vote for “best worst” song ever from a film (much less a monster movie).

OK, every Godzilla feature isn’t a “message” film; sometimes, a movie about a monster who emerges from the sea to knock shit over is just a movie about a monster knocking shit over until he gets bored and then slinks back into the sea (roll credits). But hey, those wonderfully unapologetic Japanese films with guys in monster suits knocking over model buildings and decimating toy tanks and toy fighter jets have never looked as sharp as this!

All 15 films in the series (which kicks off with 1954’s black and white classic Gojira and bookends with 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla) are presented in beautiful new HD transfers. I haven’t had a chance to explore all the extras yet, but they are plentiful. The 8 Blu-ray discs are housed in a hardcover book that includes beautiful graphics and essays on each film. Collectors should appreciate the overall space-saving design of the package.

Blu-ray reissue: FM (***)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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FM – Arrow Films

John Alonzo’s 1978 comedy-drama (written by Ezra Sacks) centers on fictional L.A. rock station “Q-Sky” FM, which has just shot to number one, to the elation of hip program director Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon), who leads a team of colorful DJs (Martin Mull, Cleavon Little, Alex Karras and Eileen Brennan). While Dugan sees the win as validation for his “free form” approach, corporate HQ views it as a potential cash cow for landing big accounts like the U.S. Army. The battle lines between art and commerce are drawn…and it’s on.

Granted-the film is uneven, but the cast is game, the soundtrack is great, and Linda Ronstadt and band are in fine form performing several live numbers. It’s a nice snapshot of the era when “underground” FM was making a shift to the more corporate “Layla-Free Bird-Tom Sawyer” format that flogs to this day.

Arrow’s image quality is quite an improvement over the long out-of-print DVD version. Extras include 2 new interviews with star Michael Brandon and screenwriter Ezra Sacks.

The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith – Kino-Lorber

One of the highlights of the “Australian New Wave” that flourished in the 70s and 80s, writer-director Fred Schepsi’s 1978 drama (adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel, which is loosely based on a true story) is set in Australia at the turn of the 20th Century.

Jimmie Blacksmith (Tommy Lewis) is a half-caste Aboriginal who goes out into the world to make his own way after being raised by a white minister and his wife. Unfortunately, the “world” he is entering from the relative protective bubble of his upbringing is that of a society fraught with systemic racism; one that sees him only as a young black man ripe for exploitation.

While Jimmie is inherently altruistic, every person has their limit, and over time the escalating degradation and daily humiliations lead to a shocking explosion of cathartic violence that turns him into a wanted fugitive. An unblinking and uncompromising look at a dark period of Australian history; powerful and affecting.

Kino-Lorber’s transfer is excellent. The 2-disc release has two versions of the film, the original Australian version, and the “international” cut (several minutes shorter). The longer cut features a commentary track by Schepsi. There is also an interview with Schepsi and DP Ian Baker, as well as an archival interview with the late Tommy Lewis.

Blu-ray reissue: Charley Varrick (***1/2)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December 14, 2019)

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Charley Varrick – Kino-Lorber

It’s nice to see this tough, gritty and underappreciated crime drama/character study from 1973 getting some Blu-ray love.

Directed by Don Siegel (the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Big Steal, The Lineup, Hell is For Heroes, Dirty Harry) and adapted from John Reese’s novel by Howard Rodman and Dean Reisner, the film stars Walter Matthau as a master thief/ex- stunt pilot who gets into hot water when he unwittingly robs a bank that washes money for the mob. I think it’s one of his best performances. Unique crime drama with a great cast (Joe Don Baker is memorable as a kinky hit man).

If the cheeky, colorful dialog reminds you of a certain contemporary film maker, all will become clear when one character is warned that if he doesn’t come clean, the mob may come after him with “a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.”

Kino-Lorber’s Blu-ray features a sharp transfer from a new 4K remaster, as well as a 76-minute 2015 documentary delving into the film’s production and director Siegel’s career.

Blu-ray Reissue: Betty Blue (****)

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on December14, 2019)

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Betty Blue – The Criterion Collection

This 1986 drama from Jean-Jacques Beineix (Diva) is an erotically-charged tale of love and madness that is at once as seductive and unsettling as its eponymous heroine (especially as embodied by the voluptuous Beatrice Dalle, in her astounding film debut). Jean-Hugues Anglade co-stars as Zorg, a half-hearted writer who quietly chugs along supporting himself as a handyman. When he meets Betty, he finds instant romance (and a Muse), but his life just as quickly begins to get turned upside down by her increasingly unpredictable mood swings. Anglade and Dalle are charismatic.

Criterion’s edition features the full 186-minute cut of the film. The new hi-def digital restoration really makes Jean Francois Robin’s striking cinematography pop with its gorgeously saturated colors. Extras include an engaging 2013 documentary with recollections by director Beineix, Anglade and Dalle, and a 1977 short film by Beineix.