Reviewed by Frank J.
The winner of the Palm d’Or at
last year’s Cannes Film Festival and the Opening
Night selection at last year’s New York Film Festival,
Laurent Cantet’s Oscar nominated film, The Class,
is now available on Blu-Ray.
With an intense, docu-style narrative
and a deliberately claustrophobic setting, Laurent and
co-writer and star François Bégaudeau (who
also wrote the novel the film is based on) and Robin Campillo,
have created a fascinating microcosmic meditation on social
justice and how one’s cultural and class background
play into how much power that individual is allowed in
any given society. In this case the ‘society’
happens to be a classroom.
The Class takes place entirely
in a school or on the school premises, but mostly in François’s
junior high school class. The movie chronicles one school
year in the life of a teacher and his twenty-five students—although
many get short-shrift in the script to make way for the
louder, more colorful characters.
Bégaudeau plays the autobiographical
role of the teacher who seemingly cares a great deal about
his students but whose low self-esteem and abundant pride
get in the way when it matters most. It’s a sharp
and impressive performance with the real/cinema lines
blurring in a mesmerizing manner.
The 2:35:1 anamorphic transfer has a
documentary look and feel to it and that realistic presentation
is enhanced on Blu-Ray.
The French audio (also offered in English
and Spanish) can get a bit frustrating at times with so
many students speaking simultaneously and only one or
two being translated via subtitles, but the sound itself
The Class Blu-Ray edition offers
some wonderful extras including a 41-minute Making-Of
feature that boasts fascinating comments from Cantet and
Begaudeau intercut with footage of the cast doing improv
and helping to workshop the screenplay. The director and
screenwriter also provide audio/video commentary. Two
other featurettes (a 30-minute Actors Workshop and a 12
minute Actors Self-Portrait) as well as the trailer round
out the goodies.
The Class asks urgent questions;
questions about democracy and the fear of nonconformity—universal
questions that resonates intensely here in America.
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Stephan Elliott, the imaginative director
of the 1994 cult classic The Adventures of Priscilla,
Queen of the Desert has made a wickedly refreshing
and splendid new film of Noel Coward’s 1924 play
that looks striking on Blu-Ray!
Coward was only twenty-three when he wrote Easy Virtue
and there has only been one screen adaptation—by
Alfred Hitchcock in 1928--a silent version meaning all
the wonderful and witty repartee’ became moot on
the big screen.
Elliott, with the help of co- writer Sheridan Jobbins,
has adapted the play quite marvelously, keeping true to
Coward’s spirit, but also giving the film a modern
feel. He’s even taken a few contemporary songs and,
anachronistically, rerecorded them to evoke the 1920s.
Like Baz Lurhmann, Elliott is an edgy and original showman
who likes to take risks with his images and his soundtrack.
Here they pay off smashingly.
Easy Virtue is the story of the end of an era—and
in Coward’s mind, good riddance to it! The target:
the upper class British landowners with their Victorian
judgmental morals and surface smiles holding steadfastly
to their traditions while raising a generation of children
who could not wait to hop into the burgeoning jazz age
where a more egocentric notion of living was beginning
The Whittaker family embodies this dichotomy to perfection.
The matriarch, played brilliantly by Kristin Scott Thomas,
is a woman desperate to hold onto to her family and their
values—as well as the land that has been her family
for seven generations. In the hands of a lesser actress
this could have easily been a villainous campy bitch that
we laughed at and hated. The genius of Scott Thomas’
performance is that we actually sympathize with her and
sometimes, actually root for her—something Coward
may not have intended but the nuance works so well.
Colin Firth masterfully portrays Mr. Whittaker, a man
whose soul died during the war and, consequently, has--in
Firth’s words--“gone slightly feral.”
The actor has a particularly poignant scene where he describes
his war experience.
Their only son, John (played nicely by Ben Barnes who,
in another era, could have been a matinee idol with the
likes of Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn) has returned home
and brought with him his new, and completely inappropriately
free-spirited American wife, played by the gorgeous Jessica
Biel. Let the verbal sparks begin!
Biel is problematic. A Winslet or Blanchett (with perfect
American accents) could have brought the strong sense-of-self
necessary to pull off this difficult and challenging role.
And to Biel’s credit she does succeed occasionally--especially
in her endscene. But she is out of her depth with the
likes of Firth and Scott Thomas.
The visuals via 2:35:1 aspect ratio are vividly lavish
in keeping with the sumptuous film. The Blu-Ray shows
off the gorgeous English countryside as well as the magnificent
costumes and art direction.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound boasts good depth but seems
to be recorded at a lower volume. I cranked it all the
way up on my receiver and it still didn’t seem loud
The Extras, alas, aren’t terribly impressive. There
is no Making-Of featurettes so we are left with a few
innocuous deleted scenes (making Biel seem even worse
an actress than in the film), a silly blooper reel and
a too-short New York Premiere coverage feature—all
totalling less than 20 minutes. The director/writer commentary,
however, is very interesting with director Elliott chatting
up a storm about all aspects of the film.
Easy Virtue is a hilarious and satiric comment
on a particularly fascinating time that resonates today.
Elliott’s frenetic and bedazzling directorial style
will enchant and envelop you.
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
It would be easy and unfair to lump
Fragments with the Crash copycat films
out there.While it does feature a starry cast in a vignetty
narrative that tries its best to comment on our time,
Fragments is a character study of damaged people
who must go on living after experiencing a devastating
Director Rowan Woods does not manipulate
his audience, he simply allows his characters to deal
with the tragedy in their own organic, non-contrived way.
It’s early morning in an LA diner
and shots soon fire. The non-linear narrative soon helps
put the ‘fragments’ of the story together
as the characters try and put the ‘fragments’
of their shattered lives back together. Trust me, the
film is much better than that sentence made it sound and
any in-depth mention of the plot would ruin the pleasure
of watching the film unfold.
The dynamic ensemble include the highly
underrated Kate Beckinsale, Guy Pearce, Jean Tripplehorn,
Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson (proving she has potential
beyond musicals) and Dakota Fanning, less annoying than
The DVD video transfer (1.85:1 anamorphic
widescreen) looks good. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is
The only extra is a director audio commentary
that is actually quite good as it details the process
and his choices pretty thoroughly.
Fragments is absorbing
and provocative filmmaking that is definitely worth a
Reviewed by Frank
John Cassavetes was the father of the
independent film movement. In the 1960s he dared to grab
a camera and enlist some amazing actors to experiment
both with the medium and with the art of film acting,
resulting in original and audacious works that would influence
cinema artists for years to come.
Cassavetes made some of the seminal
films of the 60s and 70s including Faces, A
Woman Under the Influence, The Killing of a Chinese
Bookie and Opening Night. His oeuvre, however,
was not very commercial. This may account for the fact
that his 1970 classic, Husbands, has never been
released on DVD…until now.
Tagged as ‘a comedy about life
death and freedom,’ Husbands continued
the Cassavetes trend of improvisational and actor-friendly
explorations, with plot and audience expectations taking
a backseat while the auteur and actors went in search
for emotional truth.
Husbands follows three middle-aged
married friends on a journey of mourning when their fourth
wheel dies. The rest of the film is a series of sometimes
lengthy vignettes where the guys try to come to terms
with aspects of their lives and themselves.
Cassavetes stars with two of staples
from his stable: Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara. All three
deliver powerhouse performances with Gazzara giving a
bravura portrayal as a man miserable in his own skin.
Watching these titans simply “act”
is the greatest treat and here we are able to enjoy the
original 139 minute cut of the film--apparently the movie
was butchered down by 20 minutes after the studio put
pressure on Cassavetes. (Gazzara, in an interview on the
disc, stated that his favorite cut of the film ran 4 and
a half hours!!!)
Like many American directors that thrived
in the 70s (Altman, Ashby) Cassavetes made truly personal
films that seemed to expose elements of his own psyche.
Husbands is a terrific addition to his canon
and is a must see for anyone who cares about American
Transfer-wise, the film looks wonderful
with that seventies grainy feel. The sound is sometimes
garbled and unintelligible but that’s the price
we must pay for overlapping dialogue—I wouldn’t
have it any other way!
A wonderful documentary features interviews
with Gazzara, producer Al Ruban and cinematographer Victor
Kemper where these men discuss the Cassavetes’ “style”
and the discovery process. All three seem to concur that
Cassavetes made his films ‘to please himself, not
Audio commentary by biographer Marshall
Fine is incredibly insightful. Cassavetes would often
take film acting roles to earn enough money so he could
continue making the films he wanted to make. As actor
and writer/director, he remains one of the most fascinating
figures in American film.
Reviewed by Frank
Borrowing…okay STEALING outright
from 1987’s Fatal Attraction, Steve Shill’s
messy and predictable film Obsessed does do one
thing very well: it delivers a riveting final cat fight
between the two lady leads that is ridiculously satisfying
and the height of camp.
The basic paint-by-numbers plot has
Lisa (Ali Larter in the film’s best performance)
trying to seduce duller-than-dirt Derek (Idris Elba) from
his feisty wife Sharon (her highness Beyonce Knowles).
Lisa goes cuckoo when she doesn’t get what she wants.
Sharon tosses Derek out when she thinks he’s cheating.
Sound all too familiar?
I have never been a big fan of Fatal
Attraction, mostly because of the fact that director
Adrian Lyne did not have the courage of his own artistry
and, after preview audiences were left ungratified by
the ending, he assembled the cast and filmed the now classic
(and I think pathetic) scene where Alex Forrest (Glenn
Close) is gruesomely shot dead in the bathtub. Viewers
wanted her blood and it’s what they got. The Michael
Douglas character, however, got away with barely a slap
on the wrist. Oh, the poor rabbit! In changing his film
to please the masses, Lyne took a fascinating female character
and turned her into a total psycho with no real motivation.
Director Shill and screenwriter David
Loughery (who says in one of the featurettes that the
idea for Obsessed came from a studio head) make
the character of Lisa a psycho right from the get-go.
There are no gray areas, she’s just nuts and her
motivations do not really matter. Obsessed also
differs from Fatal Trash in the key plot twist
where the male lead does NOT actually have an affair,
he (wholly unbelievably) spurns Lisa’s advances.
This is a great film to watch with some
booze handy. It’s mediocre but terrific fun. And
watching Beyonce bitch-out on Larter is just worth the
sit! Larter has a flirty/crazybitch blast and it shows.
Beyonce has proven her acting mettle in Dreamgirls
and Cadillac Records, so here she can simply
have a diva-blast—and she does!
Visually, the film is a mixed bag. Some
scenes look better than others on this Blu-Ray edition—the
daylight and office shots are aces while the night scenes
are a bit murky. The aspect ratio is 2.40.
The audio (Dolby TrueHD 5.1) is fantastic,
especially in the final take-no-prisoners showdown.
There are three slight extras that are
more promo than anything else: Playing Nicely
together (the 15 min. making-of); Dressed to Kill
(a 9 min costime short) and Girl Fight (the 11
min battle breakdown).
I did not dislike this film as much
as I should have. Perhaps it was the vino.