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DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

The Conversation

Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful thriller forms an important part of his incredible run of films during the 1970s.

Surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is recruited to track and record a young couple (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest) in San Francisco’s crowded Union Square.

A loner by nature, he gradually begins to suspect the motives behind the man who hired him to do the job (Robert Duvall) and becomes obsessed with a piece of audio that may (or may not) hold the key to his concerns.

Beginning with a stunning opening sequence that is a master class in cinematography, sound and editing, this is a slow-burn film about paranoia and technology, whose relevance has only increased over time.

Back in the mid-1970s it seemed eerily prescient as the Watergate scandal unfolded around the time of release and it has a new topicality now in an era where much of modern life is recorded and put online.

Coppola’s other films in the 1970s were amongst the greatest of the New Hollywood era: The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974) and Apocalypse Now (1979) are not just masterpieces of the time but also landmark films in American cinema.

The Conversation opened in April of 1974 and although it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, in retrospect it has always been overshadowed by the success of The Godfather sequel, which opened around Christmas of that year.

At the 47th Academy Awards, both films competed against each other, with his gangster epic becoming the first sequel ever to win Best Picture.

An extraordinary feat, the only downside was that The Conversation has slightly suffered in retrospect, which is a shame as it reveals as much about power as the Godfather films did.

Gene Hackman gives one of his greatest performances as a haunted man who knows only too well that the technology he employs to snoop on people can be used against him.

Methodical yet dignified, he creates a compelling protagonist in a role which in other films would be the part of the token technical geek, but here becomes something else.

Coppola and Hackman combined to show that it is often the technical people who wield the real power and responsibility in society, and the unbearable tension this can create inside of them.

Other roles are expertly cast: look out for a young Harrison Ford as the sinister assistant to Robert Duvall; Jon Cazale as Hackman’s assistant and Teri Garr as the distant girlfriend.

But the real stars of the film are behind the camera and repeat viewings reveal the masterful technical work by Coppola, DP Bill Butler and editor/sound designer Walter Murch.

Coppola was heavily influenced by Antonioni’s Blow-up (1966) and wanted to do for sound recording what that film had done for photography.

Featuring one of the most intricate and accomplished sound designs of the 1970s, Murch really cemented his reputation with some stunning work on this film as supervising editor and sound designer.

Not only are the sounds we hear crucial to the plot, but the overall construction creates a sense of uncertainty which effectively lends us the ears of the central character.

Coppola made sound an integral part of the narrative and in some ways laid the ground for the innovations on Apocalypse Now, which was effectively the first film to have a 5.1 surround mix.

On the Bu-ray, the uncompressed audio is a joy to behold and gives it the carefully crafted sound mix the attention it deserves.

In fact this disc offers the film’s original mono track in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, but also a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which has been crafted with considerable care and attention (this is probably down to the fact that Coppola still co-owns distribution rights to the film).

David Shire’s restrained but haunting score also adds to the melancholy mood and sounds wonderful in the new mixed audio.

The visuals are another story. Originally Coppola hired Haskell Wexler after his pioneering work on Medium Cool (1968) but they soon fell out after completing the opening sequence.

San Francisco provided a memorable backdrop for Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and Coppola seems to play on that film’s themes of obsession and cruelty.

He also draws on some of the subjects explored in The Godfather films, such as Catholicism, crime and power, despite the different period and context.

The transfer here may appear grainy at times but as Coppola explains in the commentary track, he wanted to use different film stocks and zoom lenses in order to give the film a verite vibe and the feel of a surveillance video, which explains the odd camera movements at certain moments.

Other than that, it looks great with the colours, clarity and contrast looking great and as good as it ever has in the home.

At the time there was a lot of press speculation that the bugging technology used in the film was similar to that used in the Watergate break-in, even though Coppola admitted that this was coincidental.

But this fact reveals the film’s lasting power as a parable for man’s manipulation of tools in order to achieve certain ends: then it Nixon sanctioning the illegal bugging of political opponents; in recent years, it was Bush signing the Patriot Act to snoop on citizens.

So despite the period setting, the core themes give it a lasting relevance and there’s much that happens that makes it ideal for home viewing, with many elements not immediately apparent on a first watch.

Keep your eyes and ears open for the use of colour, musical motifs, carefully written dialogue and the surprising sympathy we feel for the central character.

We come to connect with a professional eavesdropper who becomes vicariously involved people he’s never met.

Isn’t that a brilliant metaphor for watching a movie?

EXTRAS

  • Feature Commentary with Writer-Director Francis Ford Coppola: An outstanding audio commentary, filled with useful detail, in which Coppola provides the context for the film and his specific influences and aims. He covers an impressive range of subjects including casting, filming and editing with his usual insight and intelligence.
  • Feature Commentary with Editor Walter Murch: Coppola’s creative partner in so many of his key movies deserves his own track as the film is so dependent on editing and sound. An essential listen for those curious about the craft of constructing the audio landscape of a film he
  • Close-Up on The Conversation (8:39): An archive promotional featurette showing Coppola and Hackman on set.
  • Cindy Williams Screen Test (5:02): This shows the actress reading for the part that actually went to Teri Garr.
  • Harrison Ford Screen Test (6:45): Ford’s audition for the part that Frederic Forrest ended up playing makes for an interesting ‘what if’ clip.
  • “No Cigar” (2:26): A short 1956 student film by Coppola, which the director feels was an early influence on the character of Harry Caul.
  • Harry Caul’s San Francisco – Then And Now (3:43): A slideshow look at several locations from the film as they were in 1973 and as they appear now.
  • David Shire Interviewed by Francis Ford Coppola (10:57): Shire talks about scoring the film and how important music was to setting the film’s melancholy mood.
  • Archival Gene Hackman Interview (4:04): An interview with Hackman on the set of the film.
  • Script Dictations from Francis Ford Coppola (49:23) Great audio feature where Coppola dictates the screenplay, playing along to typed versions of the pages and clips from the film.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD; 2:50)

> Buy The Conversation on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Screenshots of the Blu-ray at DVD Beaver

 

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DVD & Blu-ray News

Apocalypse Now UK Blu-ray Release

Apocalypse Now appears to be getting a UK Blu-ray release on June 13th.

New artwork and details have surfaced over at Blu-ray.com and it would appear that Optimum are basically releasing the same 3-disc set that came out in the US last October.

If that is the case then the extras will be:

  • Apocalypse Now – 1979 Cut
  • Apocalypse Now Redux
  • “A Conversation with Martin Sheen” interview by Francis Ford Coppola
  • “An Interview with John Milius” interview by Francis Ford Coppola
  • Complete Francis Ford Coppola interview with Roger Ebert at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival
  • Monkey Sampan “lost scene”
  • Additional Scenes
  • “Destruction of the Kurtz Compound” end credits with audio commentary by Francis Ford Coppola
  • “The Hollow Men,” video of Marlon Brando reading T.S. Eliot’s poem
  • Featurettes:
  • The Birth of 5.1 Sound
  • Ghost Helicopter Flyover sound effects demonstration
  • A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now
  • The Music of Apocalypse Now
  • Heard Any Good Movies Lately? The Sound Design of Apocalypse Now
  • The Final Mix
  • Apocalypse Then and Now
  • The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now
  • PBR Streetgang
  • The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now
  • The Synthesizer Soundtrack” article by music synthesizer inventor Bob Moog
  • Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse
  • Optional audio commentary with Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola
  • 48-page collectible printed booklet with special note from Francis Ford Coppola, never-before-seen archives from the set, behind the scenes photos and more
  • John Milius Script Excerpt with Francis Ford Coppola Notes
  • Storyboard Gallery
  • Photo Gallery, including images from photographer Mary Ellen Mark
  • Marketing Archive

> Apocalypse Now at Wikipedia and IMDb
> Details of the US Blu-ray of Apocalypse Now

Categories
DVD & Blu-ray

The Best DVD and Blu-ray Releases of 2010

Here are my picks of the DVD and Blu-ray released in 2010, which include Dr. Strangelove, Pierrot Le Fou, The White Ribbon, Dr. Zhivago, The Last Emperor, A Prophet, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Psycho, The Third Man, Se7en, The Exorcist, Carlos and Inception.

Just click on the film title to read the original reviews and the links on the side to buy them.

JANUARY

FEBRUARY

MARCH

APRIL

MAY

JUNE

JULY

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

OCTOBER

NOVEMBER

DECEMBER

NOTABLE IMPORTS

N.B. As I’m based in the UK, all of these DVDs are UK titles (apart from the imports) but if you live in a different region of the world check out Play.com or your local Amazon site and they should have an equivalent version of the film.

> Browse more DVD Releases at Amazon UK and Play
> Browse all the cinema releases of 2010
> The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009

Categories
DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Avatar Extended Collector’s Edition

James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster finally gets the special edition treatment with the Avatar: Collector’s Extended Edition (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) after a barebones release back in the Spring.

In case you didn’t catch what is now the most financially successful film in history at cinemas, the story involves an ex-Marine (Sam Worthington) who to an exotic alien planet where is caught between a battle between the natives and the human colonists.

The image quality of the original Blu-ray transfer was stunning. Even without the 3D aspect, which helped bump up ticket sales in cinemas, the quality of the visuals is exemplary with the live action and visual effects shots integrating wonderfully.

With this extended edition the major selling point is that this package contains three different cuts: the original theatrical release, the special edition re-release, and the exclusive extended cut not shown in theaters.

Added to this are around eight hours of bonus features that exhaustively detail the production of the film.

The three discs break down as follows:

Disc 1: Three Movie Versions

  • Original Theatrical Edition (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
  • Special Edition Re-Release (includes family audio track with objectionable language removed)
  • Collector’s Extended Cut with 16 additional minutes, including alternate opening on earth

Disc 2: Filmmaker’s Journey

  • Over 45 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes
  • Screen tests, on-set footage, and visual-effects reels
  • Capturing Avatar: Feature-length documentary covering the 16-year filmmakers’ journey, including interviews with James Cameron, Jon Landau, cast and crew
  • A Message from Pandora: James Cameron’s visit to the Amazon rainforest
  • The 2006 art reel: Original pitch of the Avatar vision
  • Brother termite test: Original motion capture test
  • The ILM prototype: Visual effects reel
  • Screen tests: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana
  • Zoë’s life cast: Makeup session footage
  • On-set footage as live-action filming begins
  • VFX progressions
  • Crew film: The Volume

Disc 3: Pandora’s Box

  • Interactive scene deconstruction: Explore the stages of production of 17 different scenes through three viewing modes: capture level, template level, and final level with picture-in-picture reference
  • Production featurettes: Sculpting Avatar, Creating the Banshee, Creating the Thanator, The AMP Suit, Flying Vehicles, Na’vi Costumes, Speaking Na’vi, Pandora Flora, Stunts, Performance Capture, Virtual Camera, The 3D Fusion Camera, The Simul-Cam, Editing Avatar, Scoring Avatar, Sound Design, The Haka: The Spirit of New Zealand
  • Avatar original script
  • Avatar screenplay by James Cameron
  • Pandorapedia: Comprehensive guide to Pandora
  • Lyrics from five songs by James Cameron
  • The art of Avatar: Over 1,850 images in 16 themed galleries (The World of Pandora, The Creatures, Pandora Flora, Pandora Bioluminescence, The Na’vi, The Avatars, Maquettes, Na’vi Weapons, Na’vi Props, Na’vi Musical Instruments, RDA Designs, Flying Vehicles, AMP Suit, Human Weapons, Land Vehicles, One-Sheet Concepts)
  • BD-Live extras (requires BD-Live-enabled player and Internet connection–may be available a limited-time only): Crew Short: The Night Before Avatar; additional screen tests, including Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, and Laz Alonso; speaking Na’vi rehearsal footage; Weta Workshop: walk-and-talk presentation

Avatar Collector’s Extended Edition is out today from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

> Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry

Categories
DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: September 2010

The DVD and Blu-ray highlights to look out for this month include: the Banksy documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, the surreal Greek drama Dogtooth, The Studio Canal Collection (which includes Blu-ray versions of classic films such as Breathless, The Third Man and Mulholland Drive), Roman Polanski’s timely political thriller The Ghost, the landmark TV series The World at War on Blu-ray for the first time, Werner Herzog’s reworking of Bad Lieutenant and Michael Winterbottom’s controversial drama The Killer Inside Me.

MONDAY 6th SEPTEMBER

After.Life (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Bent (Park Circus) [Blu-ray / with DVD]
Black Lightning (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Doctor Who – The New Series: 5 – Volume 4 (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Entourage: Season 6 (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Exit Through the Gift Shop (Revolver Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Kick-Ass (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD / Limited Edition]
The African Queen: Restoration Edition (ITV DVD) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
The Brit Indie Collection (4DVD) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Last Song (Walt Disney) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Official 2010 World Cup South Africa Review (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
True Inspiration Collection (4DVD) [Blu-ray / DVD]

MONDAY 13th SEPTEMBER

Breathless (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Date Night (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Delicatessen (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Dogtooth (Verve Pictures) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Glee: Complete Season 1 (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (BFI) [Blu-ray and DVD combi]
Hung: Season 1 (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Inferno (Arrow Films) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Kandahar Break – Fortress of War (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Lost: The Complete Seasons 1-6 (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Lost: The Complete Sixth Season (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Buy it on lu-ray or DVD]
Mountain Gorillas (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Mulholland Drive (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time (Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD / Combi pack]
The Graduate (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
The Pianist (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
The Third Man (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray]
Unthinkable (E1 Entertainment UK) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Vincere (Artificial Eye) [Blu-ray / DVD]

MONDAY 20th SEPTEMBER

Death Note (4Digital Asia) [Blu-ray / with DVD]
Forbidden Planet (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
I Spit On Your Grave (101 Films) [Blu-ray / with DVD]
Lang Lang: Live in Vienna (Sony Classics) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Mars Attacks! (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Mother (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Robin Hood (Universal Pictures) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
The Back-up Plan (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Ghost (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
The Hannibal Lecter Trilogy (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Special Relationship (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
The Sword With No Name (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The World at War (Fremantle Home Entertainment) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
[Rec] (E1 Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]
[Rec] 2 (E1 Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]

MONDAY 27th SEPTEMBER

A Nightmare On Elm Street (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
American – The Bill Hicks Story (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans (Lionsgate UK) [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]
City of Life and Death (High Fliers Video Distribution) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Death at a Funeral (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Fringe: Season 2 (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Fringe: Seasons 1 and 2 (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Box Set]
House: Season 6 (Universal/Playback) [Blu-ray / Box Set]
Infernal Affairs (Palisades Tartan) [Blu-ray / DVD]
She’s Out of My League (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Space Chimps 2 – Zartog Strikes Back (EV) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Stephen Hawking’s Universe (Demand DVD) [Blu-ray / DVD]
StreetDance (E1 Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Tetro (Soda Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Deep (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Killer Inside Me (Icon Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Wake Up Sid (UTV) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Warren Miller: Dynasty (Demand DVD) [Blu-ray / DVD]

> The Best DVD & Blu-ray releases of 2009
> Recent DVD & Blu-ray releases