Currently Watching : Criterion Blu-Ray THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957) by Mikhail Kalatozov

Letyat zhuravli (1957)

“I believe in poetic cinema. Poetic cinema is the cinema created in especially vivid form… by great masters like Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Dovzhenko. In my own work I strive to affect a viewer’s consciousness and soul by means of poetic cinema.”
-Kalatozov in a 1961 interview. Available on the Criterion Blu-ray

Tatyana Samoylova in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Tatyana Samoylova in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

THE CRANES ARE FLYING (1957)-Three things period Russian films do just about better than anyone else, is tragedy and beauty and grandeur, and Director Mikhail Kalatozov’s THE CRANES ARE FLYING is overflowing with all three. You get the deep focus cinematography immortalized by Orson Welles married to a balletic, spiraling, intimate ground breaking, “you are there” camera movement, that is uniquely Russian. what kalatozov himself would call— poetic cinema.Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Almost 7 decades later and without any need for CGI, and 20 years before the invention of the Stedicam – the cinematography in this film (by the equally acclaimed Sergei Urusevesky) remains— both unbelievable and sublime. It is a film that draws you in from frame one, and holds you and the characters like a lover— deeply, afraid to be parted.Aleksandr Shvorin in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

All in all, a transfixing and haunting viewing experience, greatest of which is the beauty of Tatyana Samoylova, whose beauty captured here for all time, is so great –- and her performance so affecting—- that at times looking at her – is like looking at the sun.

One of the great Russian beauties, she becomes the mythical Helen – whom all young men seek to impress with war; and ‘changed by the war’ young men; seek only to hold in peace. THE CRANES ARE FLYING is up there with I AM CUBA/SOY CUBA (another Kalatozov cinematic achievement, with this time a stunning Cuban beauty) as a milestone of Russian cinematography, and by extension a milestone of world cinematography; up there with Welles CITIZEN KANE and Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS. There is no putting this movie on, and not being captivated by it.

THE CRANES ARE FLYING is another masterpiece lovingly provided by the Criterion Blu-ray label. I am on a hunt now to see the other available Kalatozov directed films, as well as Tatyana starring films. Kalatozov,while IMDB lists 20 directing credits for him, most of those appear to be documentaries or shorts or state sponsored work. It really appears he only has 6 or 7 feature films to his name, all coming toward the end of his career, especially once he found a kindred spirit in his cinematographer, Urusevesky.  So I look forward to adding THE FIRST ECHELON, LETTER NEVER SENT and RED TENT to the list of Kalatozov films to add to my collection. Grade: It is a simple enough story, but the visuals just make it, cinema undeniable— A+.Aleksey Batalov in Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Click the image below to get the best price on the feature rich Blu-ray, and you also earn a few very appreciated pennies for this blog! A win-win!

Letyat zhuravli (1957)

Currently Watching : Criterion Blu-Ray KISS ME DEADLY (1955) by Robert Aldrich

Cloris Leachman, Marian Carr, Maxine Cooper, Ralph Meeker, and Gaby Rodgers in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

There are a lot of GREAT film Noirs. From John Huston’s anointed ground zero of Film noir, 1941’s MALTESE FALCON to the works of Billy Wilder (1944’s DoUBLE INDEMNITY),  Edward Dmytryk (1944’s MURDER MY SWEET). Howard Hawks (1946’s BIG SLEEP), Orson Welles (1947’s THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI), Anthony Mann/John Alton (1948’s RAW Deal), Joseph H. Lewis (1950’s GUN CRAZY),  Jules Dassin (1950’s NIGHT AND THE CITY), Richard Fleisher (1952’s THE NARROW MARGIN) to name just a few, There is perhaps no genre to in so brief a time, create such a wealth of iconic films, and galvanizing films.

Going on 80 years after some of these films were made, they are as crowd pleasing and watchable as ever. You can’t say the same for many of the A films, or serious films of the time, that tend to creak under the manners and etiquette and issues of the day—of a passed time. Whereas the genre films, particularly film noir, lived in this short-hand, heightened Americana of Extremes; of lust and betrayals and passions, that remain timeless and relatable and incendiary. Film Noirs, though of their time, lived in a world of light and shadows, that felt always ever present, and indeed almost prophetic… almost ahead of its time.

And perhaps no Film Noir highlights this as much, as Robert Aldrich’s 1955 masterpiece… KISS ME DEADLY. From the opening sequence, which remains one of the best opening sequences of any film, to the last scene of a world put on notice, Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY, in a genre that is style codified, stands out as the most stylish, and yet does so while also being one of the most substantive Film Noirs.

There is so much in this film, from how it is shot, to its location, to its soundtrack by the great Nat King Cole, to its performances led by the great Ralph Meeker, to its wealth of diversity, showcasing a city peopled with a diverse range of colors, and nationalities and ethnicity. People of color, with speaking parts, not shown as stereotypes but just as intriguing people, to the wealth of memorable female roles, to its brutality, to its depiction of its protagonist— that continues to make KISS ME DEADLY, unique.

Even in a genre of morally ambiguous anti-heroes that people Film Noir, Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer takes the cake. He is mercenary, brutal, sadistic, a user of women, he is a thug and a cad, but despite that, there is also something still magnetic about him, Ralph Meeker plays him in a way that I’m not sure any other actor could have quite pulled off, that makes you see him, as reflected nin the great performances of the four women that pine for his attention throughout the movie:  a cad yes, but a cad with something Quixote like somewhere beneath the smirk. That here at the end of the day, is a man who would if he could, fight dragons. This realization that despite MIke hammer’s failings, the things he fights against— are worse.

And something that is lost, even to ardent fans of this film, and because of just how much happens in every moment of this film, is everything that happens from the protagonist’s release from the hospital till the conclusion, happens in just four days. The amount of horror and blood and beatings and ultimately loss that happens, is a whirlwind, and becomes even more impressive when you take the time to realize this is a 96 hour period, from him getting out of the hospital till the end of the film.

Robert Aldrich made a lot of acclaimed films, this is without doubt my personal favorite of all his films. It is a masterpiece, full stop, owing its revolutionary plotline less to the source novel by Mickey Spillane, and by all reports (including the included 2011 alex Cox featurette) almost entirely to the groundbreaking changes and innovations introduced by screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides.

And Criterion has released this game changing film, in a definitive Blu-Ray presentation, from the mastering, to the extras, to the packaging and art design, it is a work of art, worthy of the film.

Yes you can purchase it on streaming. But for a few dollars more you can own it in a format, that does honor to your book shelf or media center, or living room.

Grade: A+. Highest Recommendation, for the movie and for the Blu-Ray.

And no, I won’t be upgrading this to 4K, or 8K, or 16K. I’ve got an up-scaling multi-region Blu-ray player, 20-20 vision, on a less than 65″ screen, this Blu-ray satisfies the needs of my TV, and of my eyesight. Beyond a certain point the search for more is a game of pixels and real estate, and moving the newest shiny model (to use car talk), and not quality.

Click the image below to get your copy, while still in stock.

Physical Media vs Streaming – Round 1: CLIMATES by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

 

I first had the chance to see the film CLIMATES on a DVD by the now very esteemed label Zeitgeist films. the visuals were revelatory. Zeitgeist films mastered DVDs that, then and now, were pushing the medium to its limits. If you get the chance to own any Zeitgeist film on DVD do so, because their dvd releases, then and now, blow away many poorly mastered Blu-Ray releases. Which unfortunately is a good number of Blu-ray releases.

I own a bunch of Blu-Rays, some of them look great, some of them look awful. Zeitgeist Film DVDs are always on the great part of that spectrum. Slap them into your upscaling Blu-ray player, and job done.

Re-watching CLIMATES Zeitgeist dvd today, over a decade after its release, it is visually still astonishing. Now compare that to the streaming version of CLIMATES that is on Amazon Prime, and it is like comparing night to day. The version on Amazon Streaming is a butchered faded print.

And it is a COMPLETELY different experience seeing this film in a visually arresting print, and a compromised print. If my first introduction to this film was the streaming version, I likely would never have finished the film, and definitely would not be a Ceylan fan. The power of that film IS the visuals, is the face as landscape. And all that beauty is lost in the streaming print.

Now of course Streaming CAN produce a great print to show, however that is the flaw of streaming, you never know what you are going to get. You are always at the mercy of multiple gatekeepers, and their economic or political whims of the moment. Whereas I direct someone to a well mastered DVD or Bluray, that presentation is locked, it is a certainty (barring scratching or breaking the physical media).

As I say, streaming is fine for sampling and discovering new things, but as far as revisiting something you love, and being able to revisit it periodically and be certain of what you get; in an age of studios editing content, licenses expiring, quality being throttled down due to too much traffic, or weather, or cost, there remains no substitute for a quality DVD or Bluray.

 

I would urge you if you have not seen Ceylan’s CLIMATES, do not see it via streaming. It literally is not the same movie. The images, the held stares, the light and water glistening on skin, this is the movie. And to not see those things, in rich detail, is to not see this movie.

Pick up the Zeitgeist Film DVD, while you can grab it for between $20 and $40. I was telling people to pick up this film when it was $10 on Amazon. The smart ones among you did. The past will always be future, and future will always be past. Meaning studios in the past destroyed films and tv shows, the masters, the original prints, because they were short sighted and could only see these things as product rather than art.

Product that is no longer cost effective, historically companies destroy. Much of the history of cinema and television, that studios are now happy to exploit on their various streaming services, exists only because of collectors, people like you and I, who preserved the physical media.

That said, companies remain ruled by a mercenary view, so even today, if it is more cost effective for them to alter or edit, or make unavailable some items— they will. So once again, in a different way, the consumers access to content is at risk. And then as now, the answer is physical media.

God blessing the child, that’s got his own.

That’s got his own. 🙂 [A snippet of a song for those of you who don’t catch the reference 🙂 ]

So yeah, click the link. And if there are any copies left, grab the Zeitgeist DVD of CLIMATES.

 

Iklimler (2006)

 

 

And for a look at all of Ceylan’s filmography go here!

 

Currently Watching : DEATH IN THE GARDEN (1957) by Luis Bunuel courtesy of Kanopy Roku Channel!

Georges Marchal and Simone Signoret in La mort en ce jardin (1956)

One of the pioneers of surrealism, specifically cinematic, LUIS Bunuel is most well known for his early experimental films such as UN CHIEN ANDALOU and L’AGE D’OR and THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL, However what tends to get lost is that he did over 30 films, and did a few adept, straight narrative films as well. LA MORT EN CE JARDIN aka DEATH IN THE GARDEN stands as one of his strongest straight narrative films, and plays a little like Bunuel’s quasi-reimagining on the themes of Clouzot’s WAGES OF FEAR, with a smattering of huston’s THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE thrown in.

While not on the level of those two iconic films, this film is very good, and deserves better than its nearly forgotten status.

It is hurt perhaps a bit by its meandering nature, and the lack of a charismatic lead actor in the central role, but as the movie goes on the lack of stars, makes the journey they endure more compelling and impactful, and surprising. Ultimately the film goes surprising, unexpected places; Journeys external,  paled only BY even vaster journeys internal. And what must also be applauded is the beautiful use of color in this film, vibrant and rich and painterly.

Grade: A very good film that deserves far more attention. B+.

Also as a bit of trivia, the film may be the earliest to display a character giving someone the finger. 🙂 . Watch it for free courtesy of the Kanopy Roku Channel, and when suitably impressed, get the Blu-ray by clicking on the image below.

Special Features: Audio commentary by film critic Sam Dhegihan | Booklet essay by film critic Peter Tongue-tie | Interview with film critic Tony Rains | Trailers

Currently Watching: CANDY SNATCHERS Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome

 

The Candy Snatchers (1973)

One of the hardest things I find a film to be, is almost immediately engaging, exciting, and surprising. THE CANDY SNATCHERS is the first film I picked up from Blu-Ray Boutique label VINEGAR SYNDROME, and I picked it up because 1/it was given good reviews on a couple online outlets 2/ it had a stunning slipcover and 3/it was on sale.

I personally did not have high hopes for the film, it is not my genre of film. I don’t like extreme cinema, it is not my cup of tea. The torture/porn variety of cinema, just not for me.

I have seen the extreme films of Directors such as Miike Takashi, and I have seen their subtle films, and particularly with Takashi, his subtle films I find vastly better and more entertaining and well told, such as THE BIRD PEOPLE IN CHINA and THE NEGOTIATOR.

But I do appreciate crime films. So it is a tricky tight rope for a film to walk, to ride that line between telling a tale of criminality and not going overboard into atrocity and gore for gore’s sake. That said, it is no walk in the park. If you do not like challenging films, and films about and showing a certain amount of violence and sex and abusive behaviour, you will want to avoid this film. At the end of the day, you have to be the barometer for where that line is for you.

I spent the first 10 minutes of THE CANDY SNATCHERS with my mouth agape, saying “WTF?!!!” and I spent my last 10 minutes of the film with my mouth agape saying “WTF?!!!”

And in between that ending and that beginning, i was completely riveted, and impressed by the quality of the performances, and the adept, stylish excellence of the Direction.

The performances are all excellent, all the actors are great, but particularly Tiffany Bolling as Jessie and Cristophe who plays Sean Newton are revelations for entirely different reasons. When they are on screen they are riveting; Tiffany Bolling for her beauty which is honestly mesmerizing, and her performance which is galvanizing, and Cristophe for his performance.

 

“1973 was the Mt. Everest of the ‘MADE for TV’ years. It was a pretty stunning period. So bear in mind, you could go to the theater and see this film [THE CANDY SNATCHERS] then you could turn around come home, and you could see something like DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK or COLD NIGHT’S DEATH.”

—from the pretty compelling Audio Commentary on the Blu-ray by film Historian Nathaniel Thompson

 

It is a film that veers wildly between suspenseful, horrific, disturbing, distasteful, riveting and just plain strange, and even rare bits of awkward levity. I was doubtful, very doubtful of this inane titled THE CANDY SNATCHERS being a good movie, however now having just fished it — I’m hard-pressed to find a reason not to call it a great movie.

I don’t want to oversell this little known crime oddity from 1973, but if my reviews have not steered you wrong in the past, they will not do so now. Pick up Guerdon Trueblood’s THE CANDY SNATCHERS, this was the director’s first and only feature film. Great Gaia, what a debut! It adds him to that list of great one time Directors (such as Charles Laughton, Saul Bass and Patrick McGoohan) that you wish had gotten the chance to direct more.

It is a must own. And get it with the stunning embossed Slipcover if you can.

The Candy Snatchers (1973)

Blu-Rays to own in the Age of STREAMING : Alex Ross’ UNIVERSAL MONSTERS Steelbooks!

Here are all the Universal Steel-book Blu-rays done with Alex Ross art, all listed in chronological order. Starting from 1931’s DRACULA to 1954’s CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON!!! Look at that art!!!

 

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I have loved the Universal Monster movies since i was a kid, watching the films on tv. Have owned them in various formats, HOWEVER These Alex Ross Blu-Ray Steel-book Versions are the ultimate way to own these essential titles.

I AM HOPING THEY COME OUT WITH A VOLUME TWO, THAT INCLUDES TITLES LIKE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, THE BLACK CAT, MURDERS IN THE ZOO, ETC.

BUT AS FAR AS THESE EXISTING ONES, THEY ARE beginning to sell out. A month ago you could have picked them all up.  now? well i would say if you are interested pick them up today while they are still all in stock. get them here!

Must own Blu-Rays in the Age of Streaming/VOD : BLACK JOY Arrow Bluray

BLACK JOY – For the soundtrack alone this is a great purchase. A wild, raucous, caustic, but also tender, funny, troubling, dangerous bitter-sweet little film about the life and struggles and shenanigans of a specific bunch of people , in a specific place, at a specific time. It is a snapshot of a population, and a neighborhood, and a city, and even a world and music, that is far removed from today, and yet still resonates by the timeless conceit of the fish out of water, the good hearted but simple county-innocent… among hip city wolves.

Well shot and engrossingly performed. However, you will need subtitles, as the Patwa/West Indian slang flows fast and free, but despite that the meaning is always crystal clear.

Now, You are not going to mistake this for a blockbuster of cinema, but it is a surprisingly adept and charming (when not being of its time offensive) little film. This was a blind buy for me, and I am glad I bought it, because I am enriched by the viewing of it. Trevor Thomas is a wonderful actor, as is the whole cast, but definitely catch his interview on the disc, as well as the brilliant Floella Benjamin interview. Some of the stronger special features included.

 

“The opportunity to star in a film was great. Infact you got more opportunities, back in those days, the late 70s, 80s to play meaningful roles, as a Black actress, than you do today.”– Floella Benjamin

 

Grade: B-/C+ – A charming little film.

Get your copy here! As the Arrow Edition with booklet, will sell out.

VOD Streaming Film of the Day : Roger Corman’s X starring Ray Milland on Amazon Prime

 

I’ve seen this before, in passing quite a while ago. I did not remember it being this good. It is quite a fascinating and surprisingly dire film. Not a great movie, but a very good one, with one of the more impactful endings. A homerun by Roger Corman.

 

“What do you see?”

“This city, as if it was unborn, rising into the sky with fingers of metal, limbs without flesh, girders without stone, signs hanging without support, wires dipping and swaying without poles.

A city unborn, its flesh disolved in an acid of light.”

 

 

Check out the comments, as the brilliant Derrick Freguson, excellent Writer, Reviewer, general Renissance guy drops the knowledge on the ending! Also released today, coverage on the film, by great youtube channel SOLITARY RONIN at the link below. Watch the movie before checking out both, though.

And if he sells you on getting the Bluray like he did with yours truly, then get your copy here:

CASH ON DEMAND Blu-Ray Movie of the Day! US vs UK version!

CASH ON DEMANDPeter Cushing never gave a bad performance in his beloved career, and this is another standout great performance, by Hammer’s most bankable star. This Indicator Bluray boxset (click on the image) is the way to get this film (as well as three other great films). As the name implies it is about a bank robbery, more than that I will leave you to discover, except to say Andre Morell is brilliant, and there are two versions of this film. The shorter 68 minute UK theatrical cut, and the 12 minute longer 80 minute US Extended cut.

Typically, rightly or wrongly, the US cut is assumed to be the ‘censored’ or ‘edited down’ cut. In this case that thinking is 100% incorrect as the US version is VASTLY superior to the UK theatrical cut. When given the choice between the two, always go for the US Extended cut, it is just a stellar example of great writing, great direction, and great performances. Click on the image above to purchase.

Grade: One of the best and essential HAMMER crime films. I adore this film. B+/A-.

Spoilers: Read the following after viewing the film-US Extended Version

Comparison of the Two Versions

CASH ON DEMAND- UK 68 minutes, A tight, nail-biting, brilliant 68 minutes. Leading to a stitched up ending, that because of how well the protagonist is stitched up, seems a bit truncated unrealistic, even rushed ending.

The US cut adds 12 minutes, that now empowers that final scene in a way that was missing in the UK version. It adds three notable scenes. One, a scene prior to Cushing’s arrival, which I think is helpful for fleshing out the Bank workers, and this mentioned holiday party.

Two, some initial business about Peter Cushings character being tyrannical and dressing down his subordinates. Just heightens the irony, and the rough justice in Cushing’s character suffering what he does.

Third, a nice addition with a firetruck siren, and the fantastic Andre Mrrell discussing Cushing’s character over a drink, and his… absence of mercy.

All of these additions gives more weight and nuance to the movie as a whole, in that you are not firmly in Cushing’s corner the way you were in the UK version, which downplayed his abuse of his subordinates. The US version, there is more grey, and the viewer to an extent enjoy Cushing’s character getting back some of his own, and the teaching of a man without mercy,.. watching him learn the value… of mercy.

The US version makes the ending resonate more, because all of them, even the criminal(s), ultimately show more mercy than Cushing’s character does. The suave bank robber, knows and cares more about the people Cushing’s character works with than he does.The US version is the superior version. It is in certain ways the story of Scrooge, but told without ghosts and the clanking of chains, and tells us ultimately something canonical… about treating our fellow man, and the measure of mercy. The UK version is a good film, the US version is a great film.

Amazon Item of the Day : Multi-region Bluray Player

 

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LG BP175 Region Free Blu-ray Player – If you need an affordable multi-region Blu-Ray that also supports  3D discs, than this is a solid, well rated option.

 

Now regarding 4K.

I personally find very little need for 4K, as I do not have a 70″ or larger screen and I’m not sitting 2 feet away from it inspecting pixels. And the difference between 4K and 1080p, while substantial in pixels (ie inreal estate), in real world picture quality is minuscule. It is not the kind of quality jump that you got from DVD to Blu-Ray.

I have 20/20 vision, and see better than most people I know, ie I don’t need glasses or contacts, so at 1080p on a 60″ or less screen, from a recommended 8 feet or more viewing distance you are talking the threshold of what the human eye can differentiate in regards to pixel count/real estate.

That is where other considerations such as how well the source is mastered ( a huge consideration, I have some DVDs that provide a better picture than Blu-ray simply because they were well mastered and the Blu-rays were not) , and contrast and dynamic range and brightness, and frame rates all come in to play to provide you a superior picture.

But as far as chasing real estate, resolution, HD to 4K to 6K to 8K to 16K, that is a meaningless numbers game in a consumer setting. Unless you are projecting on a movie theater sized screen this chasing of resolution/real estate it just so manufacturers can continue to sell you the new hotness. The new player, the new tv, the new discs.

However if you are somone who has the disposable cash, and want the latest and greatest, so a 4K player to go with your 4K tv, well then the following is the one to get.

Sony X800 – UHD – 2D/3D – SACD – Wi-Fi – Dual HDMI – 2K/4K – Region Free Blu Ray Disc DVD Player – PAL/NTSC – USB – 100-240V 50/60Hz for World-Wide Use & 6 Feet Multi System 4K HDMI Cable

This one will do 4K (if you have a 4K tv as well), Bluray, Super Aucio CD, and 3D (If you have a 3D TV or Projector).

 

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Thanks and have a great day! See you next installment!