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Currently showing posts tagged Martin Scorsese

  • Cat People (1942) Blu-ray Review

    Cat People (1942)

    Director: Jacques Tourneur

    Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph & Jack Holt

    Released by: The Criterion Collection

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Produced by famed auteur Val Lewton (I Walked with a Zombie), Cat People centers on Serbian immigrant Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon, Johnny Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) whose marriage to American architect Oliver Reed (Kent Smith, The Spiral Staircase) is put in peril when her homeland fears of transforming into a savage feline during intimacy are suggested.  Tom Conway (101 Dalmatians), Jane Randolph (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) and Jack Holt (They Were Expendable) co-star.

    Stylish and mysteriously evocative, Producer Val Lewton’s debut effort and his first for RKO Pictures accentuates what haunts viewers in the shadows and rises above its genre label to deliver a gem of psychological madness and tragic love.  Gorgeously shot by Nicholas Musuraca (Out of the Past) and under the refined direction of Jacques Tourneur (Curse of the Demon), Cat People, unlike the prominently displayed Universal Monsters from the same era, uses calculated suspense and an increasingly dreadful tone to suggest more onscreen horror than what is showcased.  After a chance encounter at the city zoo prompts a love at first sight romance, gorgeous Serbian artist Irena is overwhelmed with her feelings for the handsome Oliver only to have childhood myths cloud her happiness.  Terrified that a mere kiss from her new husband will transform her into a cat-like person with wicked intentions, Irena’s mental state comes into question, forcing Oliver to second-guess his own feelings for the foreign beauty.  Coupled with a scandalous love triangle that surges Irena’s jealously while maintaining the very real possibility that her darkest fears of an ancient curse are true, Cat People, realized on a shoestring budget and utilizing recycled sets, delivers a frightening tale of marital woes and forbidden sexual desires under the subtext of witchcraft that strikingly stands out from other horror-billed efforts of the 1940s.  Strongly performed and leaving audiences to imaginatively paint their own dark pictures where the fog resides, Cat People purrs with consummate atmosphere, leaving an indelible impact on those looking into its poetic cage of horror.

    The Criterion Collection presents Cat People with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.  Exceptionally restored in 2K, the monochrome photography arrives with gorgeous detail and a remarkable emphasis on black levels giving the film’s shadowy presence new dimensionality.  In addition, age-related scratches and scuffs are all but vanished making the viewing experience all the greater.  Bearing black bars on either sides of the frame to preserve its intended format, Cat People has never looked more splendid.  Equipped with an LPCM 1.0 mix, dialogue is strongly carried with even Simon’s thick accent never falling on strained ears while, Composer Roy Webb’s (Notorious) classy score is effectively laid.  Special features include, a 2005 recorded Audio Commentary with Film Historian Gregory Mank, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows (1:16:40), the accomplished 2008 documentary by Kent Jones (Hitchcock/Truffaut) that delves into Lewton’s short-lived yet, revered career with narration from Director Martin Scorsese.  Furthermore, Ciné Regards (26:37) presents a vintage 1977 interview with Director Jacques Tourneur on his career, the newly-crafted John Bailey (16:36) catches up with the director of photography of 1982’s Cat People and As Good As It Gets to discuss Musuraca’s mesmerizing approaches to the original feature while, the film’s Trailer (1:04) and an Essay entitled Darkness Betrayed by Critic Geoffrey O’Brien featuring a reversible poster rounds out the impressive supplemental offerings that could have only been made perfect by the inclusion of the 1944 sequel The Curse of the Cat People.

    Far more restrained than most genre efforts of the decade but arguably more effective, Cat People uses subtlety and psychological intrigue to lure audiences into its shadowy realm of a troubled marriage and catastrophic curses.  Just in time for the Halloween season, The Criterion Collection celebrates one of Lewton’s finest efforts and a towering achievement of elegant frights with its definitive presentation and a wonderful assortment of extras to claw into.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available September 20th from The Criterion Collection, Cat People can be purchased via Criterion.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • The Wrong Man (1956) Blu-ray Review

    The Wrong Man (1956)

    Director: Alfred Hitchcock

    Starring: Henry Fonda, Vera Miles & Anthony Quayle

    Released by: Warner Archive

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    From Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers on a Train, Rear Window), The Wrong Man centers on blue-collar musician and loving family man Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda, 12 Angry Men) who is wrongfully accused of robbery.  Emotionally distressed, Manny’s loving wife Rose (Vera Miles, The Searchers) begins losing her sanity while her suspected husband confronts a possible future behind bars.  

    Based on true events, Hitchcock’s influential docudrama is a harrowing depiction of themes commonly depicted in most of the auteurs work including, misidentification and authoritative fear.  Introducing the film in silhouette and barring himself from any distracting cameo appearances, Hitchcock’s final feature for Warner Bros. is composed with the utmost seriousness for its non-fictional source.  Struggling to make ends meet while, his wife requires dental work for the hefty sum of $300, Manny Balestrero (Fonda) seeks to take a loan out against his wife’s insurance policy only to be identified by several office workers as a multiple-offending robber.  Investigated by local detectives, Manny is questioned and whisked away to several businesses where he is accused once more for acts he did not commit.  After a tense interviewing process and a police conducted lineup, Manny is surreally charged and placed behind bars in what appears to be a living nightmare.  Miraculously making bail, Manny is reunited with his loving wife Rose (Miles) as they seek to clear his name by hiring noted attorney Frank O’Connor (Anthony Quayle, Lawrence of Arabia) to take his case.  Faced with the very real possibility of being found guilty, Manny and his wife push forward to establish several alibis before their grim reality takes an emotional tole on Rose forcing her to be hospitalized.  In what seems like impossible odds stacked against him, Manny’s entire livelihood hinges on the capture of his offending doppelgänger.

    Shot on location in New York City at many of the events actual locations including the now defunct Stork Club, The Wrong Man is intensely thrilling and shockingly potent for today’s society where the innocent are increasingly incarcerated under similar circumstances.  Bringing life to the city that never sleeps, Hitchcock’s on-site coverage welcomes an authenticity that highlights its smoke-filled alleyways and bustling energy that would permeate films to come.  Headlined by legendary talents, Henry Fonda and Vera Miles bring acute believability to their roles while, Miles’ emotional breakdown arguably overshadows her leading man at times.  Equally brilliant, the thespians give their all for achievements that rank highly amongst many of the greatest Hitchcock directed performances.  Tensely crafted and demonstrating the psychological strain an accusation places on the human spirit, The Wrong Man is unanimously found guilty of cinematic perfection.  

    Warner Archive presents The Wrong Man with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Gorgeously reproducing its monochrome photography, the film’s intended gritty appearance is left intact without sacrificing viewability with unfavorable levels of muddiness.  Furthermore, facial features are excellently detailed while, black levels are sound and inky with extremely fleeting instances of speckles spotted.  Beautifully handled, Warner Archive have done Hitch proud.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, dialogue is strongly prioritized with no indication of hiss on hand.  In addition, the partying crowds at the Stork Club and Composer Bernard Herrmann’s (Citizen Kane, Vertigo) jazzy score make impressive statements.  Special features include, Guilt Trip: Hitchcock and The Wrong Man (20:19), this vintage retrospective offers insight on the film from Director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show), Historians Robert Osborne & Richard Schickel, Art Director Paul Sylbert, Director Richard Franklin (Psycho II) and more.  Finally, the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (2:35) is also included.

    Largely impacting Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, The Wrong Man is a deeply gripping examination of being wrongfully accused, heightened by its chilling real world roots.  Henry Fonda and Vera Miles give outstanding turns in their respective roles while, Hitchcock’s own deep-rooted fear of authority accounts for the film’s effectively unsettling atmosphere.  Meanwhile, Warner Archive’s exemplary work continues, leaving another Hitchcock classic in a glorious state.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Warner Archive, The Wrong Man can be purchased via WBShop.com,

    Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Life Itself (2014) Blu-ray Review

    Life Itself (2014)

    Director: Steve James

    Starring: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Errol Morris, Martin Scorsese & Ava DuVernary

    Released by: Magnolia Pictures

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the best-selling memoir of the same name, Life Itself is the latest revealing work of documentarian Steve James (Hoop Dreams) recounting the inspiring life of renowned film critic Roger Ebert.  Inspiring and deeply personal, Ebert’s life is detailed from his younger years to his career highlights, leading to his worldwide recognition of film analysis and appreciation.  

    Executive produced by Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street) and Steve Zaillian (Moneyball, Schindler’s List), Life Itself projects its cinematic spotlight on the legacy of Pulitzer Award recipient Roger Ebert, told through personal interviews with Ebert in his final surviving months as well as his loving wife, Chaz Ebert, and several notable filmmakers and fellow colleagues.  Most notably kickstarting his critical analysis of films for the Chicago Sun-Times, Director Steve James‘ intimate portrait digs farther back into Ebert’s past recounting his early upbringing in Urbana, Illinois where writing and self-publishing became common for the future author.  Diagnosed with cancer in 2002, Life Itself juxtaposes from retrospective interviews with Ebert’s colleagues and other industry vets including, John McHugh, A.O. Scott and William Nack to present day footage of Ebert, hospital ridden and no longer able to speak, bursting with enthusiasm as he continues to spread the gospel of film through his blog.  Surrounded by his endearing wife Chaz and grandchildren, Ebert’s passion to continue his life’s work through so much physical anguish is a tribute to determination.  As Ebert provides his own dialogue through means of a computerized voice, Life Itself covers the highs and lows of his 50 plus year career including, Ebert’s alcoholism, his unexpected creative collaboration with Russ Meyer on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and of course, his competitive and memorable teaming with Gene Siskel whose catchphrase “two thumbs up” (or down) would be forever cemented in pop culture history.  In addition, the likes of Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog and Errol Morris provide their own, at times emotional, sentiments about the marvel of Ebert and his lasting impact on film culture and their own careers.  

    Regardless of his personal opinions or those of conflicting readers on the thousands of films reviewed, Ebert was notable for his singular voice that never spoke down to its readers while, maintaing a confident point of view that retrieved the essence of what said film meant by often times, injecting personal anecdotes from a man who experienced life through film.  Beautifully humanized, Life Itself conveys Ebert’s life story and love affair with cinema that challenged cinephiles to continue dreaming at the movies.  Unspooling before your eyes, the undying love between Ebert and his wife is a privilege for viewers to witness as its foundation is truly what life is all about.

    Magnolia Pictures presents Life Itself with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.78:1 aspect ratio.  Shot digitally with common interview subject setups, Life Itself shines on high-definition with crystal clear picture and natural skin tones in all its respective interviewees.  While, vintage footage including, presumably, tape sourced clips from Siskel & Ebert & The Movies form an expected drop in quality, the documentary looks excellent.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, Life Itself relays all dialogue with perfect clarity and sound pitch, leaving no room for disappointment.  Finally, special features include Deleted Scenes (22:23), Sundance Tribute (6:54), Interview with Director Steve James (10:41), AXS TV: A Look at Life Itself (2:22), Trailer (2:22) and an Also from Magnolia Pictures reel with trailers for Serena, The Two Faces of January, Force Majeure and Ballet 422

    Hailed as “deeply moving” by the Los Angeles Times, Life Itself is an inspiring and emotional chronicle of one, if not, the most respected film critic of all-time.  Revealing and expertly documented, Director Steve James‘ privileged access into Ebert’s inner circle weaves an absorbing story of personal triumph and life’s curveballs that we are so unfairly dealt with.  Capturing the, at times, heartbreaking moments of Ebert’s hospital visits and the commitment the famed critic and his wife share without exchanging words is a beautiful testament to what kept Ebert motivated doing what he did best.  Arriving with top-notch treatment courtesy of Magnolia Pictures, Life Itself is an extraordinary effort, well worth two enthusiastic thumbs up!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available February 17th from Magnolia Pictures, Life Itself can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.