Blu-ray Review “Time Bandits: The Criterion Collection”

Starring: Michael Palin, Sean Connery, John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm
Director: Terry Gilliam
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance)
Studio: Criterion Collection
Release Date: December 9, 2014
Run Time: 116 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 4 out of 5 stars

Terry Gilliam is easily one of the most creative minds ever in film. His have never really been understood and really given the time of day with a mainstream audience but they seem to all become cult classics. “Time Bandits” is one of the best things to come out of 1981, minus myself 😉 This film is one that gets better and better with each viewing and never loses it charm. This latest Blu-ray release is for its addition into the Criterion Collection, which gives us a new 2K digital restoration, supervised by director Terry Gilliam. This is the best that I have EVER seen this film. It is a perfect release.

Official Premise: In this fantastic voyage through time and space from Terry Gilliam, a boy named Kevin (Craig Warnock) escapes his gadget-obsessed parents to join a band of time-traveling dwarves. Armed with a map stolen from the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson), they plunder treasure from Napoleon (Ian Holm) and Agamemnon (Sean Connery)—but Evil (David Warner) is watching their every move. Featuring a darkly playful script by Gilliam and Monty Python’s Michael Palin (who also appears in the film), Time Bandits is at once a giddy fairy tale, a revisionist history lesson, and a satire on technology gone awry.

Arrow Video recently released a Blu-ray transfer for this film but this is even newer than that edition. Here is the text that is included on leaflet provided with this release: “Supervised by director Terry Gilliam, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original camera negative. The restoration was overseen by Arrow Video and performed by Deluxe Digital Cinema in London. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS. The original soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic track.”

Like I said above, this is a flawless transfer. Criterion has been very kind and supportive of Gilliam’s work. I still treasure my 3-disc DVD set of “Brazil” from 1999. This track also comes with a equally flawless LPCM 2.0 surround track. It is definitely much better than the previous 5.1 track that was released in the past. The clarity is easily noticed and the score sounds amazing. The 2K restoration really delivered for both audio and video for “Time Bandits”. This is going to rank as one of the best releases of 2014, no question.

The special features are equally outstanding at the 2K restoration. There is vintage audio commentary track featuring Gilliam, cowriter/actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock, which was first taken from the DVD release of “Time Bandits” and recorded exclusively for Criterion in 1997.  There is a new piece narrated by film writer David Morgan and featuring production designer Milly Burns and costume designer James Acheson “Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits” focuses on creating the film’s numerous historical periods and fantasy worlds.

There is a conversation between Gilliam and film scholar Peter von Bagh which was taken from the Finland’s Midnight Sun Film Festival dating back to 1998. There is an excerpt from a 1981 appearance by actor Shelley Duvall on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show on NBC, which also features the actress discussing her role in “The Shining” as well. Lastly there is an original trailer and stills gallery included and an illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by critic David Sterritt. Even though there is only one new extra on this Blu-ray, I am in love!

Blu-ray Review “Scanners (Criterion Collection)”

Starring: Michael Ironside, Jennifer O’Neill, Patrick McGoohan, Stephen Lack, Lawrence Dane
Director: David Cronenberg
Number of discs: 3
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
Release Date: July 15, 2014
Run Time: 103 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 4 out of 5 stars

David Cronenberg has really affected up my taste in films over the years. I remembered the first time that I watched “Scanners”, I didn’t know anything about the director but I instantly fell in love.  That is one thing that I have always loved about Croneberg’s films is that they are rather timeless. “Scanners”,”Videodrome”, “The Fly”, “Naked Lunch”, eXistenz”. These are all films that are just as good as the very first time that I saw them.  They are extremely unique and cannot be duplicated. This film has never been released on high-def Blu-ray in the States (though we do already have “Scanners 2 & 3” on Blu-ray, thanks to Shout! Factory). Leave it to Criterion for giving an amazing film like this an even better release. This comes with a brand new, restored 2K digital film transfer, which was supervised by director David Cronenberg and includes an uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray.

Official Premise: With Scanners, David Cronenberg plunges us into one of his most terrifying and thrilling sci-fi worlds. After a man with extraordinary—and frighteningly destructive—telepathic abilities is nabbed by agents from a mysterious rogue corporation, he discovers he is far from the only possessor of such strange powers, and that some of the other “scanners” have their minds set on world domination, while others are trying to stop them. A trademark Cronenberg combination of the visceral and the cerebral, this phenomenally gruesome and provocative film about the expanses and limits of the human brain was the Canadian director’s breakout hit in the United States.

Instead of telling you all the details, I will let the linear notes tell you the techy details: “Supervised by director David Cronenberg, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from a 35mm interpositive at Vision Globale in Montreal; the color grading was done at Deluxe Toronto. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm Dialogue/Music/Effects magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 3.

So if you understand what all that technical specs mean, this film looks just amazing. If you disagree, you might catch me starring at you very intently…wait a second…and…BOOM! Unlike the Australian Blu-ray, which has a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, this Blu-ray includes an LPCM 1.0 surround track, which is much more impressive. The score is just so outstanding, I would have loved to seen an isolated audio track. This director approved dual-format Blu-ray and DVD, also comes with an amazing illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Kim Newman. I look forward to Criterion releases so much because they really put a lot of effort into these releases and don’t settle for less than perfect. Plus take a look at this cover art, isn’t it just amazing and there is different version inside the case as well!!

Like always Criterion has delivered a jam-packed Blu-ray with amazing extras. “The Scanners Way” is a brand new documentary film and includes interviews with director of photography Mark Irwin, special makeup artists Stephan Dupuis and Chris Walas, special effects supervisor Gary Zeller, and visual effects specialist Rick Baker talking about the production. This was was produced exclusively for Criterion in 2014 by Michael Lennick, a Toronto-based documentarian and visual effects designer and supervisor (Videodrome). “Mental Saboteur” is a brand new video interview, actor Michael Ironside, who plays Darryl Revok, reflecting on his role. This was able produced by Criterion this year.

“The Ephemerol Diaries” is a video interview from 2012 with actor Stephen Lack, who plays Cameron Vale, discussing his work on the film. We get excerpts from the “The Bob McLean Show” from the March 10, 1981 episode with David Cronenberg. A real treat definitely has to be David Cronenberg first completed feature, “Stereo”, is included, which he did in 1969. It stars Ronald Mlodzik, Jack Messinger, and Iain Ewing and runs just over an hour. Lastly there is a trailer and three original radio spots included. If Criterion is reading this PLEASE give Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ”, the Blu-ray treatment next. It has only been given a rather poor Echo Bridge Blu-ray and needs some love.

Blu-ray Review “The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night (Criterion Collection)”

Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Director: Richard Lester
Number of discs: 3
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Criterion Collection
DVD Release Date: June 24, 2014
Run Time: 87 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 5 out of 5 stars

The Beatles is one of the best bands EVER. They have changed pop culture forever. Their music is eternal and will never be forgotten. I can sum this Blu-ray up in one word…SPECTACULAR. If you are a Beatles fan, you NEED this release. If you don’t have a Blu-ray player, go out and buy one! “The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Night” was released on Blu-ray back in 2009 to a pretty poor release. If you felt burned that one all you need to know is that this is being released under the Criterion Collection and that means perfection. The music in this film is just so amazing. Tell you that you don’t belt out these classic Beatles tracks like “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Tell Me Why”, “If I Fell”, “And I Love Her”, “Can’t Buy Me Love”, and “I Should Have Known Better” while watching or even thinking about this film.

Official Premise: In 1964, the Beatles had just recently exploded onto the American scene with their debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The group’s first feature, the Academy Award-nominated “A Hard Day’s Night,” offered fans their first peek into a day in the life of the Beatles and served to establish the Fab Four on the silver screen, as well as to inspire the music video format.

Criterion is releasing this as a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. The film itself has been recently given a spectacular 4K restoration from the original camera negative for this Blu-ray. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1, I cannot stress how stunning this transfer looks. 5/5 stars is simply not high enough. Also this release is also director approved, so you can not just take my word but also Richard Lester’s word. The black and white is so sharp looking and you couldn’t tell that this was shot nearly 50 years ago.

Since The Beatles are obviously known for their music, the audio tracks on this release are very important. There are a few different tracks on this Blu-ray. My favorite has to be the LPCM mono track. It is extremely clear and the songs are very well balanced. When I cranked up a few of the songs, they just sounded absolutely perfect. Same goes for the dialogue in the film, it sounded great as well. There is also a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, which was made by Apple Records. Personally, this track works best with the songs, of course. Both very impressive and two different experiences, to be honest.

The special features are jam-packed and quite outstanding for this release. “Anatomy of a Style” feature story editor and screenwriter Bobbie O’Steen and music editor Suzana Peric discussing the film’s music sequences including “A Hard Day’s Night”, “I Should Have Known Better”, “Cant Buy Me Love”, “And I love Her” and “She Loves You”. “In Their Own Voices” includes behind-the-scenes stills and footage from the making of “A Hard Day’s Night” as well as clips from audio interviews a few of the Beatles. “You Can’t Do That: The Making of A Hard Day’s Night” is the 1994 documentary, produced by Walter Shenson (producer of “A Hard Day’s Night”) and narrated by Phil Collins featuring cast/crew from the film and runs just over an hour.

“Things They Said Today” is a  documentary from 2002 that focuses on long term success of “A Hard Day’s Night”. “The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film” is a short film that was shot by Richard Lester in 1959 and features Richard Lester, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Graham Stark, and Bruce Lacey. “Picturewise” is a  new video essay focuses on the production history of “A Hard Days Night” and Richard Lester’s directing style. This was written and produced by critic and filmmaker David Cairns exclusively for Criterion. “The Beatles: The Road to A Hard Day’s Night” is a new video interview with Mark Lewisohn, author of “The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1 — Tune In”, which was also conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2014.

But wait, there is still more…there is an audio commentary track from 2002 created from material produced by Martin Lewis and features actors John Junkin, David Janson, and Jeremy Lloyd; cinematographer Gilbert Taylor; associate producer Denis O’Dell; second assistant director Barrie Melrose; assistant editors Pamela Tomling and Roy Benson; and others. There are two trailers including the 2000 re-release and the 2014 re-release.  Lastly there is an fantastic illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Howard Hampton.


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Blu-ray Review “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (The Criterion Collection)”

Actors: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe
Directors: Wes Anderson
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Criterion
Release Date: May 27, 2014
Run Time: 118 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 5 out of 5 stars

“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is a rather strange film. But at the same time it is also a quite outstanding film. I think this can really be said for all of Wes Anderson’s films. They are all on another level of filmmaking. Some people get it and some do not but they are all brilliant. Criterion has been a big proprietor of Anderson’s films on Blu-ray. I recently had a chance to check out “Fantastic Mr. Fox” on Criterion Collection and was just blown away. Now just a few months later, we are getting “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and this is guaranteed to make fans of the film very happy. Criterion never disappoints and delivers a flawless technical presentation and a ridiculous amount of special features. I am sure that a Criterion release of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is not to far behind either.

Official Premise: Internationally famous oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his crew-Team Zissou-set sail on an expedition to hunt down the mysterious, elusive, possibly nonexistent Jaguar Shark that killed Zissou’s partner during the documentary filming of their latest adventure. They are joined on their voyage by a young airline copilot (Owen Wilson); a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett); and Zissou’s estranged wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston). Wes Anderson (Rushmore) has assembled an all-star cast that also includes Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, Seu Jorge, and Bud Cort for this wildly original adventure comedy.

When it comes to Criterion, you can always expect the best audio/video presentation. In fact, I am just going to quote what the leaflet inside the case says about this amazing Blu-ray release: “Supervised by director Wes Anderson, this new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative at Sony Colorworks in Culver City, California. Thousands of instances of dirt and debris were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was for small dirt, warps, and jitter. The original 5.1 soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the original magnetic track using Pro Tools HD.” The transfer is absolutely flawless, especially the underwater footage. Same goes for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, which is just perfect. This is the best release to date for this amazing film.

This release comes with some oustanding special features. Kicking off, there is an audio commentary with director Wes Anderson and cowriter Noah Baumbach, which was recorded exclusively for Criterion in New York City in February 2005. There is a “Making of” featurette with raw footage from the production with coments from Wes Anderson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, and director of photography of Robert D. Yeoman, amongst others. There is focus on the “Designs” and “Photos” with a collection of drawings, sketches, and photographs. “Intern Video Journal” is a behind the scenes documentary shot and edited by Matthew Gray Gubler. “Seu Jorge Performs David Bowie” includes ten performances of David Bowie songs in Portuguese by Brazilian recording artist and actor Seu Jorge.

Mark Mothersbaugh, composer and Devo member discusses the amazing soundtrack for the film, which was conducted for Criterion in 2004. There are seven sets of cast and crew interviews including Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson and many more. “Mondo Monda” is a Italian talk show hosted by Antonio Monda who interviews Wes Anderson and cowriter Noah Baumbach. “This is an Adventure” is a documentary from Albert Maysles, Antonio Ferrera, and Matthew Prinzing that was shot during the shooting of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in Italy in 2003. Lastly, there is a the original theatrical trailer and nine deleted scenes included.


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Blu-ray Review “Fantastic Mr. Fox (The Criterion Collection)”

Starring: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe
Director: Wes Anderson
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Criterion Collection
Release Date: February 18, 2014
Run Time: 87 minutes

Film: 5 out of 5 stars
Blu-ray: 5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 5 out of 5 stars

Even since I was a kid, I have been fascinated with the work of Roald Dahl. When I heard that Wes Anderson was going to give his unique approach to the “Fantastic Mr. Fox” story of with stop-motion puppets, I couldn’t have been more excited. The film is so much fun and speaks to both kids and adults. You can see how much work went into each second of the film and it is just amazing. It also includes an amazing voice cast with George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon and Bill Murray. Every time I watch this film it only get better. Easily my favorites and finally it is given the Blu-ray treatment it deserves thanks to The Criterion Collection. This is a must own for any fan of this film!

Official Premise: “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is the story of a clever, quick, nimble, and exceptionally well-dressed wild animal. A compulsive chicken thief turned newspaper reporter, Mr. Fox settles down with his family at a new foxhole in a beautiful tree directly adjacent to three enormous poultry farms—owned by three ferociously vicious farmers: Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mr. Fox simply cannot resist.

When I see that a film is getting a The Criterion Collection release, you know that it is going to be taken care of. With “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, it actually did receive a solid Blu-ray release back in 2010, so I was very curious to see how they were going to one-up that release. Well, I was not let down at all with this new digital master, approved by director Wes Anderson. It has never looked better. The stop-motion animation really strives with the brilliant colors which are presented so beautifully. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio also with the fantastic score from Alexandre Desplat. It is well-balanced surround track and also a nice improvement from the previous release. Literally blown-away!

This Criterion Collection comes stocked with one Blu-ray and two DVDs for the film, with all content available in both formats. Now that is a real treat, so you have various options when wanting to watch this. Another great treat included is a a booklet featuring a new essay; a 2002 article on Dahl’s Gipsy House by Anderson; White Cape, a comic book used as a prop in the film; and drawings, original paintings, and other ephemera. I think companies have forgotten what it is like when you used to open a DVD or Blu-ray case and actually find a booklet or pamplet in there. Nowadays, it is bare-bones usually. Thankfully, Criterion holds that tradition and continues to deliver even outside of the film’s presentations.

If you own the 2010 Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox already, be advised that this new Criterion Collection comes stocked with great new extras not available on Blu-ray previously. Firstly, there is a very fun and interesting audio commentary with Wes Anderson. There are storyboard animatics for the entire film, this is a MUST watch! There is great footage of the actors voicing their characters, puppet construction, stop-motion setups, and the recording of the score. There are interviews with cast and crew. I am huge fan of stop-motion animation and I loved watching the puppet animation tests, it is really amazing (and very hard) work!

There is a fantastic photo gallery of puppets, props, and sets. There the Animated awards acceptance speeches. My favorite is an audio recording of author Roald Dahl reading the book on which the film is based. There is gallery of Dahl’s original manuscripts, this was really neat to get to dive into. There is also an interesting and in-depth discussion and analysis of the film. I think this film deserves a good discussion because even though it might be considered a kids film since it is animated, it really isn’t completely. Lastly there is the Stop-motion Sony robot commercial by Wes Anderson rounding out the extras.