Monday, 28 December 2009

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009 PART SIX: WATCHMEN


Regret missing this one at the cinema, but an excellent Blu-ray presentation made up for the disappointment.
I'd read the graphic novel before seeing the film and thoroughly enjoyed the breadth of vision employed by both artist and writer. When the US region-free Blu-ray was announced in the form of a director's cut, I took the plunge and ordered sight unseen. Happily, the film fulfilled all my expectations and grabbed me right from the word go.
Set in an alternate timeline, WATCHMEN begins with the killing of costumed vigilante 'The Comedian', and moves into a wonderful opening credits sequence which provide character history before weaving a tale of paranoia and imminent nuclear war.

The transfer is a thing of beauty, with shadow detail particularly well rendered.
The famous 'Maximum Movie Mode' - where Zack Snyder hosts the film next to side-by-side comparisons of scenes, pages from the graphic novel and more - works very well, and the release of this edition in the UK is a real bonus in itself for import-shy fans of the film.

Now, we have another release to consider in the form of WATCHMEN ULTIMATE CUT: THE COMPLETE STORY, which loses the MMM, but adds a commentary track, the complete motion comics movie and TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER edited into the DC.
Up to now, I haven't had the cash to double-dip but not an immediate concern, as I'd bet hard cash on there being yet another 'Ultimate' release in the not-too distant future. For now, this one will do admirably.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009 PART FIVE: THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE


It's testament to the power of this film that, on each viewing, I depart thinking I've seen more than I actually have.
Some 35 years on from its release, Tobe Hooper's disturbing essay in terror continues to find new audiences, and influence up-and-coming genre directors.

Second Sight's 'Seriously Ultimate Edition' should mostly delight Blu-ray afficianado's, with a transfer that retains the grain and also boasts bold, bright colours, with bags more detail in the night-time scenes I can understand and respect the opinions of those who claim this transfer looks, well, too good and goes against the legendary 'down and dirty' home video editions we all know and love. However, Hooper always intended this film should look as good as it possibly could, so full marks from me for this superior edition.

As with DAWN OF THE DEAD, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE extras do include a fair amount of material that many will be familiar with, but there are some additional interviews which help earn the 'ultimate' tag.

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009 PART FOUR: DAWN OF THE DEAD


A nice three-discer featuring the theatrical cut in HD format, with the Argento cut and director's cut in SD. The theatrical version is a big step-up from previous home video incarnations and will surely please its legion of fans. Apparently, the other two cuts were in too poor condition to elevate them above standard def treatment, due to time and money available.

Those of us who purchased the Anchor Bay US 4 -disc SD box will be familiar with most of the additional material, though it's nice to have them on the UK set, together with some new featurettes. Look out for Nicolas Garreau's Fan of The Dead, taking us on a pilgrimige to locations used in the filming of DAWN.

Although we lose the commentary tracks that were present and correct on the European and Director's cuts via Anchor Bay, this UK Blu-ray gives solid reasons to upgrade.

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009 PART THREE: NORTH BY NORTHWEST


Not my favourite Hitch film by a long way, but the marvellous restoration on this Blu-ray transfer compelled me to enjoy this movie like never before.
Yes, the crop-dusting plane and the chase across the stone Presidents on Mount Rushmore look spectacular, but damn near every second of this film showcases what Blu-ray should be all about.

Add to this some valuable featurettes for Hitchcock buffs, and you have one stunner of a release.Just sit back and feast your eyes on those eye-popping colours and the detail in both interior and exterior scenes.
Now, can we please have a Blu VERTIGO sometime soon?

Saturday, 26 December 2009

TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009 PART TWO: THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE


For me, this is middle-tier Argento, but still a wholly impressive work.
Here, Tony Musante - a novelist living in Rome - winesses a violent attack at an art gallery and becomes haunted by a sliver of visual information that remains just out of reach.
While the plot is nothing out of the ordinary, Argento's orchestration of suspense and atmosphere made this film a more than worthwhile declaration of intent, peppered with some great set-pieces containing an abundance of visual ingenuity; many of which have been reused in subsequent genre movies.

Blue Underground's Blu-ray release - while hardly reference material - has kept the film's grain intact to deliver a beautiful film-like transfer. Indeed, taking into account the faded Eastman film stock, it's a remarkable piece of work.
The extras from the Blue Underground SD release have been ported over to this Blu-ray,including the rather wonderful commentary track from Alan Jones and Kim Newman.
The expert duo return in January to once again take the mic for commentary duties on the SUSPIRIA Blu-ray that will be available in the UK on 18th January. Stay tuned for a review!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

MY TOP TEN BLU-RAYS OF 2009: Part One: THE DAMNED UNITED


Although I've been unable to buy many Blu-ray releases this year, I've had a great time renting various titles and remain thankful that my wife managed to win a Blu-ray player in a competition. While there remains a good many titles that I've been unable to see, I count myself very fortunate to have been able to enjoy some stunning transfers.

Over the course of the next week or so, I'll be blogging on my own top ten Blu-rays of 2009. Of course, I'll be very pleased to read everyone's selections in the comments box.

So, to kick things off, here's my opening choice.

10/ THE DAMNED UNITED.

Having been a Derby fan since 1968, the events and characters in Tom Hooper's film took me a trip down memory lane. When Brian Clough and Peter Taylor arrived at Derby County, the club was well and truly in the doldrums and no-one would have believed that just a few years later The Rams would be proudly sitting on top of the league above such famous names as Liverpool, Spurs and... Leeds United.
Derby and Leeds had a fierce rivalry between players, fans and management, so it was like a bolt from the blue when Brian Clough took the manager's job at Elland Road after all he had said about the Yorkshire club. Cloughie's infamous stint at Leeds is well chronicled here, along with his clashes with Derby chairman Sam Longson who quickly became the most hated man in the city for the part he played in Clough and Taylor's departure.

Hooper's film is a pleasure to sit through, for its grasp of the events, mood and motivation of an amazing period in English football. Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall are both excellent as the dream team in this winning partnership - Taylor brilliant at identifying the players needed, with BC getting them to play - and Jim Broadbent (Longson) and Colm Meaney (possibly 'Man Of The Match' for his portrayal of Don Revie)both excel. That Clough didn't succeed at Leeds boils down to two things: the absence of Peter Taylor, and the fact that the Leeds players were determined his tenure would be short and fruitless.

This Blu-ray release treats us to a beautiful transfer, together with a quartet of featurettes and some deleted scenes. My thanks to all concerned for bringing this absorbing tale back to life.

Monday, 21 December 2009

GREAT SITE FOR BLU-RAY BUFFS

Those of you with a yen for the latest Blu-ray releases will do no better than to addthe excellent SHINY DISCS in your favourites.
Here, Ian Smith has devised a wonderful Blu-ray release carousel, which shows off the latest releases to great effect.

Ian promises detailed reviews of individual titles AND weekly video podcasts from around the end of March 2010. Ian is a gifted reviewer, so make sure you bookmark his site. Just click HERE

Sunday, 20 December 2009

AWAYDAYS


Rule #8 If this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight.


November 1979. Margaret Thatcher had been elected several months earlier, and already the gloomy outlook was already edging towards pitch black.
So, what's a boy to do in times like these? We had our music, which spewed out a ton of exciting bands and we also had our great national game. Football. For me, this particular obsession-bordering-on-religion kicked in around 1968, and led to me travelling the length and breadth of the country, following my local team. It was pretty much the same for the disaffected youth in Pat Holden's AWAYDAYS.

Based on Kevin Sampson's cult novel, AWAYDAYS drags us into the organised - often disorganised - world of football violence, focusing on 'The Pack': a small gang of Merseyside youths who actively seek confrontation with firms from other parts of the country.
Opening with a graveside family gathering, AWAYDAYS quickly moves into flashback mode, going back some three months earlier to a fight at a match, where onlookers include teenage Carty (Nick Bell) and his father. Carty is determined to become a member of this 'elite' club, and sees his chance after bumping into Pack member Elvis (Liam Boyle) at a gig.
Despite Elvis' warning that 'The Pack' are way out of his league, Carty elects to get himself noticed by participating in some savage fighting; an act that leads to a serious beating from a rival mob.
Although Carty is initially welcomed with open arms by the Pack leader, jealousy soon rears its ugly head, with potentially fatal repercussions.

With a plethora of violent scenes - including the cowardly use of stanley knives - AWAYDAYS packs pretty much the amount of punch one would expect from a film centering on football violence, though it's far from being a mindless hooligan flick.
Here, you'll find a film that captures the bleakness of '70s Britain where friendships buckle and break under the strain of everyday life and death. Check out the scene where Carty first enters Elvis' pad and is confronted by a noose hanging from the ceiling: "An everyday reminder of the absurdity of life and the absolute certainty of death. Heavy stuff, and yet an accurate depiction of the despair felt by many who turned their backs on a harsh political regime and simply waited for Saturday to come around.
While many will find AWAYDAYS to be a thoroughly depressing affair, those who engaged in terrace warfare will recognise a series of snapshots capturing how things were, and the two lead actors benefit from Holden's unjudgemental direction to deliver performances laced with anger and an understandable sense of unease.

While football violence has seen a decline for the last several years, firms still exist and attempt to evade the authorities crackdown by organising fights via mobile phones.
Just like the characters in this film, they don't appreciate bright lights in dark places.

MUSIC FROM THE NOUGHTIES: KAISER CHIEFS