Joseph Kosinski has quite a brief, if solid resume of films over the last seven years. From the Tron: Legacy follow up, to the enjoyable Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion, Kosinski’s films have a unique visual style. With his new film Only The Brave, Kosinski seems to be going for the MTV style approach to this “based on a true story” biopic of a crew of firefighters during wildfires of 2013. Personally I’m hoping this is more serious film fare than what the trailer shown.
One of the joys of being both a tech nerd and a film lover is that every once in a while you get to see one of your favourite films released in the best possible technical quality of the day. I am a big fan of technical presentation, I deplore terrible presentations of films to the point of walking out. The African Queen was a film that I have always enjoyed ever since the first time I saw it one Saturday night with my grandparents on Bill Collins’ Golden Years Of Hollywood.
Set in Africa during World War I, The African Queen follows the story of Charlie Allnut (Humphery Bogart) an old river boat captain who captains the rickety old boat who bares the same name as the film. Charlie delivers mail and other supplies to a remote mission run by a pair of brother and sister missionaries Samuel (Robert Morley) and Rose (Katherine Hepburn). The duo are completely unaware of the circumstances occurring in the world with regards to the war until informed by Charlie during one of his stops. Shortly thereafter the German army arrive and destroy the mission by burning it down. Devastated by what has happened, Samuel dies of the trauma due to the loss of the mission leaving Rose to fend for herself.
Charlie returns to the mission to find Rose alone and offers her passage away from danger only to find that their path to freedom is thwarted by a large German steam ship called “The Louisa”. Rose devises a plan with Charlie’s help to use the rickety old ship as a tool to destroy “The Louisa” to fight for England. Initially the plan is met with some trepidation from Charlie who believes it to be a suicide mission, but he eventually comes around to her point of view and along the way this mismatched pair fall in love.
The African Queen is a classic film for many reasons which have been discussed over and over. To me, what makes the film great is it’s simplicity and innocence. It’s a simple story of two people who meet due to circumstances beyond their control and make the best of a bad situation. It’s a film that contains some brilliant dialogue and whose characters are likable and well developed and that includes the ship!
The African Queen still stands the test of time some fifty-nine years since release is notable as the only film the great Humphery Bogart ever won an Oscar for best actor. In the mid nineties, 20th Century Fox released a collector’s edition VHS of the film (which I still possess), but that stood as the last official studio release of the film. The African Queen was always a film high on my list of must have discs during the days of DVD. Thanks to the joys of lapsed copyright, no official DVD release ever surfaced of the film and only an average quality public domain edition of the film, which even by DVD standards was average surfaced. Finally now we have a fully restored edition released not just on DVD, but now bluray too thanks to Paramount.
This bluray release contains a fabulously restored 4k image from the original 3 strip technicolor negative. From a technical standpoint, this transfer is marvelous in it’s detail to the point of thinking that it could have been filmed within the last ten years, it’s that good! Presented in it’s original 1:33:1 aspect ratio, this bluray presentation is the best this film would have looked since it’s release over 60 years ago. Film artifacts are next to non existent and the film has been cleaned up superbly. Shadow detail in the image rivals some of the newest transfers on bluray of modern films. Film grain is present in the image as it should be, just like when it was presented all those years ago.
For the uninitiated, or just plain young who think everything should be sparkling clean, film grain is a natural by product of film. Some film stocks and filming processes will vary in levels of grain which in many cases is deliberately intended by the film-makers as an artistic choice. Some other films released on bluray of this vintage that have been “cleaned up” excessively to the point of the image not looking realistic at all, so it’s promising not to see any excessive DNR used. It’s obvious that a lot of money and time has been invested into the film and it’s still promising to see studios willing to invest in these old classic as they do. Audio wise the film retains it’s original mono soundtrack and while this has also been optimally processed, Paramount have not opted for any HD audio track on the disc as it would have made next to no difference in resolution. Supplements wise, the disc only includes one real extra and that is the excellent hour long documentary, “Embracing Chaos” Making The African Queen which is presented in HD and contains interviews and footage from the making of the film. For the serious fan, this is not to be missed.
The African Queen is a classic that should not be missed by any serious film lover. It’s non official release on DVD has meant that a large portion of the younger population will not have seen this classic at all. Now that the film is freely available again, hopefully a whole new generation of viewers can appreciate this film for years to come. This bluray release, while comparatively basic, is still one of the best releases on the format to date and shows why this format is the best home format for the ultimate presentation of films in the home.
Film: 5/5 – Bluray: 4/5
20th Century Fox are thankfully one of the few major studios still wanting to make mid budget films that cater to an audience that don’t want to see yet another superhero film for the umpteenth time. The release and success of Hidden Figures proves that mid budget films can find an audience and more importantly make a profit. Later this year comes the remake of the classic Agatha Christie story Murder On The Orient Express.
While it’s a story that is well known to the audience this is aimed at, Kenneth Branagh’s take on the classic story looks like one of the better adaptations to come out of Hollywood and one of the more spectacular moustaches seen on film in a long time. I remain cautiously optimistic.
I’ve been VERY quiet on this blog about Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk which is due for release in a couple of months, this is not because I’m not interested interested in the film, far from it. Dunkirk is my most awaited film for 2017, I havve huge respect for the work of Christopher Nolan thanks to his use of classic filming techniques and Dunkirk will be no exception.
I was however left quite cold by the previous two trailers and now with this third and final full trailer, I’m still somewhat underwhealmed, although this final trailer is much better than the last. Here’s hoping that Nolan hits this one out of the park come release time because Dunkirk looks magnificent.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Distributor: Shock Entertainment
Video/Aspect Ratio: 1:85:1 AVC 1080p/24
Audio: Linear PCM 2.0 @1.5mbps
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Steve Martin has always been one of those comedic actors I have enjoyed watching and he’s also been one of those comedic actors that has been able to shift between genres, be they drama or comedy without too much difficulty unlike other “typecast” comic actors.
Directed by Frank Oz, Housesitter has for many years been one of my more enjoyed Steve Martin films, second only to the previous Oz/Martin collaboration Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
Newton Davis (Steve Martin) is a fledgling Architect, as the film opens we find Newton presenting his girlfriend Becky (Dana Delany) a house that he has designed and had built as a wedding proposal gift. Unexpectedly, Becky refuses his proposal which Newton doesn’t take too well. As we shift forward several months, a drunk Newton has a one night stand with Gwen (Goldie Hawn) a free sprited waitress at a party Newton attends.
That night Newton mentions a dream house that he had built for Becky in his home town but doesn’t get to use. As life carries on for Newton, Gwen decides to find this dream house and live in it without his knowledge. Gwen finds and moves into the house and pretty soon Gwen invents the story that she and Newton are married and the town slowly begins to accept her as one of their own, including Newton’s parents!
This release of Housesitter comes from independent Australian label Shock Entertainment who have licensed the title from Universal. Housesitter is one of the many catalogue releases that has yet to see the light of day from Universal. Of course, Universal are not the only studio who are reticent about releasing older catalogue titles on physical media in this digital streaming world, so it’s good to see third party companies coming to the party as it were.
There are upsides and downsides to titles being licensed from the original studio. Of course the upside is seeing a title released on bluray that may not necessarily have been released otherwise. The potential downside is these releases are generally not restored or in any way.
Housesitter is presented at 1080p in it’s original aspect ratio of 1:85:1 using the AVC codec. Housesitter is clearly derived from an older HD master as there are slightly noticeable specks, marks and occasional flicker in the image, but this is to be expected from a twenty-five year old film without any restoration. Like previous Universal catalogue releases, use of DNR has been applied to this release, but in the case of Houesitter, there hasn’t been overly excessive use of DNR and an organic layer of grain is still present. Slight deficiencies in the original transfer aside, this is the best Housesitter looked since I saw this as at the theatre as a 15 year old and easily surpasses the previous DVD, Laserdisc and VHS releases.
Shock have paired the AVC encoded video with a 1.5mbps Linear PCM 2.0 audio track which faithfully reproduces the original Dolby Stereo sound mix from 1992, it is a front heavy presentation, but is suitable for the job. There is minimal ambient use of the surrounds as originally encoded on the Dolby Stereo mix.
Housesitter only contains six chapter stops for it’s 102 minute run time. Six! Personally I prefer the use of at least 10 chapter stops per hour. The use of minimal chapter stops is something that has become more and more frequent as the decline of physical media continues and remains a personal bug bear for modern bluray releases
There are no supplements on this disc and the menu is minimal with only “play film” and “scene selection” as the only selection options.
Housesitter is an enjoyable comedy that is particularly well suited to Steve Martin’s comic style presented on a middle of the road bluray. It has been released with little fanfare by a third party distributor with no supplements, minimal chapter stops and a transfer that isn’t restored. It is however the best that the film has looked in the home environment since it’s theatrical release. At this budget price of only $15 it is well worth a look.
Film: 3.5/5 – Bluray: 3/5
These days, when it comes to releasing trailers, the prevailing idiotic practice seems centred on creating short teasers for actual trailers in the days leading up to an actual trailer release and this stupid practice seems to be running rampant these days in order to create hype for an upcoming film.
Thankfully, Disney/Lucasfilm have eschewed this practice and have simply produced an excellent teaser which poses more questions than answers, as any well made teaser should do. The eighth episode in the Star Wars saga can’t come soon enough.
When it comes to cinematography, Michael Bay has created some of the most striking and epic images with his unique visual style of which I am quite a fan. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of his storytelling. With each subsequent Transformers film, critics have commented that his films couldn’t get any more incoherent. Based on the footage from this final trailer, it makes me think that Michael’s reply to everyone is “Hold My Beer!”
If there is one genre I enjoy watching more than most, it’s a good thriller. Sadly good thrillers are a dime a dozen today as the genre tends to be littered with films that are either, very formulaic or just plain stupid and preposterous by the time the end credits roll around.
The Gift is written, directed and co-stars Australian actor Joel Edgerton who also plays Gordo one of the central characters to the story. It’s tough to really talk much about the events of the film without the risk of walking into spoiler town. Suffice it to say, Gordo is a quiet, awkward kind of guy who runs into Simon and Robyn, played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall, at a local department store. Initially Simon is appears unaware of who Gordo is, but soon it becomes obvious to the viewer that Gordo used to go to school with Simon. Simon and Gordo strike up an awkward conversion and Simon mentions that he and his wife have recently moved back to Simon’s home town for his new job at a security company. The meet is both quiet and unassuming as the young couple carries on their day as normal.
As the days go by, things begin to get a little more uncomfortable for Simon and Robyn and creepier for the audience as Gordo begins leaving little house warming gifts for young couple at their house and shows up at random times unannounced which begins a sequence of events which are both unsettling and indeed surprising by the time the end credits roll around.
Joel Edgerton has crafted an interesting thriller here which takes your typical stalker film conventions and runs with them to places that some people may guess and some people are not. Casting here works very well for the film and Jason Bateman plays his role of Simon perfectly which really brings the film up to another level, I think that if anyone else had played this role, the film would have been worse off for it. Edgerton handles the dual role of actor and director surprisingly well, his portrayal of Gordo is both understated and haunting, Rebecca Hall on the other hand disappoints, but it is not enough to spoil the enjoyment of the film.
In this world of big budget film making with minimal plot and maximum explosions, The Gift is indeed a gift to audiences who enjoy smart film making. While The Gift probably won’t retain the same legacy in twenty years as other films in the genre like Se7en, Taxi Driver or Silence Of The Lambs for example. The Gift is still a solidly constructed film which is definitely worth your time. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll get a kick out of it.
3.5 / 5
Another year, another superhero film. Thor Ragnarok is the seventeenth film of the MCU, and personally, I’ve been getting a little tired of superhero films, but Thor Ragnarok may renew my interest. It actually looks damn fun, plus there’s the bonus of having Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Benedict Cumberbatch and Jeff Goldblum too. It’s also good to see that Marvel has let Taika Waititi leave a lot of his odd humour in here too. If you haven’t seen Hunt For The Wilderpeople, you’re missing out.