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The Best Tip Top 13 Blu Rays Of 2011-Part 2 of 2   Leave a comment

Hey Everybody,

2011 was still a great year for the growth of Blu-ray , lots of old classics, odd obscure cult films and a long awaited sci-fi saga made their debut in HD. All of them looking better than ever in 1080p and showing the true latitude in the Blu-ray format solidifying it as simply the best true film experience available at home . Here is my top 13 Blu-rays of 2011, with all the great releases this year  it was a struggle to get it down to just 13,  Here’s part 2, enjoy kids…

7- TAXI DRIVER (1976) Director Martin Scorsese- I can’t remember the exact age I was when I first saw Taxi Driver, but I think it was in my early to mid teens. The first thing that struck me being a professional drummer at the time, was the opening credit sequence with the music of the great Bernard Hermann, such amazing tempo and mood to it. At the same time, the New York florescent like lights, the extreme grittiness of Michael Chapman’s cinematography and the rawness of De Niro/ Scorsese held my attention till the last frame. I always loved anti hero protagonists in stories that to be fully realized, the ending has to have weight and be really ironically messed up in the end. Taxi Driver hits every note that still resonates with lots of people till this day. It never gets old or dated and that is in part to the Scorsese/ De Niro dynamic that has work so well for many years after 1976. The real combined genius of the two can especially be seen in the scenes with a 14 year old Jodie Foster. All the character work done makes it so believable, like both these people actually live and breath in the real New York City of the late 70’s. The film looks the best at home it ever has in the Blu ray presentation. Without looking processed or enhanced in anyway by too much DNR the grain of the film transferred  amazingly,  bringing  out the true beauty of the camera work and art direction. The real gem of the set it the 1987 Laser Disc commentary with Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader that hasn’t been available on any release since the Criterion Laser disc in ’88, this is a must for any Scorsese fan. De Niro kicks ass as Travis Bickle like no anti hero quite has since. One of the great classics to see and enjoy over and over again in 1080p. Quite brilliant shit .

6- LE BELLE ET LA BÊTE (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) CRITERION COLLECTION (1946) Director Jean Cocteau- Again in 2011 Criterion scores super high points on there classic film Blu-ray releases. The 1946 live action french language adaptation of the Beauty and the Beast is my favorite telling of that story, the film is a more adult take. The physical lengths that actor Jean Marais’s went to in his portrayal  as the beast  was astonishing to say the least. 5 hours getting into make up everyday before shooting , having  animal hair glued to every part his visible body with disastrous after effects to his skin. The make up is so amazing  it is still stunning that it was done in ’46, along with Cocteau’s direction and expert trick photography FX, it’s a film that will have you thinking twice about what was being technically achieved in the silver age of movie making. True gold in the cinema world, cheers to Criterion for their work on bringing us this and other greats films to our homes on Blu-ray.

5- PATHS OF GLORY CRITERION COLLECTION (1957) Director Stanley Kubrick- Specking of other great films that Criterion is bringing to HD, the next two are some of my absolute favorite classic cinema by my favorite director.  Even in the early days of Stanley Kubrick directing career he had no problem in going to great lengths to get the details he felt he needed. Already widely known as a perfectionist,  he shot 68 takes of the doomed men’s “last meal” scene. Because the details of the scene required that the actors appear to be engaged in the act of eating, a new roast duck had to be prepared for almost every take. Also shooting in Germany,  the prison scene where the men discuss their fates ran overtime on a Saturday. Kubrick could not get what he wanted, and producer James B. Harris came to the set to tell the director after take 63 that overtime was not allowed in Germany. Kubrick resisted stopping in a rare show of temper. He finally got what he wanted by take 74. It must have been abundantly clear even at that point that he was a master of photography, the use of light, shadow, blocking and movement have never been done quite so cinematicly perfect before. The depth of his black and white films are an amazing achievement realizing how slow the film and lens were in the late 50’s compared to today,  that makes it so so much more difficult to get a balanced look and feel to a film. The transfer to Blu-ray is like a god send to me, I love Criterion for giving us a film that look unbelievably beautiful and rich compared to the DVD, which looks some what flat. There is no doubt in my head that this is how Paths Of Glory was intended to look by Kubrick himself. Long Live The Cult Of Kubrick.

4- THE KILLING CRITERION COLLECTION (1956) Director Stanley Kubrick-  Kubrick’s great race track robbery picture and considered his first true professional film as far as cast, crew and studio financing, even though he had shot and released two independently done features already.  My very favorite production story about The Killing is the relationship between Kubrick and the director of photography, this was the first film on which Stanley worked with a cinematographer. Award winning veteran DP Lucien Ballard was hired because Kubrick was officially working on a film union production for the first time which prevented him from using himself as the cinematographer, as he had done in the past.  On one particular shot in the scene where the guys plan the robbery, Kubrick asked Lucien to put a dolly track down in a specific place to move though the apartment set and use a certain length lens on the camera; Stanley went over to deal with something else while the shot was being set up,  he noticed that the track wasn’t being placed where he had specified, after future inspection he realized a different lens was being placed on a camera much closer to the set than he had asked for. Kubrick call over Ballard asked what he was doing with the set up he asked for, Ballard replied that having the dolly track closer with a wider lens would make it easier for the crew to pull off the tracking shot and that it really wouldn’t change the perspective he wanted that much; Kubrick already at 28 years old was a extremely accomplished 11 year professional photographer understanding lenses and composition better than most humans alive, he knew that Lucien was full of shit and was screwing with him, directly with out raising his voice Stanley said, put the dolly track where I told to with the lens on the camera I asked for or get off my set; And really the best thing about the whole story in that Kubrick was absolutely right, what Ballard wanted to do totally changes the perspective and look of the intended shot. Even at 28 Kubrick wasn’t afraid of some one 20 years his senor. One thing that will always be true in cinema is that the foundation/ guarantee of all Kubrick films is an almost magically shot image on every frame, very close to every single frame could be a beautiful still photo or painting perfectly lit for the subject they cover. As far as the Blu-ray, another brilliant presentation by Criterion. As a bonus feature, Killer’s Kiss Stanley’s 2nd film is included as well,  If anything you could say the lighting and use of the New York City of the back drop is very impressive considering he did all his own camera work on that film. One last little bit of trivia is that Rodney Dangerfield reportedly appears as an extra in the racetrack fight scene. Pretty dam cool. Long Live The Cult Of Kubrick.

3- CITIZEN KANE (1941) Director Orson Welles- For some reason this film really only gets better with age. The brilliance of every aspect of the production stands forefront in the Blu-ray and should be required viewing by every student, movie lover and professional film maker a like. In a real way the relationship that Welles and his Oscar winning DP Gregg Toland had was the exact opposite of Kubrick’s and DP Ballard on The Killing; On the first day of shooting, the first day he was ever on a movie set, Welles had no idea that it wasn’t customarily the directors job to physically set the lights where he wanted them, cinematographer Toland walk closely behind the Orson making a “shhhh” motion to all technicians he approached, letting the director do as he would; Later, the DP when asked why he would let an amateur like Welles set his shots up for him, he cited that the only way that some one like him, a veteran in Hollywood, will learn something new is to watch someone who’s never done it before. Also later in the film when Orson asked Toland to teach him about lens and the camera more, he told Welles he could teach him everything he knew in a weekend. In the end, it was this film that really destroyed Orson Welle’s directing career even though he would go on to direct a number of get pictures, but on none of them was he given total creative control like on Citizen Kane. Now if you really are one of those people who don’t understand why this is regarded by many film makers as the “greatest film ever made”, the Blu-ray is loaded with supplements including a great commentary from director Peter Bogdanovich who knew Welles for the last 18 years of his life; Also the brilliant award winning documentary the Battle Over Citizen Kane will give you an idea of the chaos the director caused with the picture, almost having his films negative bought and burned by top Hollywood players, one of the best “making of ” Docs ever done; on top of that the HBO dramatic movie RKO 281 in included as well. So much is right about this film and the HD disc is something to enjoy for a long while to come.

2- BARRY LYNDON (1975) Director Stanley Kubrick- Really this might have been my first  pick of the year had the disc had a documentary or commentary, something. With no extra at all it still takes a strong second place. Again here we have a case of a film that was made for viewing on Blu-ray, the visuals that Kubrick has achieved is likened to the Thomas Gainsborough and other 18th century paintings he emulated so perfectly in his period masterpiece. The tones and use of light is unparalleled, even till this day nothing else has been able to achieve the look and feel of the film. First thing that comes to mind when thinking about Barry Lyndon is the look of the scenes shot all by candle light. A 50mm Carl Zeiss lens specially build for a NASA satellite was borrowed and modified with the Kollmorgen adapter used in still cameras to shoot whole scenes with only candle light. At f/0.7, the aperture was the largest build ever for movie use, and I’m sure no one has tried to do the same thing again. Kubrick pushed the medium every time he shot a film, no one will make anything with quite so much attention to detail again. Mostly because he took quite a long time to complete a project, Lyndon took 200 days to shoot over over a 2 year period; and the studios let him work the way he worked because he was Kubrick. No one is going to get two or three hundred days to shot a movie anymore unless it’s considered a guaranteed hit, and there is almost nothing that is. It’s been turned into business driving art, or maybe I’m wrong and it’s always been money driven. In reality the attention to every part of his productions, Stanley Kubrick has left us with viewing experiences that can never be replicated by any other filmmaker again. At least we have the chance to view and take in his genius in the comfort of our homes at the highest quality ever available. Long Live The Cult Of Kubrick.

1- STAR WARS SAGA (1977-2005) Directors Lucas, Kirshner, Marquand-  Most who knows me are aware of my love for Star Wars. As a child of the 70’s and early 80’s, I was in that perfect age group to have the OG trilogy capture my imagination, it’s one of the big reasons that I decided to make my living in the entertainment industry. Over the years Uncle George has tinkered with the films so many times that the original seen in theaters May 1977 has long been lost. It really use to get me pretty worked up to think of some of the changed done for the Special Editions, Greedo shooting first is so lame and wrong, the dewbacks moving scene looks like crappy CG from a video game and the Jabba stuff in the hanger bay stops the flow and pacing that worked so well in the beginning. A New Hope gets off fine compared to some of the shit in Jedi, god what a shit pile ending with Hayden Christensen’s ghost beside Kenobi and Yoda with that shitty new song choice ending the saga now, where’s my yub nub track now? Well as expected there is new tweaking and changes to all the films, and to my surprises no matter how absolutely shitty the new screaming of Vader “NOOOOOO!” as he throws the Emperor to his death in Jedi is, I actually had been able to step back in the first time in my life and just watch these films as they now exists, I fully realized that these are George Lucas’s films. No one else, no matter how much they bitch and moan will never be the  inventor of this universe. Uncle George is, and he’ll continue to mess with his creation till the end of days and we will keep buying it up until the wookie factory stops turning out stories in our favorite galaxy far far away. As far as the Blu-ray presentation, this is by far the best these films have ever looked, great new commentaries, deleted scenes and new never before seen footage on the bonus disc is worth the price of the set alone to true OG trilogy geeks. Holy Grail stuff for anyone who’s followed the films since the start. This set is a great reason to get into Blu-ray if you haven’t done so already. I am really looking forward to seeing what surprises the format has coming up in 2012.

Till Next Time. Stay Tuned.

J.

The 10 Most Super Terrific Best Blu-Rays of 2010. If You’re Thinking Of Diving Into The Format, Now Might Be The Time.   1 comment

Hey Everyone,

Getting caught up on the releases at the end of 2010 made it hard to write this column until now. Almost everything I watched in January was stunning and well worth getting into the format for (if you haven’t already).

As Blu-Ray selection grows, the choices of great movies to transfer get thinner each year. That being said, 2010 was a great year for classic film in stunning HD , the format showing great range in presentation possibilities. Some amazing titles being transferred to Blu-Ray that are a must own for all HD and film enthusiasts alike. Here are my best Blu-Rays of 2010:

  • #10- AVATAR (2009): 3 disc Extended Collector’s Edition- director James Cameron.  This is the set to get if you’ve been waiting for all the “making of” documentaries and different versions of the film in one package. The only thing really missing in this set to really make it the real “ultimate set” is The 3D Blu Ray version of the film, but since I don’t have a home 3D set up I’d never use it anyway. The real jem of this Blu-Ray  it the close to 3 hour version of the film(16 extra mins), the earth stuff at the start is great and dark story telling at it’s best, it sets up the Jake Sully character way better and all the extra stuff on Pandora is great as well giving a lot more back ground on the world and characters that flow into all the arcs of the story. The Blu-Ray video quality is nothing short of stunning,  I think the film plays best in 2D in the 3 hour version anyway and the docs on the discs are very informative on the process of pre production, filming, 3D and post of Cameron’s latest masterpiece.
  • #9- The Red Shoes (1948) The Criterion Collection- directors Michael Powell and Emeric PressBurger- The best use of the tri-color Technicolor process as stated by the creators of Technicolor. Really this is one of the most stunning film every made. The visuals and logistics of some of the scenes are mind blowing when really thought about. From a technical stand point the film is nothing short of miraculous, the dancing paper scene is breath taking and perfectly executed, better than any CG attempt and in 1948. A must see for every film geek who thinks they know it all about film. Criterion’s Blu-Rays are second to none, brilliant job on the transfer and extras. AAA+
  • #8- The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1947) director John Huston- One of the best told stories about greed and what it drives men to, a must see movie for all viewers. Humphrey Bogart in one of his top 3 performances on his career (the best one in my opinion), Tim Holt as his strait shooter honest partner, Walter Huston in his Oscar winning  role as the old prospector, a character most likely recognized most through his satirizing in Looney Toons and Warner Bros cartoons, and  directed by John Huston is always an indicator of a great viewing experience ahead. I’ve seen Madre more that 25 times on DVD and the Blu-Ray brings new clarity to a brilliant classic, a true pleasure for a Bogart/Huston geek like me.
  • #7- The Night Of The Hunter (1955) The Criterion Collection- director Charles Laughton  –  Robert Mitchum is scary as hell as preacher Harry Powell, for 1955 this is as dark as you get story and performance wise. All the actors give stunning performances including the two main child actors as well. This is what movies are all about, a classic film that took at least 20 years plus to really be appreciated for how ahead of it’s time it was. A high mark in American cinema, fucking aces! Criterion blows away any company today working in the home video market, I love them and hope they keep cranking out new and classic Blu-Ray of this quality for many years to come. Thanks very much for this treat.
  • #6- Paths Of Glory (1957) The Criterion Collection- director Stanley Kubrick- With the words Criterion and Kubrick in the same sentence I feel my balls tingle a bit ,and so should you (even if there just metaphorical, ladies). Stanley Kubrick is my favorite all time filmmaker and if you know me you are most likely sick to death of me talking about him,  but shit, IT’S KUBRICK DUDES! KUBRICK! The Criterion Blu-Ray of Paths Of Glory is pure eye candy for the black and white film enthusiast, Kubrick’s cinematography is beyond comparison, celluloid sorcery at its height. I’m hoping Criterion  follows this release later this year with The Killing And Killer’s Kiss. That would be perfection.
  • #5- Yojimbo/ Sanjuro (1961-62) The Criterion Collection- director Akira Kurosawa- Toshiro Mifune is one of the all time greatest actors and after watching his portrayal as a wondering Ronin in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo you will most likely think the same. His body language, speed and attitude show Mifune’s power of the screen. I love these two samurai tales, both have been ripped off  more time that one can imagine, the list of film makers influenced by Kurosawa  is endless and will remain so as long as film is an art form favored enough to continue. The Blu-Ray presentation is flawless, a lot to learn from these films , another knock out of the park for Criterion.
  • #4- Seven Samurai (1954) The Criterion Collection- director Akira Kurosawa- The classic of all classic action films, just brilliant. There isn’t even a filmmakers today who can get 8 plus actors in one shot and make it beautiful and seem like the most natural situation. Not to mention the camera work in general in all the action sequences, stunning, and all the acting is stellar along with the story and sets. If you haven’t ever seen this one now would be the time to give it a look see, another true epic  jem of the cinema world. In 1080p the pictures come alive as if you were the first one to see the first printing from the master negative on the best screen you can find, nothing short of celluloid fanboy crack. Strong work Criterion, I love me some Kurosawa in HD.
  • #3- M (1931) The Criterion Collection- director Fritz Lang- What really blows me away about Criterion is their capacity to improve in leaps and bounds with each re-release of titles, and the Blu-Ray of Fritz Lang’s M is no different. I owned each of the first two releases that Criterion did on DVD and both were stunning for there time. Now after the remastering of the DVD around 5 years ago,  I was skeptical that the Blu-Ray could really offer much more detail to the film without taking away too much grain or atmosphere from the original 1931 film negative. First off, I love this movie since the first viewing on a crappy VHS copy late in my teenage years, very dark story even by today’s standards, darker  even.  I’ve watched the film around 30 times since then and I was taken aback by how perfectly balanced the Blu-Ray transfer is, It’s as perfect as perfect can get for a movie from 1931. Simply beautiful black and white cinematography and a must see on Blu-Ray, this is what HD is all about and I can’t wait to see Criterion bring us more of their classic library to Blu-Ray. If you haven’t seen it now it the time, absolute cinema gold.
  • #2-Apocalypse Now (1979, 2001) 3 disc Full Disclosure Edition- director Francis Ford Coppola- “I was going to the worst place in the world and I didn’t even know it yet.” The greatest spectacle of a film even shot with out any use of CG, monitors, playback and any kind of studio restriction of any kind. It worked in the end for Coppola, but considering he had already made Godfather 1 and 2, won Oscars for both, no studio in Hollywood wanted to back a film based on the Vietnam war. So Coppola decided to put up his multi-million dollar home and property,  his company would use the money to fund the production himself  which ended up almost bankrupting him and driving him crazy in the process. In the end the product is there captured on celluloid for all time to see, it kicks some serious ass and looks great doing it in 1080p.  With this set on the first two discs you get the 1979 original cut, the 2001 Redux,  a number of  commentaries, extras, a little book,  all the bells and whistles; but that third discs is the real jewel for all film fans, the truest look at the production of a film even caught on camera,  the documentary “Heart Of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse” all shot by Coppola’s wife on location. A great film in it’s own right, the first time available with any release of Apocalypse Now and a welcome addition to the set. This is a must own for all Blu-Ray enthusiasts, serious visual candy here.
  • #1- Alien Anthology (1979,1987,1992, 1997)-directors Scott, Cameron, Fincher, Jeunet  – Hand down this set deserves the best Blu-Ray award of 2010 just based on the first two film transfers alone. Add in the extras, some not seen since the Laser disc release, the other 2 Alien movies and this set is a must own for any film lover getting into HD.

ALIEN(1979)- director Ridley Scott- This is in my top 5 favorite movies of all time, conservatively I’d say I’ve seen it well over 100 times and after seeing this Blu-Ray I re-watched it twice in the next day. This transfer is total perfection. I think Fox did something very special with the first two movies, with help from the director’s without question. It’s like seeing this film again for the first time, the art direction is sublime and is never quite equaled in the series. Scott’s attention to detail and art direction is stellar, and in 1080p I was taken to a transcendent level upon viewing the moody atmosphere of this science fiction monster masterpiece.

ALIENS(1986)- director James Cameron-  Cameron last year took the original negative from 1986 and re colored and fixed the grain level for the Blu-Ray release. At first that sounds bad to fix any grain levels in older films, there is grain in film, that’s one of the great qualities of film; but the original negative stock used for Aliens had problems with it and Kodak ended production of that particular stock after that run, so that’s why  it looks really overly grainy and noisy in the original release. After the re-coloring and tweaking to the special edition of the film the Blu-Ray turned out better than I thought the film could ever look . This shit is bad ass! The people who are very familiar with the film will be shocked at the level of detail to the picture. You will find your self constantly questioning whether you’ve seen this part before and what the hell is going on with all this new shit. That’s how good this transfer is, unbelievable. Nothing like Cameron,Biehn and Sci-Fi, great stuff.

As for the last two films Alien3 (1992) and Alien:Resurrection (1997) didn’t fair so well in the HD transfers. David Fincher was screwed from the second he took the reins of the runaway project at Fox and the Blu-Ray transfer of Alien3 is no different, it shows little care compared to the first two films obviously no impute from the director was taken or given there. As far as Resurrection is concerned the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet has already voiced his troubles with the shoty treatment his film got in the HD transfer, the colors are dull,  the blacks are sort of washed out a bit and the over all picture is flat looking compared to other films he’s made. The set really is still worth the purchase because the reality is Alien And Aliens are the only two films you will re-watch anyway, and they are defiantly worth more than a few watchings in HD.

More great classics on the way to Blu-Ray in 2011, The Walking Dead: First Season, Excalibur (1981), Teen Wolf, Taxi Driver (original laser disc commentary is one of the new extras), Tron (1982), Le Cercle Rouge (1970) Criterion, De Palma’s Blow Out (1981) Criterion, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Criterion, Diabolique (1955) Criterion, (the big one this year) the Star Wars Saga and lots more coming .

Is it time to dive in yet? The water is pretty nice once you’re in.

Till Next Time. Stay Tuned.

J.

Posted February 16, 2011 by JMC in On The Couch

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