A marvellous feat of compression.
[Link via Buzzfeed]
DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS
The New World – Extended Cut (EIV): New Line and UK distributors Entertainment have finally got around to releasing the extended cut of Terrence Malick‘s wonderful 2005 version of the Pocahontas story on DVD and Blu-ray.
The story is set during the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement in the early 1600s, inspired by the historical figures Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher).
Whilst some critical reaction to the film was mixed, it is a stunning technical achievement with a hypnotic quality that lingers longer after the final credits.
Perhaps the sprawling narrative put off some of the pickier critics who seemed determined to shoot Malick down from his lofty perch as American cinema’s mercurial poet-in-residence, but if you go with it, this is a film of many riches.
The performances from Farrell, Plummer and Bale are nicely restrained, whilst Kilcher is terrific, bringing an impressive depth of feeling to her role.
James Horner’s score, alongside some judicious use of Wagner, is probably the greatest he’s ever written with a thrilling use of strings and melody.
When the film premiered in late 2005 in New York and Los Angeles with a running time of somewhere around 2 hour 30 minutes, Malick decided to cut it down by about 15 minutes for the wider release.
I remember going to a BAFTA screening in November 2005 and I caught the longer cut and when I saw the initial DVD release in 2006, it seemed a little cut down, although it isn’t the kind of film where the cuts were immediately apparent.
The ‘Extended Cut’ on the Blu-ray is the same the DVD released at October 14, 2008 which is almost 22 minutes longer than the original extended cut.
This is the kind of film that could have been made to highlight the Blu-ray format because the stunning cinematography )all shot on Steadicam using natural light) is a key element in the film’s power.
The new Blu-ray is a 1080P transfer the sharpens everything up in terms of colour and resolution.
DVD Beaver has posted some screen captures comparing the DVD and Blu-ray versions and they also note that grain is not as prevalent as expected and note that the audio is a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track at 1437 kbps.
The extras on the Blu-ray Disc include:
Returning to the Shakespearean themes he had previously explored in Throne of Blood, this was Kurosawa’s last major epic and silenced doubters who felt he couldn’t work in colour.
After a glittering career as one of world cinema’s most acclaimed directors, by the late 1970s Kurosawa had been struggling with numerous personal and professional problems which saw him have difficulty in getting financing for his films.
That changed with Kagemusha (1980), the story of a man passed off as a medieval Japanese lord, and it was financed with the help of the director’s most famous admirers, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.
Ran explored similar aspects of medieval Japan but was bigger and more ambitious in scope, to the point that he spent nearly a decade planning it and trying to obtain funding.
With the help of French producer Serge Silberman, he finally managed to get it in production and the result was a stunning epic filled with memorable compositions and haunting performances.
For the Blu-ray Disc the specs and extras include:
The Deer Hunter (Optimum): The winner of Best Picture at the 1978 Oscars still remains a powerful and moving drama about the effects of war on a tightly-knit community.
Starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, John Savage, John Cazale, George Dzundza and Chuck Aspegren, all of whom are terrific, it met with instant acclaim, winning five Oscars and establishing itself as a classic of the 1970s.
However, the film has always had a noisy band of critics from the ludicrous gang of socialist delegates at the 1979 Berlin film festival who protested against the screening of the film – feeling obliged to voice their solidarity with the “heroic people of Vietnam”.
After Cimino’s epic fall from grace with Heaven’s Gate (1980), the knives came out as revisionists attacked the film: the Russian roulette sequence was historically inaccurate; the lead characters were too old; and of course the hoary old critique – beloved of contrarians apparently grasping at profundity – that it was somehow racist in its depiction of the North Vietnamese.
Some of these criticisms can be refuted by the fact that it is a work of imagination, not documentary, and that it isn’t actually about the politics of the Vietnam War.
Given the lies and political deceptions that created and prolonged the conflict, it is perhaps understandable that justifiable anger would spill out into discourse about the first major film to feature it as a backdrop.
But it isn’t a defence of US involvement in South East Asis and, if anything, is something of a cautionary tale of how innocence and idealism – very American virtues after World War II – can be devoured by the horrors of war.
If a film like The Green Berets (1968) was a deluded depiction of what some Americans actually thought was going on in Vietnam, The Deer Hunter represents the painful cultural hangover the nation felt at losing their first war.
Over thirty years on from its release, there is still a powerful sense of existential dread within the film which has probably been felt by any community scarred by sending its people off to war, be it Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Rather than being a sentimental celebration of fallen soldiers, it remains a haunting portrayal of patriotic ignorance being slowly crushed by the reality of armed conflict.
With a running time just over three hours, it is a slow and meditative epic filled with memorable images that were superbly shot by Vilmos Zsigmond and the Blu-ray does real justice to his visuals.
Some of the extras have appeared on previous versions by Warner and Optimum but for the Blu-ray Disc some new ones have been added.
The most interesting of these is a French documentary about the Vietnam War called ‘Unknown Images’ which is gives valuable context to what they describe as an ‘abominable war’.
The specs and full list of extras include:
An American Werewolf in London (Universal): A fully remastered re-release on Blu-ray for John Landis’ 1981 werewolf horror is most welcome, especially as it has a new set of extras including a feature-length documentary ‘Beware the Moon’ and a featurette ‘I Walked With a Werewolf’.
The plot involves two US tourists named David and Jack (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) who are attacked by a werewolf on the Yorkshire Moors. Jack dies but David survives and is taken to London where he falls in love with a nurse (Jenny Agutter). However, after dark dreams and visions he slowly realises he has become a creature of the night, wreaking havoc on the British capital.
Interestingly 1981 was the year of two other werewolf films (The Howling and Wolfen) but this one has accumulated a particular cult following due to its killer blend of scary horror (watch out for the curtains) and humour which is often at its best when you are least expecting it.
The other aspect of the film that is notable is the groundbreaking use of makeup and visual effects by Rick Baker. The famous transformation sequence was actually a major factor in makeup and industry technological contributions being recognized at the Academy Awards in 1981 as Baker won the first ever Oscar to be awarded to a special effects artist.
Landis has been effusive about the quality of the transfer to Blu-ray as he revealed in this interview with /Film at FrightFest last month in London:
DVD Beaver has posted some screen shots from the disc and they say fans of the movie ‘should be very happy with this transfer.
The specs and extras on the Blu-ray Disc are:
Catherine Deneuve plays a frigid housewife whose sexual fantasies come true when she opts to become the high class call girl of the title during the day and a loyal housewife at night.
From the famous opening scene to the later stages, Bunuel creates a telling portrait of a suffocating bourgeois life (aided by the magnificent cinematography by Sacha Vierny) but also subverts many of the audience assumptions in the surrealist fashion distinctive of his other work.
Deneuve gives an immaculate performance in what is probably her most iconic role, her icy beauty sometimes overshadowing the subtleties of what is arguably her finest performance.
It is a film that repays repeated viewings, not only for the little enigmas that are peppered throughout (such as that mysterious box) but for the questions it raises about desire and fantasy which retain a lasting power.
The Blu-ray transfer is impressive and the specs and extra features are:
The Prisoner (Network): Network have announced the release of the complete series of The Prisoner on Blu-ray Disc. This iconic cult series starring Patrick McGoohan as a former spy taken prisoner in a mysterious village, marks Network’s first foray into the Blu-ray market.
The 6-disc limited edition box set is priced at £59.99 RRP and this is the first Blu-ray version of the series anywhere in the world and is the only home entertainment edition of the series to be officially endorsed by McGoohan.
Containing all seventeen episodes, extras on the set are as follows:
Blood (O Sangue) (Second Run DVD)
Death Note: The Complete Series (Manga)
Dying Breed (DNC Entertainment)
Everlasting Moments (Icon)
Fireflies in the Garden (Universal)
Friday (Director’s Cut) (EIV)
Fringe Season 1 (Warner)
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (EIV)
Gossip Girl Complete Season 2 (Warner)
Menace II Society (Director’s Cut) (EIV)
Negima Series 2 Part 2 (Manga)
Observe and Report (Warner)
Robot Chicken Season 2 (Revolver)
Robot Chicken Seasons 1-3 (Revolver)
Swing Vote (Anchor Bay)
Swoon (Palisades Tartan)
The Simpsons Season 12 (Fox)
The Two Ronnies Series 6 (2 Entertain)
Tony Manero (Network)
Wasting Away (Kaleidoscope)
Director Roman Polanski has been arrested in Zurich and faces possible extradition to the US for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
The 76 year old was detained on Saturday as he travelled from France to the Zurich Film Festival, where he was to collect a lifetime achievement award.
The Swiss ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told the Associated Press that U.S. authorities have been seeking Polanski’s arrest since 2005:
“There was a valid arrest request and we knew when he was coming. That’s why he was taken into custody.”
Polanski is currently being held under ‘provisional detention for extradition’, but won’t be transferred to U.S. authorities until all the procedural boxes have been ticked and the director can contest his detention and any possible extradition in the Swiss courts.
The original case dates back to the late 1970s when the director was involved in a scandal involving a 13-year old girl named Samantha Gailey, now known as Samantha Geimer.
According to Geimer, Polanski asked her mother if he could take photos of the young girl for French Vogue, which the director had been asked to guest edit and her mother allowed a private photo shoot.
She then agreed to a second session on March 10th, 1977 which took place at the home of Polanski’s friend Jack Nicholson in the Mulholland area of Los Angeles.
In a 2003 article for the LA Times Geimer described what happened:
I met Roman Polanski in 1977, when I was 13 years old. I was in ninth grade that year, when he told my mother that he wanted to shoot pictures of me for a French magazine.
That’s what he said, but instead, after shooting pictures of me at Jack Nicholson’s house on Mulholland Drive, he did something quite different. He gave me champagne and a piece of a Quaalude. And then he took advantage of me.
It was not consensual sex by any means. I said no, repeatedly, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was alone and I didn’t know what to do. It was scary and, looking back, very creepy.
Those may sound like kindergarten words, but that’s the way it feels to me. It was a very long time ago, and it is hard to remember exactly the way everything happened. But I’ve had to repeat the story so many times, I know it by heart.
The original charges against Polanski when he was arrested in March 1977 were: giving Quaaludes to a minor; child molestation; unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor; rape by use of drugs; oral copulation and sodomy.
Polanski never denied the charges, but in the legal negotiations that followed they were dismissed under the terms of a plea bargain by which he pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor.
After 42 days’ in prison over the winter of 1977-78, Polanski was passed as fit to stand trial and reportedly expected that he would be freed under a deal with the presiding judge, Laurence J. Rittenband.
Geimer also recounted in her 2003 piece that this deal – agreed between the defence, prosecution and judge – was reneged upon at the last minute:
We pressed charges, and he pleaded guilty. A plea bargain was agreed to by his lawyer, my lawyer and the district attorney, and it was approved by the judge. But to our amazement, at the last minute the judge went back on his word and refused to honor the deal.
Worried that he was going to have to spend 50 years in prison — rather than just time already served — Mr. Polanski fled the country. He’s never been back, and I haven’t seen him or spoken to him since.
Looking back, there can be no question that he did something awful. It was a terrible thing to do to a young girl. But it was also 25 years ago — 26 years next month. And, honestly, the publicity surrounding it was so traumatic that what he did to me seemed to pale in comparison.
It was when Polanski got wind that Rittenband was ready to break the agreement – allegedly due to fears of a public backlash – he flew to London in February 1978 and a day later fled to France.
To this day he has never returned to the US for fear of arrest or travelled to certain countries with extradition treaties.
He subsequently moved to France, where he has lived ever since and currently holds citizenship, protected by their limited extradition policies with US.
When he won Best Director for The Pianist at the Oscars in March 2003, Harrison Ford collected the award on his behalf and there was even a standing ovation.
That response is reflective of many in Hollywood, who still revere him as one of the great post-war directors: the Polish refugee who overcame Nazi and Communist oppression to direct such landmark films as Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974).
Many there – although they don’t always openly admit it – feel that Polanski was a great artist who had been through the double trauma of having his mother murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942 and then his wife Sharon Tate brutally killed by the Manson gang in 1969.
Given where the 1977 incident happened, I’m sure that some stars and directors of that era who engaged in certain, illicit activities may well think that it could have easily been them in Polanski’s position.
If we go back even further, the history of Hollywood is one riven with dark secrets which would occasionally bubble up to the surface in the cases of Fatty Arbuckle, William Desmond Taylor or, more recently, Robert Blake.
And this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what was going on in the 1970s when hedonism amongst some members of the showbiz community reached new heights – or lows, depending on your view – of excess.
Polanski’s arrest probably functioned as a sobering wake up call to others in Hollywood, but it remains a polarising case.
Within the industry he is still enormously respected by his peers and colleagues. Two widely read blogs within Hollywood are reflective of opinion within Hollywood: Nikki Finke of Deadline reports that Polanski was ‘double crossed by the Swiss‘, whilst Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere dismisses the case as being about ‘largely discredited, over-and-done-with 1977 charge‘.
However, a quick glance at the comments section on these websites will provide you with angry blasts of outrage at the fact that Polanski committed a crime and evaded justice for many years.
Defenders point out that the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, directed by Marina Zenovich, explored the case and highlighted “a pattern of misconduct and improper communications” between the district attorney’s office and Judge Rittenband back in 1977.
Polanski’s US lawyer wanted to use the evidence of judicial misconduct presented in the film in order to get the case dismissed and in a filing they said that the judge (now dead) violated the original plea bargain with communicating about the case with a deputy district attorney who was not involved.
The general picture painted by the film was that Polanski was unlucky to face a judge more interested in his own publicity than the rule of law, although detractors could argue that a bad judge doesn’t absolve Polanski from the crime he comitted.
To make things even muddier, the Los Angeles County Superior Court alleged that the documentary contained an error when it screened on HBO:
The Los Angeles Superior Court is aware of a documentary on film director Roman Polanski scheduled to air tonight on HBO.
The documentary makes an assertion that a Los Angeles Superior Court judge attempted to impose a condition on a reported sentencing agreement in 1997 under which Polanski would have had to agree to his sentencing being televised.
This assertion concerning televising of the sentencing hearing is a complete fabrication, entirely without any basis in fact and completely unsupported by the court record.
No such condition was ever suggested or proposed by the judge in question, either in 1997 or at any other time.
The Los Angeles Superior Court has made HBO aware of this egregious error and believes the network intends to rectify this misstatement of fact later today.
Back in January of this year, Polanski’s lawyer filed a further request to have the case dismissed, and to have it moved out of Los Angeles, as the courts there require him to be present there before any sentencing or dismissal.
In February 2009, Polanski’s request was denied by Judge Peter Espinoza, who said that he would rule if Polanski appeared in court before him.
In addition to publicly forgiving him Samantha Geimer has called for the charges against him to be dismissed from court, saying that decades of publicity as well as the prosecutor’s focus on lurid details (which The Smoking Gun published) continues to traumatize her and her family.
Now living in Hawaii, she even turned up at the US premiere of Wanted and Desired back in 2008.
In addition the French establishment are outraged at the arrest and possible extradition of the director with Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand saying that that he was ‘stupefied’:
“I strongly regret that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.”
Even President Sarkozy called for a ‘rapid solution’ to the situation, which could be seen as a coded way of saying send him back to France as soon as possible.
But why was he arrested now? The LA Times reports that the LA County district attorney’s office learned last week that Polanski was planning to travel to Zurich and they sent a provisional arrest warrant to the U.S. Justice Department, which then presented it to Swiss authorities.
He is being held under a 2005 international alert issued by the US and although he has been to Switzerland before, this time US authorities apparently knew of his trip in advance.
That gave them time to issue a provisional warrant for his arrest and send it to Swiss authorities.
It is still unsure whether he had had not known about Switzerland’s extradition treaty with the US, or had assumed that the country’s officials would turn a blind eye when he arrived in Zurich to receive an award for his work.
His agent Jeff Berg told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the arrest was “surprising because Roman for the last 12, 15 years has lived in Switzerland, he has a home, he travels there, he works there”.
Mr Mitterand also told France-Inter radio that he and his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski have written to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and said there could be a decision as early as Monday if a Swiss court accepts bail.
British novelist Robert Harris, who was set to work with the director on an adaptation of his novel The Ghost, described the arrest as “disgusting treatment” and said the production team were “reeling from the news”.
The organisers of the festival, Nadja Schildknecht and Karl Spoerri, issued a statement saying they were shocked at the arrest of “one of the most extraordinary film-makers of our times”.
If extradited Polanski could face a sentence of between 18 months and three years although his lawyer, Georges Kiejman, said he planned to challenge his client’s arrest.
> BBC News report on his arrest in Zurich
> Peter Bradshaw and David Thomson of The Guardian analyse the story
> The Wikipedia page for Roman Polanski, which has been locked due to an edit war, still has useful references and links
> The Smoking Gun have the transcript of the grand jury minutes from 1977
> Lorenzo Semple (who worked with Polanski) and Marcia Nastir discuss Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
The Soloist (Universal): An LA Times journalist (Robert Downey Jnr) comes across a schizophrenic, homeless musician (Jamie Foxx) in Los Angeles and as he writes about him in his column, they gradually affect each other in different ways. Although the studio brass at DreamWorks must have been salivating about possible Oscars when this film went into production last year, trouble was afoot when its Autumn release date was postponed in favour of a spring release.
Although the performances are fine (if a little too mannered in places) the film suffers from being a little too earnest and preachy – especially in its depiction of the homeless – and the central relationship never really catch fire. There are some striking moments and tasteful lensing by Seamus McGarvey but director Joe Wright doesn’t really bring the story to life. Universal are releasing the film in the UK and will be expecting so-so box office given the lack of buzz after its relatively quiet Stateside release back in April. [Empire Leicester Square & Nationwide / Cert 12A]
Surrogates (Walt Disney): A sci-fi action drama set in a futuristic world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots, sees a cop (Bruce Willis) forced to leave his home for the first time in years in order to investigate the murders of others’ surrogates.
It is the first film Jonathan Mostow has directed since Terminator 3 and Elizabeth Banks is a producer (who originated the project with Max Handelman), but whether or not Bruce Willis has the box office mojo he once had is debatable. Credit to Disney though, as the trailer for this film has been omnipresent at multiplexes for the last two months (along with that annoying Martin Freeman piracy spot) and it could do decent business if audience word of mouth is good. [C’worlds Fulham Rd., Hammersmith, Odeon Leicester Sq. & Nationwide / Cert 12A]
Creation (Icon): A period drama which explores the life and discoveries of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) and the relationship with his wife, Emma (Jennifer Connelly). Directed by Jon Amiel, it is was adapted for the screen by John Collee, based on Randal Keynes‘s biography of Darwin, Annie’s Box.
It was the opening film at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, although the tepid critical reaction is probably the reason it didn’t provoke a bidding war rather than the fact that Darwin is a taboo figure in the US, as producer Jeremy Thomas seemed to suggest in a recent interview. Icon will be hoping costume drama lovers or the curious will be up for this but they face an uphill task given the lack of buzz. [Cineworld Haymarket, Curzon Mayfair & Nationwide / PG]
The Crimson Wing (Walt Disney): Another documentary to be released by Walt Disney under the Disneynature label explores the birth, life and death of a million crimson-winged flamingos in northern Tanzania. Directed by Matthew Aeberhard and Leander Ward. [Cineworlds Haymarket, Shaftesbury Ave. & Nationwide / Cert PG]
Fame (Entertainment): A loose remake of the 1980 film for the HSM generation, this follows a group of dancers, singers, actors, and artists over four years at the New York City High School of Performing Arts – today known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Directed by Kevin Tancharoen, it stars Asher Book, Paul McGill, Naturi Naughton and Paul Iacono. Entertainment will be hoping young tweens and teenagers will be getting excited for this, although it seems likely that it will find a better audience on DVD. [Nationwide / PG]
IN LIMITED RELEASE
The Godfather (Park Circus): A re-release for Francis Ford Coppola’s classic 1972 crime drama which has been digitally restored frame by frame, resulting in a sparkling version. [Apollo Piccadilly Circus, BFI Southbank, Odeon Covent Gdn. & Key Cities / Cert 15]
Heart Of Fire (Metrodome): The true story of a young female soldier who comes of age during the Eritrean civil war. Directed by Luigi Falorni, it stars Letekidan Micael, Solomie Micael, Seble Tilahun and Daniel Seyoum. [ICA Cinema]
Management (Metrodome): A comedy about a traveling art saleswoman (Jennifer Aniston) who tries to shake off a flaky motel manager (Steve Zahn) who falls for her and won’t leave her alone. Originally released at the 2008 Toronto film festival, this looks like it will be forgotten soon. [Apollo Piccadilly Circus / Cert 15]
Born In 68 (Peccadillo Pictures): A French drama about two young lovers who change their lives drastically after the 1968 revolt. Starring Laetitia Casta and Yannick Renier, it was directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau. [Renoir & selected Key Cities / Previews 24 Sep / Cert 15]
White Lightnin (Momentum Pictures): An ‘imaginary biopic’ based on the true story of hard-living, Appalachian tap dance legend Jesco White. Directed by Dominic Murphy. [ICA Cinema, Rich Mix & selected Key Cities / Cert 18]
Jack Said (Optimum Releasing): A British crime drama starring Danny Dyer which is getting a quick release in London before coming out on DVD in a couple of weeks. [Apollo Piccadilly Circus / Cert 18]
> UK cinema releases for September 2009
> DVD & Blu-ray picks for this week including Five Minutes of Heaven, In This World and Sunrise (W/C Monday 21st September 2009)