by Frank J. Avella
Written by Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy, based on the book
Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston.
Starring: James Franco,
Kata Mara, Amber Tamblyn, Clemence Poesy, Treat Williams,
20th Century Fox
Absorbing 127 Hours,
via Fox’s dynamic Blu-Ray offering, it becomes obvious
why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences felt
compelled to nominate it for Best Picture. It was in my
top ten of 2010 but I wasn’t certain AMPAS would
get on board. On a second, high-def viewing, I realized
there was no way they could overlook this original and
Danny Boyle, along with
his Slumdog Millionaire team, takes an unfilmable
book with no real plot and does the impossible: they creates
90-minutes of compelling, tension-driven cinema almost
inventing a new way to tell a story onscreen.
And James Franco must be
given equal credit.
To call 127 Hours
a visceral experience is accurate but it is much more
than that. It’s an assault on all the senses, in
the best of ways. Boyle, his fellow screenwriter Simon
Beaufoy and Franco allow us into the mind, body and spirit
of the vibrant and energetic Aron Ralston as we witness
his all-encompassing will to live in the face of the worst
odds a person can have heaped on them. And the ride on
Blu-Ray makes the film even more thrilling.
The film opens with split
screen effects showing Ralston prepping for his trip set
to Free Blood’s “Never Hear Surf Music Again.’
We are visually assaulted by images giving us a good idea
of who this adrenaline junkie is and the visual dazzle
continues until Ralston falls down a canyon where a large
rock crushes his right arm against the cavern wall, lodging
him there with no way to get loose.
Boyle then takes us inside
the head of Ralston through the grueling, gripping, sometimes
amusing 127 hours—all through the use of video diaries
(which Ralston really shot), flashbacks and Ralston’s
nutty imagination. Throughout Ralston never fully gives
up, nor do we.
James Franco is a revelation,
completely embodying Ralston and making him so likable
that we wait, with intense fascination, on his every move
and keep hoping, with anxiety-ridden focus, that someone
finds him or he finds a way to break free. When he does,
the scene is at once gruesome and exhilarating.
The video transfer is eye-poppingly
spectacular--vivid to a fault with the kind of visual
clarity that makes Blu-Ray the way to go. The multi-cam
use works nicely with the distinctly different resolutions
blending to create the frenetic frenzy in the early sequences.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio
mix is erratic when it should be and clear and crisp at
other times--the perfect mix.
The Blu-Ray offers a host of joyous Special Features.
Firstly, the energetic Audio Commentary by director Danny
Boyle, producer Christian Colson, and co-writer Simon
Beaufoy, provides loads of informative tidbits and gives
Franco the credit he deserves as a true collaborator--of
course hearing from him and Ralston would have been additional
treats. Perhaps on the 10th Anniversary Edition!
There are six fascinating Deleted Scenes and an Alternate
Ending that is a must-watch. I understand cutting most
of it—although I am so happy I got to see it—but
I would have kept the amazing hospital moment with Kate
Burton at Franco’s side. These total 34 minutes.
Two featurettes include: ‘Search and Destroy,’
14 minutes of Ralston’s real rescue story and ‘127
Hours: An Extraordinary View,’ a captivating 33-minute
docu capturing Boyle, Franco and the team at work.
An unexpected treat is the inclusion of the Oscar-winning
short God of Love--an absolute delight.
The BD-Live function boasts a Conversation with James
Franco. A Digital Copy is also included with the Blu-Ray.
127 Hours is Danny Boyle’s best
film and most certainly James Franco’s defining
performance to date (forget the Oscar hosting gig quick!).
It deserves to be seen. Hopefully home viewers will seek
it out on DVD and Blu-Ray.
The King’s Speech
Original Screenplay by
Starring: Colin Firth,
Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Claire
Bloom, Anthony Andrews, Jennifer Ehle, Timothy Spall,
Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Eve Best.
Reviewed by Frank J.
Much has been written about
The King’s Speech, winner of four Academy
Awards including Best Picture of 2010. It ranked fourth
on my favorite films list from the past year, yet I was
a cheerleader for a more progressive and original work
to win: The Social Network.
But I am not here to discuss AMPAS politics and film history,
I am here to write about the new Blu-Ray edition, which
is masterfully done with nice extras as well as a very
informative commentary track by Tom Hooper (whether his
Oscar win was just or not, he is a talent in his own right
and quite a perspicacious chap).
Watching the film a second time it felt a bit slight and
less meaty on an historical level. Yet, that is arguably
one of its boons.It tells a simple story and truly delves
into the “Bro-mance” between Bertie, who will
soon go on to become King George VI, and his speech therapist.
The oddest of bonds form between these unlikely “friends”
and we become privy to a fascinating relationship as Bertie
triumphs over his own childhood adversities and Lionel
Logue finds self-esteem and a lifelong ally.
This thoroughly entertaining costume drama is set on the
eve of one of the most harrowing times in British history
and could have been epic if the scope had necessitated
truly diving into the milieu of the coming war, but that
would have been miniseries territory. Hooper and Seidler
narrow the story and allow the magnificent ensemble of
actors the space to do what they do best.
What sets The King’s Speech
apart from typical ‘royal’ depictions is in
it humanization of the monarchical figure, played with
the perfect blend of angst, strength and vulnerability
by Colin Firth, who justly won the Oscar. It’s a
towering performance that anchors the film and gives it
grace and nuance. Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
and Guy Pearce provide regal support. Carter, in particular
does everything right. It’s not a dazzling, scene-stealing
turn—she is there to support and that is what she
It’s easy to see how audiences
relate to this film. It truly is a British Rocky
in the sense that you root for Bertie to overcome his
demons. And it’s in the last quarter that the film
truly takes flight since everything leads to the all-important
The video transfer (1080p/AVC MPEG-4)
preserves the 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is striking in its
blend of the vibrant with the bleak. Glorious in its murkiness,
the film’s subdued production values are period
perfect and the Blu-Ray edition is faithful to the look
and style seen in theatres.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix impresses
not only in capturing the lovely score but in bringing
the viewer into Bertie’s psyche as the final speech
The Bonus Materials, presented in Hi-Def
and Standard Def are pretty good, if sparse. The best
is Hooper’s Audio Commentary where any question
of him not being a director who knows his stuff is put
The Making-Of docu, “An Inspirational
Story of an Unlikely Friendship,” is decent if too-short
(23 minutes) and provides the standard talking heads waxing
about the experience.
‘Q&A With The Director &
The Cast,’ is, again, too short (22-min) but gives
each cast member (except an oddly absent Rush) the chance
to tell a story.
“Speeches From The Real King George
IV,” is a must for history buffs. We get a radio
broadcast of the original speech and Newsreel footage
of a post-war speech.
A 10-minute feature: “The Real
Lionel Logue Highlights,” boasts interviews with
Finally, there is a 1-min. PSA from
the Stuttering Foundation.
The King’s Speech explores
just how important perception is to being a successful
Monarch--ergo the need to preserve the way the King is
viewed being paramount for him to have the respect necessary
to earn the right to the crown. In the film’s exploration
of these often untouched themes as well as Firth’s
astonishing embodiment of this troubled man lay the reason
this film rises above traditional fare.
Made in Dagenham
Release Date - March 28, 2011
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Made in Dagenham is a most
welcome throwback to the Sally Field/Jane Fonda/Sissy
Spacek films of the late 70s/early 80s where the naïve
working class gal-turned-feminist heroine fights the powers-that-be
Based on an amazingly true story of
187 women who, quite literally, changed the pay scale
for women all over the world, Dagenham can be
a bit too formulaic but is always compelling thanks to
it’s talented ensemble.
In 1968, the women working at the Dagenham
Ford Motor factory surprised management by going out on
strike and not returning to work until their demands were
met. This act of bravery led to the Equal Pay Act of 1970
in Britain, which had ripples throughout the free world.
The movie tells the story of how these women, who had
no real intention of making history, but were simply asking
to be taken seriously, found the strength to fight a roaring
lion like the Ford Motor Company.
At the story’s center is Rita
O’Grady, wife and mother, who--like Norma Rae, discovers
her voice through outrage at the way she is being treated
and digs in her heels for the long haul.
Sally Hawkins plays Rita with the right mix of spunk,
apprehension and pride. Her defining scene is a confrontation
with her husband (Daniel Mays) who has had it with her
newfound strength and offers that he’s been patient
and has never cheated or struck her or the kids. Her reply,
“That’s as it should be,” is done with
masterful incredulity and is a reminder of just how badly
women were treated not so many years ago.
Rosemund Pike is fast becoming one of
my favorite actresses. She shines brightly and, in a scene
with Hawkins where she explains the way her husband humiliates
her, is truly sublime.
Miranda Richardson, a cinema-treasure,
plays Secretary of State Barbara Castle, with such steely
Thatcher-esque verve; it’s hard to fathom how she
was overlooked for an Oscar nomination.
The sets and costumes are period perfect
and, among the gents, Bob Hoskins is a delight as the
only man on the side of the ladies.
The title song is a Dusty Springfield-esque
inspirational dittie sung defiantly by Sandie Shaw--again,
reminiscent of work from the late 70s.
The film looks lovely on Blu-Ray. The
2.35:1 video transfer maintains the mod-60s visuals while
the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio gives no cause for
The Extras are a bit disappointing.
The best is the Audio Commentary with Nigel Cole where
he discusses, in depth, the process of making the film,
working with the actors and gives historical info as well.
The 13-minute, “Making of Made
in Dagenham,” is a splendid piece but way too short.
With such talent being interviewed this feature should
have and could have been an hour at least!
Seven minutes of Deleted Scenes are
mostly throwaways except for two gems: a scene between
Hawkins and Mays as well as an important moment with Richardson
and the ladies—which was understandably cut for
redundancy reasons—but is nice to see.
Two minutes of silly outtakes and the
Trailer are also on the Blu-Ray.
Made in Dagenham is a
sometimes predictable, wonderfully acted feature. It is
also a well-crafted chronicle of an important yet overlooked
event in recent history.
The Norman Conquests
Directed by Herbert Wise
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
Emmy nominated in 1978 for Outstanding Writing in a Drama
Series, Alan Ayckbourn's very British, very funny, thoroughly
engrossing trilogy, The Norman Conquests, finally
arrives on DVD.
Basically a 'filmed' play, Ayckbourn's
work features a splendid ensemble of actors giving us
more and more glimpses into their hearts and minds as
the drama unfolds. The direction by Herbert Wise (I,
Claudius) is first-rate, if not overly inspired.
Originally made for British television
in 1977, the 3-part, 5-hour film keeps the play's structure
intact: each episode depicting the same characters over
the same weekend in three distinctly different areas of
The first, Table Manners, showcases
Ayckbourn's witty, snappy dialogue best and sets up the
basic plot which has Norman (Tom Conti) about to embark
on a romantic rendezvous with his sister-in-law Annie
(Penelope Wilton), who lives with her demanding, sickly
mother--who we never see. Annie's easy-going brother Reg
(Richard Briers) arrives with his nosey nag of a wife,
Sarah (Penelope Keith) to care for mother while Annie
An uncertain Annie makes the mistake
of telling Sarah about what she's about to do and all
English hell breaks loose. By Sunday, Norman's embittered
wife Ruth (Fiona Walker) who is Annie and Reg's sister,
arrives and things get very nasty and wicked and revealing.
Annie's shy and ineffectual suitor Tom (David Troughton)
is also on hand and the butt of many of Norman's jokes.
Part Two, Round and Round the Garden,
essentially brings everyone out into, well, the garden
and the third installment, Living Together, places
the cast in the Living Room for some wonderful final moments.
The visual and audio qualities of this
DVD don't matter as much as the fact that it's actually,
finally available. It's like a time-capsule treasure that,
despite its look (yellowy and faded) and sound (mediocre
at times), thrill the viewer simply because he/she is
able to experience it.
Ayckbourn's dialogue is sharp and clever
(referring to stale biscuits: "They threw themselves
off the table in desperation.") and two scenes in
particular are downright sidesplitting. The first involves
the gaggle arguing over seating placement in Table
Manners and the second where the gang attempts to
play a board game in Living Together. Ayckbourn's
writing may be sardonic but it's also quite honest.
The entire cast is to be commended starting
with a very hairy Tom Conti who looks like a Brit-hippie
version of Al Pacino in Serpico. His Norman is a lovable
cad who can't help wanting to shag each and every woman
around. Penelope Wilton gives us a confused, lonely and
impatient woman forced to care for her mother and stuck
with a clueless buffoon of a beau. My favorite performance
is given by Fiona Walker who can be castratingly cutting
in one moment and capitulate to true feelings of love
and compassion in the next. The Norman/Ruth relationship
is as intriguing as it is maddening.
The work was written as three stand-alone
pieces but work best when seen together.
The only Extras: a short, written biography
of the playwright and a brief trilogy backstory. More
would have been nice. Imagine interviews with the cast
all these years later?
In 2009, the plays were resuscitated
on Broadway and done in rep. It won the Tony for Best
Revival. I was fortunate enough to see Round and Round
the Garden, but I always regretted not seeing it’s
brackets. Thanks to Acorn’s DVD release, I was able
to finally enjoy all three together.
Sunday in New York
Frank J. Avella
Original film release date: 1964
Before her groundbreaking performance
in 1969’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,
which would garner her the first of seven Oscar nominations
and solidify her as one of the greatest screen actresses
of her time, Jane Fonda appeared in a slew of silly sex
comedies throughout the 1960s.
Some of Fonda’s early work like Tall Story,
Period of Adjustment, Any Wednesday and
Barefoot in the Park were film adaptations of
stage plays that acted as tame teasers, casting her as
the ingénue on the verge of losing her virginity
or trying to live a moral life or something close to that.
To her credit she was also taking on meatier, more shocking
work like the nasty hooking in Walk on the Wild Side,
the frigid wife in the controversial George Cukor film
The Chapman Report (which still has not been
released on DVD) and the faithless wife in Arthur Penn’s
underrated The Chase.
Sunday in New York, finally available on DVD
via the Warner Archives treatment, is a stellar example
of the former.
Based on the Broadway play by Norman Krasna (adaptation
by Krasna), Sunday boasts a beautiful Fonda as Eileen,
a virtuous gal who flees Albany to seek advice from her
airline pilot brother (Cliff Robertson) about whether
she should give in to her boyfriend’s advances.
While on a bus she meets Mike (Rod Taylor) and before
you can say situation comedy, her boyfriend discovers
the two of them in nothing but robes. How shocking! For
1964, yes. Well, not really. But for 1964 Hollywood cinema,
Our country’s mores were changing quickly, but it
has always taken Hollywood a while to catch up. By the
end of the 1960s, a film like this would have been laughed
off the screen, but in 1964 it was still what ruled the
day. So contextualizing…
The film is funny enough in it’s sitcom-y way and
the innuendo can be a treat. The movie’s NYC locations
are wonderfully filmed and the catchy jazz score by Peter
Nero (who has a small cameo) soars.
What makes the picture a true pleasure to watch is Fonda’s
performance. As the trailer boasts she is indeed, “delightfully
daffy,” and shows some signs of the Jane Fonda to
come when she is more assured of herself as an actress
and being offered roles that are deserving of her talents.
Fonda is more than charming here and when she says emphatically,
“I wish I were a man,” the prophetic feminist
edge of her future work is echoed resoundingly.
In addition, Taylor, Robertson and a hilarious Jo Morrow
provide great support.
The remastered DVD transfer is very good with NYC looking
fantastic. The sound is above par.
As with all Warner Archive releases there are no extras
except for the original trailer, which is always nice
to see and, in this case, a great example of editing some
of the best moments from the film together in order to
35th Anniversary Edition
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
There are a few film’s that have
given us iconic characters whose names evoke a powerful
response. Scarlett O’Hara. R.P. McMurphy. Norma
Desmond. Charles Foster Kane.
In the early 70s, Martin Scorsese was
a newbie filmmaker gaining fast momentum with Mean
Streets and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
under his cinematic belt. In 1976, from a powerful
script by Paul Schrader, he helmed a deliberately stylized,
noirish motion picture that would define a generation
and have the guts to expose the nasty dark nature that
exists in most humans, with NYC acting as a raging underbelly
In addition (before Stephen Sondheim
and John Weidman did it on stage with Assassins),
Taxi Driver delved into the psyche of a lonely,
nihilistic non-conformist driven by rejection as well
as his disgust for what he sees as an omnipresent moral
degradation. Robert DeNiro perfectly embodied this haunting
and mesmeric creature of the night.
One year after Robert Altman’s
seminal Nashville, which also dealt with assassination,
Scorsese takes things one step further into the psychological
It’s taken me a host of viewings
through the years to truly appreciate the genius of Taxi
Driver. But after experiencing this new transfer
for Blu-Ray, the moody, grungy and grim world presented
onscreen had me captivated and truly astonished.
From the liltingly yet disturbing jazz
score by the great Bernard Herrmann to the the delicious
seediness of New York in the 70s (forever Disneyized by
Lord Guiliani) brilliantly captured by Michael Chapman,
Taxi Driver is a visual feast of decay and debris—both
environmental and human. The rage is palpable in every
Jodie Foster’s character Iris
says to Travis: “I don’t know who’s
weirder, you or me.” Travis Bickle represented a
new breed of cinema hero, a tremendously flawed, borderline-mad,
yet well-meaning young man who longs for the wholesome
and becomes a savior of sorts—after going on a vigilante
spree. He’s Holden Caulfield with a balls-out lunatic
The best films stand the test of time.
Taxi Driver, along with a handful of other 70s
masterworks was prescient in its time and remains devastatingly
accurate today in its examination of alienation and its
And to think this film, Network
(by the master Sidney Lumet), All the President’s
Men and Bound for Glory all lost the Oscar
to crowd-pleaser Rocky? What were they thinking
back then? Then again, everything old is new again since
this year The Social Network, Black Swan
all lost to crowd-pleaser The King’s Speech.
Actually, it’s a miracle Taxi Driver was
even recognized by the Academy considering the violence
in the last reel (still quite effective today).
This digitally restored and remastered
transfer has been supervised by Scorsese and Chapman.
The results are extraordinary. The grainy dark colors
mixed with the sharp vibrant images blend well. The aspect
ratio (1.78:1) is maintained and the HD master was used
for the Blu-Ray directly from the 4K digital files. There
is no tampering with color here to try and make the film
look cooler. It’s cool the way it is.
The high res DTS-HD MA audio mix amps
up the powerful score which uneasily prepares us for the
insanity to come. Herrmann’s work here is truly
The Extras are bountiful although most are carried over
from the 2007 DVD Edition.
There are three wonderful Commentary Tracks—one
from the 1986 Criterion release (Scorsese and Schrader)
and two from the 2007 version (Schrader, Professor Robert
Kolker). All are worth a listen.
"Making Taxi Driver," is the
old docu which is quite informative. In addition there
are seven other featurettes totaling over 90 minutes ("Martin
Scorsese on Taxi Driver," “Producing
Taxi Driver,” “God’s Lonely Man,"
"Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute’
(a real treat)," "Taxi Driver Sories"(interviews
with real NYC cabbies), "Travis’ New York,"
and "Travis’ New York locations.")
The one major Blu-Ray exclusive is an
Interactive Script to Screen feature where the actual
shooting script appears onscreen as the film plays and
you can read it and note the various changes and alterations.
I found this to be quite a lot of fun and I hope other
Blu-Rays begin to offer this feature.
Toss in Storyboards, galleries, Movie
IQ and the BD-Live feature and you have a cornucopia for
The container is nice and sturdy and
comes with 12 postcard-size lobby cards.
Classic cinema doesn’t get much
better and this 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray and there
are enough Extras to keep any fan happy. And if you haven’t
seen it, you owe it to yourself to see one of the most
influential films of the modern era.