by Frank J. Avella
I want to say up front that to truly appreciate how fantastic
a film Animal Kingdom is, I recommend two viewings.
The reasons have everything to do with the tremendously
dense script, incredibly subtle performances and how difficult
the Australian accents can be for Americans to understand
(subtitles are recommended).
Writer/Director David Michôd
(his first helmed feature) has crafted a rich, gritty,
penetrating stunner of a tale about a family of criminals
who come up against shifty, vengeful cops.
As the film opens, Joshua
(newcomer James Frecheville in an extraordinary performance)
is watching a game show seated next to his mother. We
soon realize she is dead and he is waiting for the paramedics
to arrive. The indifferent look on his face is chilling.
Joshua is taken in by his
sweet, overly loving, crafty grandmother known as “Smurf"
(Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver). Smurf lives with her three
sons: Craig (a perfectly nervous Sullivan Stapleton);
her youngest Darren (the cute and gifted Luke Ford) as
well as the downright evil "Pope" (Ben Mendelsohn
in a terrifying turn).
Joshua finds himself drawn
into a world no teen should ever be drawn into. I’m
not going to give away any plot since one of the joys
of seeing the film the first time is being taken aback
by the elaborate and engrossing maneuverings of the plot
This is not your typical
gangster story by any stretch—it’s an angry,
nasty, harrowingly realistic film that never fills in
all the blanks for us. For instance is Grandma Smurf simply
a byproduct of who her sons have become or did she create
the monsters herself?
Part of the genius of the
gray-area answers to that question have to do with just
how assured Michôd is as a film director and how
he guides his actors to make the less obvious choices.
Jacki Weaver has been winning
awards for her portrayal and, initially, you may ask yourself
why. She’s a loving, gentle and protective mother
hen…that’s our first impression until we begin
realizing the unnerving layers to her performance. Behind
all the “sweeties” is something so much more
sinister and disturbing…or is it? Oh, yes, it is.
Wait, she’s not that creepy… “Give us
a kiss!” Oh yes she is. (sorry but that will make
more sense when you see the film.) She becomes a wholly
captivating character rich with a subtly savage nature
that is deliciously offset by her kind surface demeanor.
The impressive Blu-Ray
transfer of the 2.4:1 aspect ratio enhances the film’s
aesthetics and is a treat for cinema lovers.
The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio
track does exactly what it’s supposed to with its
quiet moments as well as the violent outbursts. Once again,
though, accents become an issue.
Special Features include
a decent Audio Commentary with Michôd, although
he sounds a bit uncomfortable and tends to repeat things.
Blu-Rayers are also treated
to a 34-minute Q & A taped after the L.A. Film Festival
screening featuring Michôd, Weaver and Frecheville.
Michôd, as with the commentary, is very honest and
critical of himself. Frecheville tells a great story of
how he was cast (which is repeated in the docu) and Weaver
is fun to listen to.
The best of the Bonus Features
is a 71-minute docu called “Creating Animal Kingdom,’
a pretty comprehensive look at the genesis, production
and reaction to the film. Michôd and his casting
director explain the exhaustive casting process (Weaver
was attached very early on, Guy Pearce came later) and
each actor gets to chime in about their respective roles
and how they approached the script. We become privy to
Weaver explaining that she was a bit disappointed that
Michôd wanted her to not play Smurf as a “baddie.”
Boy, are we thankful he didn’t and she should be
Also included is the Original
is a must for film lovers and future filmmakers to savor
Big Love: The Complete Fourth Season
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Season Three of HBO’s seriously mesmerizing show,
Big Love, presented a whirlwind of secrets, lies
and intrigue. Season Four continues the insanity, almost
to an outrageous degree—although change and anteing
up the stakes can be very good for a show that already
feels farfetched and difficult to swallow.
With prophet Roman Grant’s death and Bill’s
senate run, the show continues to explore the struggles
of Bill (Bill Paxton) and his three Mormon wives (Jeanne
Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin, still
stealing all her scenes) living a life of pretense…although
the season ends with quite a bang that makes Season Five
Some of the highlights of Season Four include a nastily
refreshing turn by Oscar winner Sissy Spacek as well as
Margene’s (Goodwin) inappropriate kissing of Bill’s
son (who happens to be closer to her age than Bill). In
addition, the continual unease of Barb (the still-terrific
Tripplehorn), an absorbing gay subplot involving a key
compound member (the continually creepy Matt Ross) and
the unending lunacy of Bill’s mom Lois (Grace Zabriskie)
keep Big Love in constant fascination
The main disappointment was reducing the show from 12
episodes to 9. Whatever the reason, the pace is more frenetic
and the show felt rushed.
The anamorphic transfer looks decent enough and the Dolby
Digital sound mix is acceptable.
As far as Special Features, each episode has a short “Inside
the Episode” clip that features quick interviews
with the creators Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer. More
would have been welcome.
Big Love continues to push the HBO drama forward.
Now let’s see how the Henricksons survive Season
Five—the final season.
Reviewed by Frank
Written by Steven Antin
Starring: Cher, Christina Aguilera,
Cam Gigandet, Eric Dane, Kristen Bell, Stanley Tucci,
What did not work that well on the
big screen dazzles on Blu-Ray.
Not because a second viewing proves
that the script isn’t awful (it is) and not because
the direction is discovered to be more than fairly pedestrian
(it’s not) but because the best segments of Burlesque
look and sound amazing in the BD format: the musical numbers!
It’s sad that all the monies and
energies that went into producing such lush, mesmerizing
and entertaining musical moments could not have also gone
into tweaking the script so it wasn’t so wincingly
cliché’ and embarrassing predictable.
Burlesque wants desperately
to be Chicago meets Cabaret. but ends
up being more of a Coyote Ugly/Showgirls
hybrid. Sure it has tremendous camp cache,’ but
it shoulda/coulda been so much more—especially considering
the caliber of talent that’s been assembled.
Firstly, you have Cher in her first
lead feature role in over a decade (Tea With Mussolini
in 1999 unless you count her stint in Stuck On You
in 2003 which was a supporting turn). She’s such
a pro that it’s hard to not appreciate her even
when she’s wasted in scenes worrying about finances--ad
nauseum. And really, only two musical numbers for this
icon? What was Steve Antin thinking?
He was thinking: Christina Aguilera.
And while she is sensational in each and every musical
segment, she isn’t the most solid of actresses.
To be fair, it’s really Antin’s lousy script
that does her in at times, forcing her to utter the silliest
lines, trying to make them not sound ridiculous.
The abysmally bland and overdone plot
has Aguilera preposterously cast as an Iowan who, unable
to tolerate her sad diner job, picks up and moves to the
big city: Los Angeles, and happens upon an old-fashioned
burlesque club on the Sunset Strip where each gal lip-syncs
to songs while shaking their collective ta-tas for a lackluster
audience. (This is basically a gay bar where the drag
queens have been replaced by real girls).
Cher runs the club, that is losing money,
and before you can say, “a star is born,”
Aggie (my pet name for Christina) gets to prove she can
not only dance, but also…sing! Imagine. What an
original idea? Have the girls actually sing! That will
bring in the dough and save the club! (Imagine trying
this one at a gay bar!)
Stanley Tucci is on board to bring his
brand of class to a standard and mostly sexless gay role.
There are all kinds of dopey subplots
going on. The most interesting involving Cam Gigandet
as a hunky bartender who wears more eye-liner than the
gals but, of course, is straight--For all the heterosexuals
in the audience…wait, what heterosexuals? Who was
this movie made for, anyway??? The Gigandet portion of
the film is only interesting because we get to see a lot
of him and…he’s not a bad actor to boot.
If Antin had the courage to gay this
film up, it might have been truly worthwhile, but he seems
too afraid, not even bothering to put any of the cute
boys into any of the musical numbers (yes, I know, that
wasn’t done in the days of burlesque, but this is
supposed to be a club in 2010!!!)
If you can get past all the hokey scenes
and crap lines (just use the fast-forward button) you
will find some splendid musical sections that make this
Blu-Ray worth the price.
Both of Cher’s numbers are showstoppers,
especially “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,”
which could be her new anthem and should have gotten an
Oscar nomination (it justly won the Golden Globe).
Aggie kills it with Etta James’s
“Something’s Got a Hold On Me,” in the
film’s opening, as well as the sultry “Bound
Actually, each time the music swelled,
I turned the volume up and paid attention. The numbers
put a smile on your face and make you forget the mess
you are watching.
The 1080p hi-def transfer at a 2.40:1
is fabulous with splashy colors that enhance the visuals.
The film is gorgeous to look at with sharp resolution
and stunning art direction.
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA sound mix is absolutely
extraordinary and truly astounds—particularly in
the musical segments.
The Extras are fun, if overly glossy.
The best of the lot is the ‘Burlesque
Jukebox,’ which boast six uncut musical numbers
including an Alan Cumming-sung “That’s Life”
–cut from the film--which is just wonderful! More
of these would have been better than the “dialogue-driven”
An Alternate Opening Sequence is simply
a longer version of “Something’s Got a Hold
On Me.” The Blooper Reel is skippable unless you’re
one of the cast/crew and Steven Antin’s Audio Commentary
is pretty stale and dull. He’s excited enough but
doesn’t really provide much insight. He does love
his film, though.
Exclusive to the Blu-Ray is a five section,
33-minute group of Featurettes that are puffed-up and
glorified commercials for the film but do offer some interesting
background info especially describing Aggie's musical
contributions. The MovieIQ track offers trivia.
The Blu-Ray package also comes with
a DVD of the film.
This one’s an instant camp classic
for some of the wrong reasons and a few truly spectacular
Complete Fourteenth Season
Reviewed by Frank
The fourteenth season was the final
season for Dallas. That’s fourteen years
of JR’s shenanigans.
Dallas bowed on CBS in 1978 and wasn’t
a hit at all--today it would have been cancelled. But
the network gave it a second chance and timeslot and it
slowly built an audience and went to number one. The show
broke ground as the first blockbuster nighttime soap opera
of the seventies (the had Peyton Place in the
60s) where each week presented some new, exciting final-moment
that would culminate in an end of season cliffhanger that
would change television forever (although Soap
did it as well that same “Who Shot JR? season, but
not as many people were paying attention to “Who
Killed Peter Campbell?”) We have come to expect
cliffhangers now, especially in our “continuing”
Season 14 ran from November 1990 through May 1991 and
featured more of the same manipulations and machinations
fans came to expect. The season ran the gamut from the
ridiculous (JRs being trapped in an asylum) to the sublime
(the last episode).
In the two-part finale, Conundrum, some favorites
return as JR is taken on an “It’s a Wonderful
Life” type journey. It’s priceless and the
final moments actually do the show justice—even
though it pissed a lot of people off.
This collection contains all 23 episodes. The TV movies
still have yet to be released on DVD, but it’s nice
to be able to finish the Dallas episodes collection.
The video transfer is adequate as is the sound. Nothing
There are no Special Features offered, which is a shame
since it was the last season. Still, it’s a must-own
for any fan.
by Gordon Ball
Released December 2010
Reviewed by Peter
Neofotis, New York, NY
“First thought, best thought,“
was the artistic vision of Beat Generation writers Jack
Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg - which resulted in their texts
with an inspired sense of spontaneity. And it has also
been this school of thought - of recording unplanned impressions
- that has doubtlessly influenced Gordon Ball - an intimate
student of Ginsberg - in the creation of these films,
just released in DVD as The Films of Gordon Ball.
However, Mr. Ball’s work has achieved an artistic
purity and elegance that in many ways eluded even his
Such multi-movement mastery is most
clear in his Mexican Jail Footage, in which Gordon Ball
bestows upon us scenes from his time being held without
charge in 1968 with 25 other gringos in the Puerto Vallarta
jail with a sun-drenched courtyard. To give you an idea
of the diversity of his jail mates, Mexican and Gringo,
one was a one-eyed murderer. Another was a beautiful youth
named John Paul “from Paris” who was arrested
“near Liz Taylor’s house” nearby (perhaps
appropriately, it is John Paul who - upon finding out
that Gordon has a camera - provides him with the film).
What then follows is a documentary of the daily jail events
- sometimes mirage-like, sometimes montage-esque, always
impressionistic. Indeed, the film itself - 8mm that is
sometimes overlaid with flashes of light due to accidental
external exposures - makes even the medium on which this
work is filmed impart its vision of a sometimes haphazard,
sometimes precarious, but beautiful life.
There is an appropriate yet certain
irony that with all its unplanned nature or the lack of
studio lighting and sound, this film by Gordon Ball achieves
- more so than most any film to come out of Hollywood
- a more realized vision of a youth and a certain culture
where people know how to be alive and enjoy each moment.
No special effects could compare to our seeing them, for
example, performing yoga in the prison courtyard or kissing
each other avidly through the cell bars.
Over the visuals we have the narration
of Gordon Ball - unapologetic, without artifice, with
no effort to push nostalgia. Just laying down the facts
- in a description that sometimes literally matches the
film but more often does not - a wonderful merging of
traditional storytelling with the avant-guarde.
“No religions is my religion....I
believe in the validity of all religions. I am interested
in religious experiences and that we are all God or aspects
of divinity,” he tells an interrogator (who then
asks him if he’s an addicto). As often as I’ve
heard people preach about their visions of God, goodness,
and love, when I heard those words near the close at Gordon’s
work - I believed his belief in them to be true. And in
"Mexican Jail Footage" we have a vision of peace,
love, and hope - of a people and time and youth that seems
too much vanquished in the new digitized millennia. And
as I was watched the film’s nearly final shot of
a jail mate on the the beach, released at last from the
Mexican Prison, I thought how wonderful that Gordon Ball
had dared to take his vision all the way. How crazy. Here
is a man reflecting on his youth without adornment - yet
it remains beautiful, clear, and real. Whether he intended
to or not, this film by Gordon Ball laments with us how
sad is it that such visions of life, love, and a sense
of the divinity have not been furthered; and it forces
us to wonder what can we do to reincarnate such ideas
in the new modern world.
There are 6 other works on Gordon
Ball’s DVD, including "Eulogies on the death
of his parents" and a profound first hand account
of life in Poland before the era of Glasnost. An interview
with the filmmaker by Tom Whiteside caps the whole anthology.
Films by Gordon Ball is distributed by Filmmakers Cooperative
(New York), Canyon Cinema (San Francisco), and Re:Voir
Aaron Tveit and James Franco in
Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman’s
by Frank J. Avella
Written by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Starring: James Franco,
Mary-Louise Parker, Jon Hamm, Jeff Daniels, David Strathairn,
Alessandro Nivola, Treat Williams, Aaron Tveit, Bob Balaban.
The Blu-Ray Edition of Howl
is a treasure trove of riches that enhance the film as
well as educating the viewer on the poem, the poet and
the turbulent, transmutative times that produced both
and that helped forge a movement.
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, responsible
for the seminal documentaries The Times of Harvey
Milk and The Celluloid Closet, have crafted
an ambitious, quasi-docu narrative feature that only gets
better with repeated viewings.
The film is like a mosaic, interspersing
four specific segments-- interviews with Ginsberg as played
by Franco, the trial, readings via Franco in a coffeehouse
with animated sequences bringing the poem to life and
moments from Ginsberg’s life shot in a home movie
style. The look of the film is wonderful across the boards,
with splendid camerawork by Edward Lachman and the Blu-Ray
transfer is exquisite. The varying visual styles blend
magnificently (even the animation). It’s a fantastic
eye-popping presentation. The audio is a bit low but the
mix is pretty potent.
James Franco effectively and wholly
embodies poet Allen Ginsberg. His performance is absolutely
compelling as he immerses himself into the time, the place,
the man and the man’s groundbreaking poem.
Franco’s readings from the then-infamous,
now-landmark, work are powerful and I would often close
my eyes to let the words truly resonate with me. The other
reason I’d close my eyes was to not have to view
the surreal yet often too literal animated scenes that
accompanied many of the readings. This is a misstep in
an otherwise terrific film.
Ginsberg’s poem is a highly personal
yet transcendent piece. It speaks to each person differently
(although that can be argued about any literary work but
poetry, in particular, is pretty intimate) and Franco’s
interpretation is so commanding that it might have been
more effective to just put the camera on the actor and
have him speak (as is done in several fab coffeehouse
The only other criticism I can toss
at Howl is that I wanted more; more of the potent
courtroom moments; more background on Ginsberg and his
relationships with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and, especially,
his lover Peter Orlovsky (Aaron Tveit), who is seen too
briefly. And the Special Features provide much of what
I was craving.
The Audio Commentary with James Franco,
Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Freidman is quite informative
and Franco makes it fun. The three provide some fascinating
insights into the making of the film and the historical
significance of the poem and the obscenity trial.
The 40-minute featurettes "Holy!
Holy! Holy! The Making of Howl," covers every aspect
of the filmmaking process as well as giving us more about
Ginsberg who “struggled to liberate himself sexually,”
at a time when everyone was fairly anti-gay.
The "Directors' Research Tapes"
section (28 minutes) include pertinent interviews with
animator Eric Drooker, Ginsberg’s companion Peter
Orlovsky, poet/musician Tuli Kupferberg, publisher Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, and musician Steven Taylor.
Another treat is a 22-minute Q &
A with Epstein and Freidman from the Provincetown Film
Festival moderated by John Cameron Mitchell.
An amazing video of Ginsberg reading
the poem (along with two others) at the Kitting Factory
in 1995 is included as well as an audio-only reading by
Franco. I wish they had given us a video of Franco’s
Trailers are also included.
Howl is about how language
can rattle people. It was the honest, explicit nature
of the poem that shocked people when it was first published
in 1956. That led to an obscenity trial (this was the
1950s where everything needed to stay surface squeaky
clean), which is depicted in the film, via intercut segments,
with dialogue taken from the real court transcripts. The
trial section features many a familiar face such as Jon
Hamm (dapperly at home in a suit and tie), David Strathairn
(ditto), Treat Williams, Jeff Daniels, Bob Balaban and
Mary Louise-Parker—all very good.
But in the end it’s Franco’s
becoming Ginsberg so effectively that anchors the pic
and gives it it’s soul. Ginsberg was an openly gay
man at a time when EVERYONE was in the closet. You had
to be. At the time he wrote Howl, homosexuality
was still considered a mental disorder and, too often,
those with queer tendencies were forced to undergo electro-shock
and sometimes lobotomies, to “cure” their
disease. Ginsberg, himself, spent time in a mental hospital
until he promised he would change.
His work captured the loneliness and
alienation of a generation of artists and people who were
told they were lesser humans because they were different.
This appealed to both gay and straight alike. He captured
the anger and restlessness of a group that felt their
voices weren’t being heard; that felt they were
being condemned because they didn’t fit what was
considered “normal.” Ginsberg was at the forefront
of a literary movement that would eventually explode into
the social movements of the 1960s that would change this
Howl is a historically important
recollection that deserves to be seen by anyone who cares
about the first amendment.
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Samuel Maoz has crafted an autobiographical
film based on his experience in the Lebanon War of 1982
that is audacious and powerful. The entire film takes
place within the confines of an armored tank during the
first 24 hours of what was supposed to be a simple mission.
The only view we get of what is going on outside is through
what our soldiers see via the gun barrel.
The four soldiers are all in their early 20s. Shmulik
(Yoav Donat), the gunner, is the Maoz’s character—who
has a hard time firing when he is ordered to. Assi (Itay
Tiran) is their apprehensive commander. Hertzel (Oshri
Cohen) is the loader who argues every order he is given.
And Yigal (Michael Moshonov), the driver, proves he isn’t
the most astute of the bunch.
The mission is to clean up a bombed Lebanese village.
But things go very wrong and these boys are forced to
make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.
Maoz and his Das Bootian claustrophobic camera captures
the uncertainty, confusion and sheer terror felt by these
soldiers on their first mission who are told by their
commanding officer to “Be creative. Improvise,”
in moments of peril. The statement ‘war is hell,’
easily becomes ‘war is lunacy,’ as we watch
the terror on their faces and the chaos that ensues.
The Blu-Ray offers an even more intimate, ergo frightening,
The visual transfer (1.78:1 aspect ratio) enhances the
dark, grim photography that enables the viewer to feel
the fear and paranoia as the men do.
And the 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix equally enhances the experience,
blending the too-quiet silences with the bombings and
giving the viewer a terrific and terrifying sense of being
in the tank.
Besides the theatrical trailer, there
is one other Extra, a making-of documentary titled “Notes
on a War Film,” that runs 24 minutes. This feature
is a pretty comprehensive account of the difficulties
inherent in making such an emotionally grueling film.
Lebanon is unrelentingly grim and viscerally
horrific, yet mesmerizing. It should have been Israel’s
Oscar entry last year. See it.
Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express
Directed by Philip Martin, Adapted
by Stewart Harcourt.
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
David Suchet has been playing Hercule
Poirot, Agatha Christie's most celebrated sleuth, for
over two decades now so it was only natural that Christie's
most celebrated novel be adapted for British television
as part of the Poirot series.
Remade once before, in 2001, as a decent
if cheesy TV movie, the classic mystery Murder on
the Orient Express, had it's definitive adaptation
in 1974 when it was masterfully directed by the great
Sidney Lumet, brilliantly written by Oscar nominee Paul
Dehn and starred a literal "Who's Who" of the
best film and stage actors of the time.
Why tamper with perfection if you can't
possibly add anything? The creators probably grappled
with the question and decided they would add something--much
to the anger and outrage of die-hard Christie fans. They
ended up changing quite a bit of the story--certainly
Poirot's motivations adding more ethical and moral shadings
to the story and a religious element that was initially
only hinted at. In addition, one of the possibly guilty
parties was changed, another omitted completely and certain
character behaviors were altered--in one case the person
who was responsible for masterminding the crime was completely
switched without any real reason.
Okay, so you decide to tamper with perfection,
you change the structure, some of the story and the famous
denouement. And you even mess with Poirot and make him
a more introspective, brooding and torn man grappling
with his own arrogant rigidity. And, worst sin of all,
you relegate most of the passengers to near-walk-on status.
I will state, up front, that the Sidney
Lumet film is one of my all-time favorites and my favorite
mystery motion picture by a long shot. And Albert Finney's
Poirot was a tour-de-force on every conceivable level
including his sheer brilliance and confidence. So it's
pretty impossible for me not to compare the two. And while
I appreciate director Philip Martin and writer Stewart
Harcourt wanting to shake things up, too often it seems
like they choose to do so simply to do so. Still there
are joys to be found in this version.
The basic plot is still there. A dozen-plus
passengers depart Istanbul and head directly into a snowbank.
During the journey, the most reviled of them, is brutally
stabbed to death. Poirot happens to be on board and is
asked by the owner of the line to solve the crime.
Lumet remarkably offset and contrasted
the ghoulishness of the homicide with the pomp, glamour
and splash of the passengers on board and the land-voyage
itself. This version is smaller on every level, certainly
grittier, a tad nastier and, oddly, quiet.
Suchet's Poirot now whispers to Pierre,
"Has anything been touched," when he enters
the victims compartment in direct contrast to Finney's
famous order to "Pierre, touch nothing!"
Lumet opens his film with a montage
about the Lindbergh-esque kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong
so an important seed is planted early on about what the
viewer is about to see allowing him/her to plot along
and try and self-sleuth. The new version saves (and overly
borrows) the Armstrong murder story for later in the film...too
late for an unfamiliar audience to care as much.
And let's discuss the obvious: Lumet's
cast was a veritable cornucopia of great actors from Oscar
winner Ingrid Bergman to Vanessa Redgrave to John Geilgud
to Lauren Bacall to Sean Connery to Richard Widmark...well,
you get the idea. The acting in this version is first-rate,
the problem is there are very few who are able to stand
out given the brevity of their parts. Eileen Atkins fares
best giving a bravura performance as the Princess Dragomiroff.
Barbara Hershey and Jessica Chastain have some terrific
moments. The men, not so much.
Suchet is more of a complication. While
I appreciated the depth and the soul searching, his performance
lacks the intensity and the self-assuredness needed to
make us feel he truly is the master sleuth he is supposed
This remake actually almost redeems
itself in the great reveal at the end. While I still prefer
Lumet's cinematically claustrophobic finale, Martin chooses
to allow the passengers to aide Poirot in figuring it
all out and, in doing so, we truly get a fascinating debate
about right and wrong, about the law and even about God.
And the very final moment is pretty striking.
Christian Henson's score is certainly
rousing, but pales in comparison with Richard Rodney Bennett's
sweeping and utterly delightful original. Oops, there
I go again.
This is the very first Brit TV Blu-Ray
release from Acorn Media and the visual results are good,
although sometimes too grainy. The featurette sometimes
looks better than the film. The DTS-HD Master Audio sound,
however, is clear and crisp with the multi-accented dialogue
mercifully audible at all times.
The main Special Feature is a 47-minute
featurette romp titled "David Suchet on the Orient
Express." The docu is a total delight and makes the
viewer want to book passage immediately. The travelogue
delves into the rich history of the train as well as it's
opulence and elegance: "an elegance we don't have
anymore." The special also discusses Christie's journey
on the Express and how she may have gotten her ideas for
the novel. And Suchet has a ball taking the famous train
across Europe, even being allowed to drive it for a spell--every
Also included: some good reading material:
"120 Years with Agatha Christie," a list of
Poirot books and Cast Filmographies.
Even with the liberties taken, this
Christie take would definitely make a worthy addition
to your Blu-Ray library. Now, if Paramount would only
remaster and release the original film on Blu-Ray, the
viewer can have a ball comparing and contrasting.
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Nowhere Boy, a very sweet and loving portrait
of the John Lennon teen years, is one of the most underrated
films of 2010.
The film focuses on Lennon’s relationship with the
two most important women in his life—his Aunt Mimi
and his estranged mother Julia--and soars on the performances
of both Kristin Scott Thomas and Anne-Marie Duff, respectively,
as well as newcomer Aaron Johnson (unrecognizable from
Kick-Ass) who shows us a conflicted, driven and
sexy young man who misses his mother and loves his aunt.
We are also privy to the moment when John meets Paul (an
adorable Thomas Sangster) and it is handled the way it
probably happened, matter-of-factly.
Apparently director Taylor-Wood was in contact with both
Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney before and during filming,
so what we see onscreen is funneled through the memories
of those two as well as Lennon’s public statements
about his early years and the filmmaker’s notions.
The moving script by Matt Greenhalgh (Control)
never labors too long on the melodramatic but is more
concerned with how each matriarchal figure influenced
Lennon, musically and otherwise.
There are flaws. Some of the moments in the film do become
a bit cliché’—especially when Lennon
is forced to become enraged by Mimi or embarrassed by
Julia, but Johnson handles it like it’s the most
natural thing in the world.
Kristin Scott Thomas is one of cinemas greatest treasures.
She’s heir apparent to the sardonic Maggie Smith
roles of the future. Always betraying bits of warmth and
vulnerability no matter how cold and heartless she is
called on to be, Thomas’s Julia is a woman who will
stop at nothing to protect the boy she raised. She may
not be his biological mother but, in her heart, she is
Anne Marie-Duff’s role is trickier since she’s
a bit underwritten. A free-spirit (read: loose woman)
she has her own bouts with depression, but is full of
joie de vivre and adores her son. Duff goes beneath the
surface to find a complex woman who must fight her true
sexual feelings in a time when women weren’t supposed
to be sexual.
And Johnson proves he is one of the most talented finds
Production values are above par across the boards.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks good enough
with neatly saturated colors. The period is represented
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is fantastic with the early
songs overwhelming the soundtrack perfectly.
Extra Features are pretty paltry on the DVD.
They include two Deleted Scenes that are nothing more
than throwaways. (apparently there are more Deleted Scenes
on the Blu-Ray). The 7-minute short “The Making
of Nowhere Boy” has some decent interviews with
the principles involved but is (say it with me) too short!
Ditto the 13-minute puff piece, "Nowhere Boy: The
Untold Story of John Lennon and the Creation of the Beatles."
Nowhere Boy somehow slipped through the cine-cracks
in this country. It was far more celebrated in Britain
where Thomas and Duff were both BAFTA nominated for Outstanding
Supporting Actress and the movie itself was nommed for
Outstanding British Film. Hopefully it will find a long
life on DVD.
Reviewed by Frank
Yikes, what a mess. Yes, I mean the
film. But is it a fun, campy mess? Suffice to say, since
I don’t have a 3-D HDTV, I had to evaluate Piranha
3-D based on a two-dimensional viewing and the results
are mixed but it is quite enjoyable watching people get
eaten alive by the way-too-computer-generated nasty-ass
sea creatures. Note: Both versions (2-D, 3-D) are offered
on the Blu-Ray.
The film begins with Richard Dreyfuss slumming…for
a few seconds until he becomes fish food in a fun whirlpool
sequence. It’s the first of many homages (rip-off
moments?) to Jaws and the Jaws films.
And rest assured the Alien franchise is also
liberally borrowed from--which made me wonder if an Alien
vs. Piranha film was in the works…God, help
us. You can even find appropriated moments from some 70s
disaster movies including The Poseidon Adventure!
Speaking of slumming, Elisabeth Shue, a one-time Oscar
nominee for Leaving Las Vegas, is relegated to
playing the fem-version of Roy Scheider’s Chief
Brody, only with much less enthusiasm and less sex appeal.
That is left for the youth—especially the female
youth. There are plenty of tits and ass on display (as
well as some vagina) to make teen boys squirt their collective
shorts. And the 3-D boobs-in-your-face shots are also
A remake of sorts, this version is less of a contemporary
social satire than the original and more of a satire on
silly slasher films, 80s horror films, Spring Break
films and killer fish films...I guess…but don’t
get too excited, it’s mostly an opportunity to show
different ways chewing people to shreds can be achieved…with
the 3-D cam bopping about.
The barren plot has Shue the Sheriff of Lake Victoria
dealing (poorly) with the onset of an attack of a prehistoric
breed of piranha during Spring Break. Her teenage son
(Vampire Diaries’ Steven R. McQueen—yes
grandson of Steve) has been hired to help a Girls
Gone Wild-type filmmaker (Jerry O’Connell)
scout locations…and ass. Pretty soon the fish attack—everyone…well,
almost everyone. You can guess instantly who survives:
the duller-than-dirt McQueen, the painfully-dull Jessica
Szohr (as if her tepid turn on Gossip Girl wasn’t
bad enough) and, the two annoying kids. Typical. God forbid
we rid the world of brats.
Okay on to the technical aspects—which actually
rock and are the main reason to get this Blu-Ray.
The 1080p/AVC-MPEG4 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.40:1) looks
really good. Great colors (among other things) popping.
The only prob is that with such a good transfer, the effects,
the fish in particular, look a bit hokey. The DTS-HD Master
Audio 5.1 mix is awesome. No complaints.
The Special Features offered on this Blu-Ray are an embarrassment
of riches. One should get this type of treasure trove
all the time.
Firstly, the audio commentary with Aja and producer Gregory
Levasseur is nutty and frank and sometimes difficult to
hear because of the accents, but definitely entertaining.
The film itself is 90 minutes long yet there is a comprehensive
129- minute Making-of documentary called ‘Don’t
Scream, Just Swim.” Every bloody (pun intended)
aspect of the filmmaking experience is here and then some.
It’s a dream for any fan of the film and actually
interesting to watch for those of us not quite as turned
on to the magic of P-3.
Some rightfully removed Deleted Scenes are featured (7-plus
minutes) as well as Deleted Storyboard Sequences (11 min.)
and the trailer and TV spots.
You gotta have a yen for the splattertastic to truly enjoy
a film like this. If you do, have a piranha party!
Starring: Steve Callahan; Matthew Montgomery;
David Pevsner; Brian Nolan; Matthew Stephen Herrick; and
Jim J. Bullock.
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Viewing the new DVD of Rob Williams
festival hit Role/Play, I was struck by how much
more visual the film seemed on the small screen. This
is a film with a whole lot of dialogue and, when I first
saw it, it felt as if a terrific stage play was trying
to break out of the frame. For some odd reason, watching
the gorgeous DVD on a high def TV made the experience
Rob Williams is a proud gay filmmaker
who has something to say. Imagine! He features hot, hunky
actors naked and sneaking in lots of smart dialogue that
comments on current gay culture. He then sets the film
in a remote, gorgeous Palm Springs resort that acts as
a hideaway for gays—out and not-so-out--and presto:
audiences are given the perfect package, so to speak.
Steve Callahan plays Graham Windsor,
a soap actor who is in crisis because someone recently
leaked a revealing sex tape online where he’s seen
receiving some love a’ la’ Dustin Lance Black,
consequently he is fired from the network due to their
Matthew Montgomery is Trey Reed, marriage-equality
activist extraordinaire who has arrived to flee the nasty
publicity surrounding his impending divorce.
Graham and Trey verbally spar—each
presenting their often-polarizing sides on important topics
such as closeted actors coming out as well as how far
gay activists have a right to go in outing someone. As
the debates intensify, so does the chemistry between the
two guys, resulting in a passionate romance.
Role/Play asks pertinent questions
like whether the public has a right to know about people’s
private lives and the role of the press in keeping actors
in the closet. Williams also takes on the gay press for
building up certain figures only to enjoy tearing them
down the minute they fall from grace, but the dialogue
never feels didactic. In addition, Williams tosses in
quite a few veiled references to real life figures that
savvy viewers will have lots of fun with.
As stated earlier we get to see both
actors perfectly buff bodies as well as their bubble butts.
There’s a whole lot of ass on display in this film
and Williams, in
his Audio Commentary, takes every opportunity to point
each butt shot
out. The notion of narcissistic doubling and the superficiality
seemingly inherent in gay dating is also touched upon
making the nudity important and not just ass-candy. But
the second viewing made me wonder if the guys were a bit
too perfect looking. Graham needs to be since he’s
a soap star. But a buff activist with a perfect ass? I
guess they exist, but it would have been nice to see a
more realistic body. (OK, I contradict myself because
we all know that most gay men desire perfect bodies onscreen!)
I was still disappointed in the plot
machinations in the final quarter of the film where things
became a bit too preachy and moralistic. Williams creates
such wonderfully flawed characters--a couple of compromised
souls--that to have them decide to do so many of the “right”
things in the end, seems silly and unnecessary, feeding
into the exact things Williams rails against for most
of the movie. But his heart is certainly in the right
The visual transfer is fantastic and
preserves Ruben F. Russ’s gorgeous cinematography.
And the sound mix is very good in this dialogue-important
Most of the Special Features disappoint.
We get a 15-minute short “Getting Into Character:
The Making of Role/Play” which is amateurishly
made (background noise is downright irritating) and mostly
features the actors talking about who they portrayed.
Williams is noticeably absent. The 8 minutes of Bloopers/Outtakes
are probably funny to the cast and crew, but not to the
viewer. There are two Role/Play trailers included
The one treat is the Audio Commentary
by Williams where he does a wonderful job of telling interesting
anecdotes about filming and working with the actors, not
to mention the ass-spotting. It’s definitely worth
Role/Play is a clever and well-acted
romantic drama. Williams makes films about “the
gay experience.” And they provoke and challenge.
I look forward to seeing what he does next.
The Social Network
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
The best film of 2011 has just
been released via a stunning 2-disc Collector’s
Edition Blu-Ray (as well as DVD) and the results provide
a feast for those of us who feel this film represents
a milestone in cinema history—certainly recent cinema
The Social Network truly captures a cultural
timeshift as it is actually happening—no small feat—and
watching this phenomenal Blu-Ray edition, the audience
gets a rare treat inside all aspects of the creation of
this extraordinary cinematic achievement.
Firstly there’s the film itself, which has been
given a splendid visual transfer from its original 2.39:1
aspect ratio. Shot on RED digital cam, the Blu-Ray captures
the dark shadows of the outdoor (faux) Harvard sequences
magnificently as well as the indoor scenes. In particular,
the Henley Regatta rowing segment looks fantastic.
Audio-wise, The DTS-HD Master Audio Track features the
perfect narrative score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose
while the dialogue sounds crisp and clear, when David
Fincher wants it to.
The attention to detail for this release is beyond impressive.
The opening scene in this intoxicating film should be
required viewing for all future filmmakers. In five minutes
(apparently nine pages according to Fincher and screenwriter
Aaron Sorkin), the groundwork is laid for the entire story.
We are introduced to Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg)
and his girlfriend, Erica (the terrific Rooney Mara) as
they verbally spar and go from lovers to ex’s as
Erica decides she can no longer tolerate Mark’s
arrogance and condescension (he brags about getting a
1600 on his SATs, then the highest score possible). Ego
bruised, Mark returns to his dorm at Harvard University
and sets a chain of events in motion that will change
a generation’s way of socially networking with one
another. It’s the beginning of the Facebook generation
where everyone interacts through emails, websites and
texts, oh my! The horror, the horror.
A lot of the Extras—via the two commentary tracks
as well as the Making-of Doc—focus on this
astounding scene where Fincher’s unrelenting attention
to detail is exposed as well as his sheer, exhaustive
perfectionism--he shot 99 takes but refused to do number
100 (according to Sorkin).
“They came up with an idea, I had a better one,”
charges Zuckerberg in one of two courtroom lawsuit scenes
that frame the film (he is eventually sued by the Winklevi
as well as Saverin).
One of the great ironies of the film and Zuckerberg (as
he is presented) is that this great social network was
created by one of the most anti-social people in existence.
Here is someone who, had he not been at the helm of Facebook,
would probably be someone with few, if any, Facebook friends!
Of course, what Facebook really means comes into play
here as well. It can be argued that the new technology
has created a generation of social retards…but is
the opposite true? Have a handful of socially retarded
individuals (regardless of intelligence) created a technology
that protects them from pain and rejection?
The Social Network boasts the best acting ensemble
of the year and that is highly evident in repeated viewings
of the film.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark as cool, pompous and apathetic.
Many times he isn’t even paying attention to people
that are speaking to him. But because of that first scene
we carry with us the realization that a lover scorned
him and most of his nastiness comes from that humiliation.
Mark can easily be dismissed as an obnoxious asshole,
but Eisenberg won’t let us off that easy. It’s
a fascinating performance and his character actually becomes
more and more sympathetic with repeated viewings--a fact
that I’d bet Eisenberg would not like based on his
musings on the discs. “I just didn’t like
him being happy,” is just one of the many psychoanalytically
distraught character conveyances.
Andrew Garfield is slowly becoming one of the best actors
of his generation (Boy A, Lions for Lambs,
Never Let Me Go, The Red Riding Trilogy).
His Eduardo is a good guy caught up in a world where good
guys are eaten alive. The scene where he confronts Mark
after the ultimate betrayal shows Garfield at his best.
He may be nice and accepting, but when he’s crossed,
Justin Timberlake has a blast embodying
Napster founder and player-extraordinaire Sean Parker.
Rooney Mara makes quite an impression in very few scenes.
And Armie Hammer excels as both Winklevoss twins—in
a masterful performance that Hammer (who excitedly calls
playing both twins “a wet dream”), stand-in
actor Josh Pence and the magic of digital insertion are
all responsible for. The Extras go into detail about exactly
how these performances were created….
So on to the Extras:
The best of a host of bests is the 93-minute,
four-part documentary “How Did They Ever Make a
Movie of Facebook?” This fact-filled delight is
not a puff piece but a real look inside the making of
the film where a great deal of time and effort was put
into Fincher getting the script to a place where he felt
each word was justified. Once it was locked in, thought,
there was no room for improvising. The cast had three
weeks of rehearsal (a luxury today) and we see Fincher
immersed in his work with the actors and production team.
I do have one MAJOR complaint about
the docu. Why the hell was the profanity bleeped out?
The film is filled with profanity so why muck up the Special
features with bleeps? I doubt Fincher would have approved.
It’s annoying and takes away from the power of what
is being said.
In "Jeff Cronenweith and David
Fincher on the Visuals," an eight-minute featurette,
we learn just how uncooperative Harvard was in the making
of the movie.
"Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter and Ren
Klyce on Post" (17-min.) gives us fab insight into
the importance of editing and sound mixing.
"Trent Reznor, Atticus Rose and
David Fincher on the Score” is a nineteen-minute
feature that explores the challenges of scoring a dialogue-driven
"Swarmatron" is a 4-minute
clip about the musical circuit board used.
"In the Hall of the Mountain King:
Music Exploration" and "Ruby Skye VIP Room:
Multi-Angle Scene Breakdown" both show different
compositions/angles (respectively) used. Both are fascinating
In addition to the cornucopia above,
there are two Audio Commentary Tracks. The first is with
the master David Fincher where he honestly takes us through
the film and offers insights into the decisions he made.
Though some of the same material is covered in the docu,
it’s definitely worth a listen as we get to creep
into the mind of a true filmic genius.
The second track is a moshing of thoughts
from Aaron Sorkin, Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin
Timberlake, Armie Hammer and Josh Pence. It’s definitely
worth a listen as Sorkin discusses why 99 takes were necessary
for the first scene (“to casualize the language”)
as well as giving many other screenwriter insights. We
also get more of Eisenberg’s insecurities in his
therapeutic delving into his portrayal.
The Social Network is
a must-see for movie-lovers and this Blu-Ray edition is
a must-own for anyone who cares about the medium.
The Tillman Story
DVD Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
How The Tillman Story failed
to be Oscar-nominated for Best Documentary Feature is
one of those conundrum blunders the Academy needs to take
a long hard look at.
Narrated by Josh Brolin, the film is
a gripping and engrossing story of heroism, patriotism
and deception that attempts to unravel the mystery behind
the death of NFL player Pat Tillman who, in the wake of
September 11th, enlisted in the army and was killed by
friendly fire in 2004.
Most of Pat’s family, with one
very notable exception, recount the story of who Pat was
and how the media and the government tried to make his
death into a symbol of war heroism—reminiscent of
Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers:
“They chose the wrong family…”
This particular family relentlessly
pursued the truth about what happened to their son and
they are to be applauded for not simply accepting what
they were being fed and shutting up.
I don’t want to say too much about
what the family discovers and the pieces they are forced
to put together themselves—suffice to comment that
it’s a hair-raising and angering saga where those
responsible rarely admit accountability and are not necessarily
brought to justice.
In a key scene at Pat’s memorial,
after many appropriately maudlin and religiously-laced
speeches, Pat’s younger brother Richard gets up
and profanely offers that Pat didn’t believe in
God. It’s a raw and honest moment; one I’m
sure the politicos weren’t comfortable with.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen,
the DVD looks decent enough. This type of documentary
isn’t supposed to be visually dazzling. It is edited
in a very effective manner.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track
works well for a heavily-dialogued film.
There is one Special Feature: an informative
director commentary where Bar-Lev explains what the original
title of the film was and why it had to be changed. He
seemed fine with the alteration. After viewing the DVD,
I felt the initial title was far more appropriate. Hell,
the Academy failed to nominate this gem anyway. The original
title would have assured it notoriety and it would have
been more of a fitting tribute to a complicated boy who,
like so many of us, trusted our President and leaders
to do the right thing after 9/11—only to be betrayed.
Pat Tillman was betrayed three times
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
is it with the haters? Is bashing Oliver Stone that much
fun even when it’s wholly unwarranted? Probably.
Why? Because he puts forth fascinating theories and makes
them cinematic. Because he dares to be heavy-handed instead
of deathly subtle. Because he takes on daring themes and
has the audacity to push the envelope—even when
What I find fascinating about the divided
response to Stone’s gripping and intricate “sequel”
to 1987’s Wall Street is how so many of
the geek/newbie critics (really mostly bloggers calling
themselves critics) put forth the revisionist notion that
Wall Street was somehow universally well-received
and revered when it was released. It wasn’t. Not
by a long shot. Stone’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning
Platoon divided critics back then. It was the
character of Gordon Gekko who received all the attention.
And over the years he has taken on a mythical, heroic
stature—which even Stone is puzzled by since Gekko
represented everything that was wrong with the financial
world back then and, especially, now.
Twenty-three years after Wall Street
hit the screens, Stone returns to the world where “Greed
is Good,” and tries to explain that greed/Gekko
has managed to muck up our entire financial system. This
dazzling and dynamic film could not have come at a more
fitting time and yet it has been unjustly maligned, mostly
because Stone has the gall to focus on a father/daughter
relationship and find hope instead of futility. Damn him
to hell. And whether the conclusion feels contrived or
enlightening (and I don’t see it that black and
white) the merits of the film should be acknowledged.
The original Wall Street perfectly represented
the Reagan 80s where indulgence and excess ruled the day.
The type of greed that ran rampant into the 90s would
inevitably cause a crash that would be felt around the
world. Ironically, after the 2008 disaster, the current
administration has spent a buttload of money bailing out
the arrogant, avaricious banker bigwigs who caused the
mess in the first place. Gekko in 2010: “Greed is
good. Now, it seems, it’s legal.”
The movie’s plot involves Gekko’s
estranged daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan) who is dating
a young trader named Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). Despite
his financial success, Jake believes in alternative energy.
Winnie is the author of a liberal blog. Jake is mentored
by Louis Zabel (Frank Langella) who is set up for a fall
by a rival (James Brolin) and Zabel steps in front of
an oncoming subway train (to which someone insightfully
remarks: “No one else in the market had the balls
to commit suicide.”)
Meanwhile, Jake has met Gekko at a book
signing (the title of his masterwork: “Is Greed
Good?”) Jake offers to try to smooth things between
him and his daughter. Gekko gives Jake some keen advice
on how to get revenge for his mentor’s demise. And
the plot twists and turns as a worn, but eager Gekko gets
his moxie back and begins his return.
Oliver Stone along with Allan Loeb and
Stephen Schiff, have designed a screenplay that percolates
with all the current goings-on in the economic news, while
weaving a compelling tale of ethics and morals gone to
hell. Stone is on fire using his funky directorial style
to explore what is happening just outside the main focus.
The camera work (by Rodrigo Prieto) is fantastic and truly
pops on Blu-Ray. David Brenner and Julie Monroe’s
fulgurated editing is to be commended as well.
Shia LaBeouf nicely balances his characters
ambition with his desire for revenge as well as his truly
wanting to make a difference.
Carey Mulligan is so real, even in an
underwritten role. Her talents are never more evident
than in the final moment with Douglas where she conveys
so much without saying one word—showing us the difficult
grays—not exactly what you’d expect.
Michael Douglas gets to do what few
actors are ever able to do, reflect on the decisions his
character made two decades ago and proceed accordingly.
Douglasis the star of this film and justly received a
Golden Globe nomination.
Josh Brolin is wonderfully slimy and
nasty. Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, Eli Wallach and
John Buffalo Mailer are all uniformly terrific as is Charlie
Sheen in a clever cameo.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect
ratio) looks amazing in high definition. All the pyrotechnic
camerawork dazzles on Blu-Ray while the New York City
visuals make you feel a part of the mad-frenzy of the
one of the greatest and most maddening cities in the world.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is dialogue-friendly
(in a dialogue-driven film) and the background noises
are just right, as is the perfectly chosen music mix.
This Special Edition Blu-Ray (with Digital
Copy) boasts a bunch of marvelous Special Features beginning
with Stone’s Audio Commentary (he also does commentary
on the Deleted Scenes). Love or loathe him, Stone always
offers incredibly honest and forthcoming explorations
of every aspect of his films. He’s a brilliant,
opinionated, remarkable filmmaker with his assured ability
to truly delve into his own work and he doesn’t
let us down on this disc. His insightful thoughts are
a film lover’s wet dream as he examines the filmic
construction of his movie as well as analyze shots and
offer notions on why he chose to make it. He calls this
film his “love letter to New York.”
The 15-minute featurettes “A Conversation
with Oliver Stone and the Cast,” is just that—although
Mulligan remains mostly quiet. Here we feel the camaraderie
of the cast and the very intelligent Brolin shows off
his financial knowledge.
"Money, Money, Money: The Rise
and Fall of Wall Street,” runs a nice 50 minutes
and is a pretty comprehensive look back on the 1987 film.
Here Stone comments that he never thought Gekko was a
role model of any sort. We also get musings on the pre-internet
world of Wall Street and how we failed to learn the lessons
of the past. Stone: “We’re a society that’s
fallen too much in love with money.” Truer and sadder
words have never been spoken.
The Deleted and Extended scenes run
29 minutes and include Frank Langella’s early demise
(moved to later in the film) as well as some fun cameos
by Monique Van Vooren and Donald Trump in a self-mocking
barbershop scene with Gekko. In addition, we get more
Sylvia Miles, which is either good or not so good depending
on your Sylvia Miles threshold.
There is also a decent actor profile
titled: “Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character
with...” This 26-minute show provides interviews
with Douglas, Mulligan, LeBeouf, Brolin and Langella.
For fans, it’s a nice cherry.
Also included: the teaser and theatrical
Kudos to Fox for delivering a Blu-Ray
worthy of Stone’s hard work and kudos to Stone for
crafting a provocative film that isn’t afraid to
show us who the real villains of the 2008 crash really
are and do so in a highly entertaining manner.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Luckily, there’s Midnight
in Paris to look forward to later in 2011. =
by Frank J. Avella
Woody Allen is one of my favorite film directors. He always
has been. He always will be. His films speak to me in
ways no others seem to. Growing up with Woody, I felt
he confronted so many of the questions I had about life,
death, relationships, ethics, morals, New York City…and
he did it all with the most penetrating yet hilarious
dialogue. I loved all Woody: ‘the early, funnier
films’ (Sleeper, Love and Death,
Bananas, Take the Money and Run); the
gems that seemed to have it all (Annie Hall,
Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Bullets
Over Broadway) as well as the more serious, biting
and nastier movies (Husbands and Wives, Stardust
Memories, Celebrity, Deconstructing
Why this nebbish capture my imagination
is bizarre to say the least since I grew up Italian-Catholic
(most of the Italians in Woody’s films are mobsters
or dumb-ass wop stereotypes) and I ultimately figured
out I was gay (I believe there was one gay character in
a Woody Allen film and if you blinked you missed him).
The reason is simple, though, his films are universal.
He asks the questions we all ask. He probes the themes
that keep all of us up at night and he usually does it
in an exceptional and thought-provoking way.
And while some of his new millennium
films aren’t exactly classics, he’s given
us three more that prove he is no where near done (Match
Point, Cassandra’s Dream, Vicky
Cristina Barcelona—all filmed in Europe).
When I first saw You Will Meet a
Tall Dark Stranger last year I was disappointed.
Not in a Curse of the Jade Scorpion Way (still
the only lousy Woody film) but because I had such high
hopes. An amazing cast and Woody in Britain again had
to be something special. Alas, it felt more like recycled
Woody with English accents.
Seeing it again on the stunning new
Blu-Ray transfer, I appreciated it a lot more but it still
felt a bit stale. Regardless, Woody appropriating from
himself is often better than most original films.
The movie opens with the Shakespeare
quote: “Life is full of sound and fury, signifying
nothing.” Thus begins another meditation on whether
luck is the driving force in our lives or whether there
is something else at play.
Josh Brolin plays, Roy, a writer who
had one success and has been struggling to prove he wasn’t
just a one-hit wonder. (Sound familiar?) He is married
to a shrewish Sally (Naomi Watts) who works at an art
gallery and takes her unhappiness out on her husband.
Sally’s mother, Helena (the wonderful Gemma Jones),
helps support them and visits a psychic (Pauline Collins)
regularly and religiously follows her advice.
Helena is recently divorced from Alfie
(Anthony Hopkins, taking on another Allen alter ego) who
longs to be young again and has shacked up with a gold-digging
tart (Lucy Punch).
Roy begins falling for a seductive
young neighbor (Frieda Pinto). Sally crushes on her boss
(Antonio Banderas) and Alfie discovers painful truths
about his new wife as well as himself.
One of the most disappointing aspects
of the film is Woody’s lack of imagination when
it comes to weaving the plot together. For instance, Roy’s
third act decision is fascinating yet Woody doesn’t
follow through and show us the consequences of his actions.
And Alfie’s discovery is so predictable and antiquated
it could have been written for a character in 1957.
One of the most irritating flaws in
the film is Allen’s insistence on using a narrator.
It’s obtrusive, superfluous, often-redundant and
reeks of indolence.
Visually the AVC encoded (1.78:1 aspect
ratio) presentation is a feast for the eyes with popping
colors. The London locales look so inviting you’ll
want to visit and the interiors truly enhance the films
first-rate art direction and set decoration.
The 3.1 DTS-HD
sound mix is clear and crisp preserving the classic
As with all Woody Allen films on DVD
and Blu-Ray there are no extras except the original theatrical
Woody Allen continues to make interesting
and compelling films, working with the best tech people
and assembling the greatest actors of stage and screen.
I just wish he would move out of his comfort zone and
give us a wider variety of themes and some new characters
Midnight in Paris to look forward to later in 2011.