The African Queen Bluray

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

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Housesitter Bluray

housesiter-bluray

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

The Gift

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

We’re The Millers

When I first watched We’re The Millers, I thought that this was a very average and underwhelming comedy in comparison to many other films of the genre, but sadly in this age of modern comedy, this is more the norm than the exception.

Likeable stoner and local dealer David (Jason Sudekis) has his drugs and money stolen after helping his young neighbour Kenny, (Will Paulter) protect local homeless girl Casey (Emma Roberts) from a gang of thugs. With the loss of a bunch of drugs and money that doesn’t belong to him, David is forced by his boss, local drug lord Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) to import a “smidge” of drugs from Mexico back into the U.S. in an RV.

That “smidge”, of course, turns out to be a complete RV’s worth of drugs. Forced with almost certain capture David comes up with the plan of creating a fake family using Kenny and Casey as his children while enlisting the help of kind hearted stripper Rose (Jennifer Aniston) as his wife. Of course, this being a comedy, various mishaps and situations occur which range from the silly to just plain absurd and this continues until the end credits, almost laugh free. There is however a dancing scene featuring a stunning looking Jennifer Aniston which did however keep my attention for a few minutes at least.

We’re The Millers must have sounded like a fun pitch to studio executives, with enough potential to be a solid comedy, but sadly the final execution is deficient of laughs throughout most it’s run time because the film is so heavily reliant on situations with are so absurd, unrealistic and forced – even for a comedy –  that the pay off to each joke barely raises a chuckle with the exception of one great joke in the end credits, and when the best joke in the film is a deliberate flub at the end of the film, you know you’ve just experienced a mediocre comedy.

In hindsight We’re The Millers definitely isn’t as bad a modern comedy as one would expect since watching the absolute laughter free zone that was Movie 43 only a few days later, but it’s a film never elevates itself above average.

2.5/5

Dumb And Dumber To

Within thirty seconds of the opening credits involving a joke utilising a urine bag, you know two things about Dumb & Dumber To. One, it’s a Farelly brothers film and two, you’re in for nearly two hours of low brow humour.

Following on twenty years after the original film, Lloyd is a patient at a mental hospital who has been faking a catatonic state all for a practical joke, meanwhile Harry needs a new kidney and is rather shocked to find out that he is adopted by his Asian parents. Of course the idea of a compatible Kidney from his “parents” is now flush down the toilet like this script should have been. Devastated by this turn of events and with few options, Harry & Lloyd are given a bunch of old letters which show Harry has a child with a long lost flame. With a long lost daughter given up for adoption, Harry & Lloyd go on a cross country journey to find her  as she may be Harry’s only viable option for a new kidney.

It’s been twenty years since the last film, it appears that the script, is about the same vintage as well as it feels like portions of the script were written not long after the successful run of the original film, put into a drawer and just forgotten about until recently, until the producer remembered that this bilge was there, so the script was dusted off and a few minor changes made to adjust for the twenty year difference between films. This is not entirely a bad thing as there are one or two really funny jokes in the film, but they are few and far between and there are more cringe worthy ones that good ones.. Chemistry between Carrey and Daniels still holds up, in fact Daniels steals the show on this occasion from Carrey and this is not a bad thing. Most of the cast in the film fit into their very simply written roles well, my only dislike is Rob Riggle. I just cant figure out how on Earth this boorish oaf wiggles his way into films, he is a charisma vacuum who spoils any movie I’ve seen him in.

Is this sequel unnecessary? YES! Does is pale in comparison to the original, YES! But this doesn’t mean that the film should be crucified for these reasons, in fact there are many other sequels which are worse than this. Dumb & Dumber To is plainly a Farrelly brothers film, it’s crass, stupid and low brow, but in comparison to their previous abomination Movie 43, Dumb & Dumber To is almost Citizen Kane in comparison. If you’re a fan of the original film, you should still get a few kicks out of this second adventure for Harry & Lloyd, for everyone else, your mileage may vary.

2.5/5

Suicide Squad Still Sucks!

I’m beginning to think that I’m a masochist. Earlier this year I watched Batman Vs. Superman and was both disappointed and frustrated about how dour and depressing the DC universe had become. Paired with a story line that was almost nonsensical, Batman Vs. Superman was one of my least liked superhero films ever.

Fast forward several months and my less than positive feelings towards Batman Vs. Superman were vastly overshadowed as I watched the utter narrative mess that was Suicide Squad. Suicide Squad was without a doubt, not only one of the worst films I have seen this decade, but the worst Superhero film since this current fascination with superhero films began.

Over the weekend I thought I would give the recently released “extended cut” of Suicide Squad a go due to the improvements made with the “extended cut” of Batman Vs. Superman which went some way to raise my opinion of Zack Snyder’s bloated addition to the DC universe.

Sadly the modest improvements found in the “extended cut” of Superman Vs. Batman have not had the same positive effect with Suicide Squad. The added running time  of the “extended cut” has only added to the excruciating factor of the film. It is still an absolute narrative mess, the characterisations are woeful – especially the Joker – and the film still plods from rubbish action set piece to another rubbish set piece with no real story line in between.

Whoever cut the original and now extended cuts of these films together needs to go back to film school. That said, a film editor can only work with what they have been given and no film, no matter how talented the director, can overcome a limp, wet noodle of a script. Unsurprisingly to me, both the direction and writing in this travesty are the work of David Ayer, a man whose previous films I have also not rated very highly at all.

The “extended cut” of Suicide Squad is for masochists. If you like to inflict pain on yourselves, by all means give it a watch. But for the more discerning film watcher who isn’t a superhero nut job, the “extended cut” doesn’t improve on the utter rubbish that was the theatrical cut, in fact it only inflicts more pain on the viewer.

Miracle Mile Bluray

Its early 1990 and the Cold War is slowly winding down, but this 12 year old was still living under the threat of nuclear war that had been a constant threat for many years. My love of films is already well established thanks to a very cool mum who would let me watch any -film – within reason – so long as she got to watch the more adult oriented films with me and if I had any questions about things I didn’t grasp, I would have to discuss it with her.

Mum always believed in letting me see what the real world was like, rather than sheltering me from it, I still appreciate that. Every Friday I would go on a trip to the local video store to get the usual 5 weekly movies for $10 deal and every weekend I would spend that weekend watching that weeks selections.

One film that completely stuck with me during this time was the Steve De Jarnatt film Miracle Mile. What started out as your usual action/thriller story, quickly evolved into one of the first films I had seen that didn’t have the usual Hollywood ending that I had seen so many times before. It blew me away!

What starts out as a budding romance film, quickly evolves into a tense thriller about a potential nuclear attack from Russia after our main character receives a telephone booth phone call from an incorrectly dialled number telling him that the missiles have launched.

A few years earlier I had seen – and loved – John Badham’s War Games, but Miracle Mile wasn’t made for teenagers like Badham’s film. Miracle Mile was a gripping film for a 12 year old about the gradual descent into madness that occurs when civility begins to crumble when nuclear attack is imminent.

What follows is a tense and gripping 90 minutes that still sticks with me, 26 years later. The last time I saw this film was in the late 1990’s on an old beaten up VHS rental as it was always very difficult to purchase this film for home consumption in Australia.

Thankfully, 25 years after release, I have finally been able to acquire a bluray edition of Miracle Mile thanks to a recent release of the film by Kino Lorber. Even though it’s been 16 years since I’ve last seen the film, it still holds up with as much impact as it did when I first saw it 26 years ago.

I’m glad that Kino Lorber have gone to the trouble of creating a new transfer for this release as this is also the first time I’ve seen the film in it’s original aspect ratio – seeing as the previous VHS releases were panned and scanned – and the results are pleasing for a smaller distributor considering they don’t have the budget of the bigger studios. It’s also nice to a good selection of extras on the disc like audio commentaries & featurettes which are more than just filler.

It seems that today many distributors winding down comprehensive supplements for monetary reasons, so again it’s good to see these included which add both enjoyment and added production knowledge of the film for the viewer, the audio commentaries are especially well put together and informative.

Miracle Mile is one of those films that should be in any discerning collection. It still holds up brilliantly after 28 years considering it’s low budget origins.

Rating: 4/5