Monday, November 22, 2021

Candyman (2021) Universal UHD Review

Candyman (2021) Universal Studios 11/16/2021

Directed By: Nia DaCosta 

Starring: Teyonah Parris, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nathan Stewart-Jarett, Colman Domingo and Vanessa Williams

Disclaimer: Universal Studios  has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections.

Plot Summary: A "spiritual sequel" to the horror film Candyman (1992) that returns to the now-gentrified Chicago neighborhood where the legend began.

     Nia DaCosta’s 2021 “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 Candyman is, outside of Halloween Kills (2021) probably the most anticipated genre movie for a lot of people, myself included. So, when I was invited to a press screening, I jumped at the chance to see it Tuesday evening. It was also the first time back to the movie theaters in almost two years. 1992’s Candyman had a pretty big impact on me in terms of early horror cinema (I was seven at the time of its release). Just like in the movie, the myth of saying Candyman’s name in the mirror became fodder for maybe childhood dares. I only mention this because this is because the original is a movie that I firmly grew up with and had it planted in my grey matter. Hell, I even met Tony Todd a few times. But, as always, I am not one for hyperbole and I will give you my totally honest and un-bought reflections.

     Visually, this movie is creative and at times, downright stunning. Production designer Cara Brower (who is currently working on The Marvels with Nia DaCosta) really does a jaw-dropping job. Brower and DaCosta clearly put a lot of love and careful consideration with the entire films look and feel. Little details are sprinkled throughout making repeat views a must. Keen eyed viewers will notice the colors yellow and various browns are expertly and meticulously incorporated. Even the shadow puppet silhouettes are cleverly echoed in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ways. As someone who has seen a lot of film, I certainly can tell when a lot of thought, care and love go into a project. Candyman is an oppressive feeling and stylish tour-de-force. Cinematographer John Guleserian (who is working on the infamous “Cocaine Bear” film) does some pretty bombastic camera work that feels like it vibes with this off-kilter world that DaCosta has crafted. Furthermore, the score, sound design and cast are all excellent.

         The movies biggest weakness sadly lies within its screenplay. The movie has three screenwriters and frankly at times it shows. It has a lot of interesting, even brilliant ideas. Some of them feel organic and others feel awkward and ham-fisted in. This is tricky to keep spoiler-free, so going forward I will be as vague as possible in certain areas. The movie telegraphs right from the first few seconds that this movie has a lot to say about racism in America and the incredibly vile way cops treat people-of-color. This is very much a worthwhile stand to take, especially in the context of Candyman, which was always about race, intolerance and victimization. (Though, side note: re-watching the ‘92 version does feel tone-deaf when it comes to these deeper social issues.) Instead of this being the narrow focus, the movie instead also appears to take a biting, satirical look at the world of elitist artists. This is woven into the narrative pretty significant but is seemingly dropped midway through. Also, a presumed throw away character (even set up as a possible victim) actually turns out, out of nowhere mind you, to be hugely important to the third act. This is not prompted by set up in the plot and, it felt jarring like key scenes were missing. It also really leans into the nostalgia factor, hard! Like, it is a movie that wants to have its cake and eat it too. It finds a way to bring elements from the ‘92 film into this Universe but also tries to be its own thing. This kind of works, but it also feels like the worst kind of fan service that isn’t truly earned. It takes away from this being a truly unique offering. Sure, there were things that were fun to see but it never gives itself room to just be a new entity. I will give screenwriters credit for finding some fun ways to subvert tropes.

     Candyman (2021) is no doubt a staggeringly beautifully crafted movie that sadly feels weighed down by its pacing and screenplay. You will no doubt read reviews that this is the greatest movie ever. Candyman will please a certain sub set of fans, namely people of a certain age that enjoyed the original film. However, the movie is narratively messy. What we’re left with is a movie feels very much like film with creative ideas saddled with studio mandated trappings. Also, seeing it with a crowd, not a single person screamed or even startled which isn’t a good sign for a what at the end of the day is a horror film. Candyman is still a powerful movie but sadly, at the end of the day, this is an interesting yet very messy confection.

Picture: Candyman is a damn impressive looking film on UHD. The HDR grading provides a image with deep blacks and vivid colors. Details like costumes, costume textures, locales and sets are really sharp and you cannot help but be in awe. What I love about this film is, its a really visually haunting and I think that this razor fine looking transfer shows you all of that in extreme depth. Noise and grain levels are also rendered fine to nearly non-existent. What fans are left with is a clean life-like picture. 

Sound: Candyman's Dolby Atmos may be a contender for among the best Atmos track of the year. Like the visuals, this movie has a staggeringly amazing sound design and score. This track has a amount of depth and total immersion really helps capture that magical theater-like experience. Huge and robust this track helps heighten and utilizes jump scares. 

Extras: Candyman has a lot of great bonus features including: Alternate Ending (2mins), Deleted/Extended Scenes (Play All option -runtime: 5mins),  Say My Name (6mins), Body Horror (6mins),  The Filmmaking Eye: Nia DaCosta (4mins), Painting Chaos (7mins), The Art of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (4mins), Terror in Shadows (4mins), Candyman: The Impact of Black Horror (20min)

Saturday, November 20, 2021

In Balanchines Classroom (2021) Kino Lorber DVD Review

In Balanchine's Classroom (2021) Kino Lorber 11/16/2021

Directed By: Connie Hochman 

Starring: George Balanchine 

Disclaimer: Kino Lorber has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Other Kino Reviews:

The Real Bedford Falls HERE
Songs My Brother Taught Me HERE
Village Detective: A Cycle Song HERE

        I have to say that I no very little about ballet but, as always I am trying to push myself to broaden my horizons.  Plus, I think the mark of any good documentary is, regardless of if you are a fan of the subject or a total novice, it should be totally absorbing.  As the title suggests, this film tells the story of George Balanchine who is credited as formalizing US ballet. Told through archival interviews with the man himself as well as former pupils. For me, In Balanchine's Classroom is a mixed bag. What I think was the most interesting was learning about the life of Balanchine yet, the filmmakers skim over this fairly quickly. It also contains a lot of interesting facts and incredible first hand insights. I think that the pacing is the main problem here. This feels like a 60 minute lean and effective doc. Things tend to get a bit tedious and repetitive. I kind of wish that things like the founding of the New York Ballet would have been explored in more depth. For hardcore ballet fans I think this might be interesting but it probably doesn't present them with anything they didn't already know before. 

Interesting but it left me wanting more and at times less. 

Picture/Sound: Classroom has a overall nice crisp look though the image is grainy and this is clearly because of the transfer from HD to 720p. Obviously, this is a doc so it doesn't need to look UHD levels of detail. The sound is from a DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue seems kind of on the low side but, overall very clear. 

Extras: Additional scenes, trailers 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Paramount Presents #28 Ragtime (1981) Paramount Pictures Blu Ray Review

Ragtime (1981) Paramount Pictures 11/16/2021

Directed By: Milos Forman 

Starring: James Cagney, Elizabeth McGovern, Brad Dourif, Howard E. Rollins Jr, Robert Joy 

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures  has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections.

Other Paramount Presents Reviews:

Vanilla Sky HERE

Nashville HERE

Mommie Dearest HERE
48 Hrs.  HERE
Another 48 Hrs. HERE
Last Train from Gun Hill HERE

       I have to say that I was really was excited when Paramount announced that they were re-releasing Milos Forman's 1981 film Ragtime. Back in 2018 I reached out to Forman's PR people but sadly, the legendary director was too ill for interviews-he would pass away that same year. I did however interview Robert Joy that year and he talked about working with him on this film. A young African American jazz singer gets caught up with a upper class family which intersects with historical goings in in early 1900's New York. 

        With an big scope and a keen eye for detail, Milos's Ragtime is a film that, strangely doesn't have a big following. At two-and-a-half hours long the movie really allows itself to take its time telling an epic story. The time time Oscar winning Milos who made such classics as Amadeus (1984) and One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest (1975) really weaves a rich tapestry of early 20th century America in a way that is engaging and also sets the stage of Milos's other period pieces. The story and how it touches on different aspects of two very different families -and how their story intersects is both interesting and highly compelling. There is an under current of the white savior trope that is a bit cringe-worthy which I think it worth a mention. 

    The cast is of course great with Elizabeth McGovern, Brad Dourif, Howard E. Rollins Jr, Robert Joy all giving the film their very all. Ragtime is the last theatrical film from the legendary James Cagney. It also features an early small role for Samuel L. Jackson

Ragtime is a fantastic sweeping epic with a fantastic cast and amazing cinematography by Miroslav Ondricek. Well worth seeking out. 

Picture: Paramount Presents further impresses with their restorations. Here we are treated to a brand-new 4k scan from the original film elements. What fan films are treated to here is a pristine looking print free of noise and artifacts. Color contrast is well balanced with an overall sharpness. Grain is also very consistent and thankfully not heavy. Really not much if anything I can find lacking here, clearly this is great looking transfer of a forty-year old film. 

Sound: Ragtime has a impressive DTS 5.1 track. Dialogue and music comes through nicely and the film has a lot of depth of field sound wise. Dialogued mostly front channel heavy. 

Extras: Ragtime has some great extras both imported from the previous edition as well as new!

Ported over is: Commentary by Milos Foreman and Ex. Producer Michael Hausman, Remembering Ragtime. 

New Features: Deleted and Extended Scenes, Ragtime Revisited: Conversation with Larry Karaszewski and screenwriter Michael Weller. 

Disc 2: Never Before released Directors Cut Workprint. 

Infamous Video Nasty The Gestapo's Last Orgy (1977) 88Film Blu Ray Review

The Gestapo's Last Orgy (1977) 88Film 10/19/2021

Directed By: Cesare Canevari 

Starring: Adriano Micantoni, Daniela Poggi, Maristella Greco 

Disclaimer: 88 Films  has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Other Reviews: 
The Chinese Boxer HERE
The Hills Have Eyes UHD HERE

        88Films has re-released another film on the infamous Video Nasty list. Told in flashback, the survivor of a Nazi camp recounts the horrors. Though the movie is probably not as outrageous as the title suggests, The Gestapo's Last Orgy is still some heavy stuff.  For those non-familiar, Last Orgy is pretty much standard Nazi-exploitation fare. It checks off all the hallmarks like ultra-gore, torture and an overflowing eroticism.  There is a plot but I think thats generous -this movie is more of a carnival of gore and sick-fetishism. I would say casual fans outside of Grindhouse lovers will probably find this both tasteless and repetitive. Though, fans of nasty will no doubt find enough gross-out and bare flesh to find this engaging. However, the latter camp may find this a bit too tame. Furthermore, the filmmakers try to slap a "message" to gloss over its exploitation trappings. 

I will say that despite this I think the movie is grimy enough to merit a watch if this kinda stuff is your bag. 

Picture: Much like The Chinese Boxer, The Gestapo's Last Orgy has a really nice looking 1080p transfer. There is a staggering amount of brightness and refreshed clarity. Colors really pop here and you really see 88Films impressive sharpness that they bring. There are times when you can even see the texture in costumes. There is also very little to no artifacts or scratches to be found as well. Really a stunning looking. 

Sound: Last Orgy has a DTS 2.0 English Mono and Italian Mono with English subs. Dialogue comes through nicely, as does the score and sound design. No unwanted background noise.

Extras: This film is packed with some great extras. Included is: Commentary with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, a second track with Samm Deighan. Also included is:

Alternate Italian Ending, Remembering Alberto Baldan Bembo-An Interview with Pierpaolo De Sanctis, One Thing On His Mind: An Interview Luigi Cozzi, English Trailer 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Village Detective A Song Cycle (2021) Kino Lorber Blu Ray Review

The Village Detective A Song Cycle (2021) Kino Lorber 11/23/2021

Directed By: Bill Morrison 

Disclaimer: Kino Lorber has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

     Lost films is probably the most heartbreaking aspects of being both a film fan and historian. Indeed, a large number of silent films are considered lost if not completely destroyed. This is due in part to several vault fires and just a general lack of care for film preservation. Thankfully though, films are being found all the time, in the strangest of places. Such is the case in The Village Detective A Song Cycle which sees film canisters that were caught in a fisherman's net. The following is a story of the actor who is featured in the recovered films.  

      I have to say that recently I started pushing myself to watch and review documentaries that were totally outside my wheelhouse. However, lost films and film restoration is certainly something I am very familiar with (but by no means an expect). Therefore I was actually really looking forward to this film. But...I dont think this is a very good documentary if I am being brutally honest. Morrison in my opinion doesn't do a good job at laying out a blue print for the main subject, Russian actor Mikhail Zharov. It starts out decent enough, giving some background on the actor but the film then just slogs with long acting reels without any interesting context weaved throughout. It feels like padding and the lack of historian commentary guiding the audience makes for a frustrating choir. The film which was recovered was not even lost -it had been archived and even shown on television. Even explaining the reels doesn't come until the films over. I think there is some interesting and engaging stuff but this is so over-stuffed with padding that you lose anything that might be impactful. 

On the bright side the doc has a nice visual flare that I did quite like. It seems that Bill Morrison's previous films are short features and, I think that this feels like a short stretched to 80 minutes. 

Picture/Sound: The Village Detective has a nice clean looking 1080p transfer. The interviews shot for this doc have a good clarity and field of depth. No grain that I could detect. Includes both a 2.0 and 5.1 track with dialogue coming through nicely. 

Extras: Includes other shorts from Bill Morrison: Buried News (12mins), let me come in (11mins), Sunken Films (11mins) Also includes trailer. 

Vanilla Sky (2001) Paramount Presents #27 Blu Ray Review

Vanilla Sky (2001) Paramount Pictures 11/16/2021

Directed By: Cameron Crow 

Starring: Tom Cruise, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Kurt Russell 

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

Nashville HERE
Mommie Dearest HERE
48 Hrs.  HERE
Another 48 Hrs. HERE
Last Train from Gun Hill HERE

    Vanilla Sky (2001) turns twenty years old an to celebrate Paramount Presents is re-releasing this on Blu Ray. I recall not joining the bandwagon of critics that panned the film. However, I wanted to give it a fresh watch and see if I still disliked it or if, seeing how my taste has changed and matured, helped me to appreciate it. Sky tells of a rich playboy named David (Tom Cruise) who literally floats through life, using women and not taking anything very seriously. After a serious accident leaves him disfigured things in his life sways from surreal to nightmarish. 

    I have to say after re-watching this film and letting some of the harsh criticism die down -I think this is a pretty brilliant and wholly unexpected film. Cameron Crowe all but helped cement rom-com tropes that in a way looking back is a bit cringe. Vanilla Sky seems to be an almost meta-self commentary on his previous work. Its this context that I totally lacked when this first came out but to give myself some credit I was only 16 when this first came out. After seeing it as a "mature" film lover its mind blowing that Crowe dips his toe into Lynch-ian nightmare logic. Crowe also liters the movie with layers and self contained easter eggs and foreshadow that makes repeat watches a real treat. 

Vanilla Sky is a good movie once you fully remove it from how polarizing it was to critics at the time. In fact, I recall it being a punching bag for sitcoms like Family Guy. But, I think if you haven't seen it and were turned off by the latter-give it a chance. Its actually a really engaging and interesting film. 

Picture: Once again, Paramount Pictures provides a stellar looking brand-new 4k transfer. Vanilla Sky utilizes at times some very bright at times high contrast lighting. This new transfer does a great job at handling this really vivid and at times harsh visual style. Colors are bold when they need to be and muted when called for. Clearly, this is a really thoughtful restoration and follows Crowe's vision. Skin tones have a fresh natural look to them and grain is smooth yet it retains that nice film quality look. Comparing this to screen shots of the previous release you can tell that this is brighter and indeed sharper in terms of overall clarity. 

Sound: Vanilla Sky has a big bombastic DTS 5.1 track. This movie uses a lot of music both score and licensed and the boost in sound I think really utilizes this in a nice way. Range wise I noticed a nice amount of depth sound wise and dialogue and sound design coming through crystal clear. 

Extras: For Cameron Crowe fans this disc is PACKED with features both new and ported over from the previous edition.  Included is:

NEW Filmmaker Focus: Cameron Crowe on Vanilla Sky (HD)
Audio Commentary by Cameron Crowe & Nancy Wilson
Alternate Ending with Optional Commentary by Cameron Crowe (HD)
Prelude to a Dream (SD)
Hitting It Hard (SD)
An Interview with Paul McCartney (SD)
Gag Reel (SD)
Music Video "Afrika Shox" by leftfield/afrika bambaataa (SD)
Photo Gallery with Audio Introduction by photographer Neal Preston (HD)
Mask Test with Optional Commentary by Cameron Crowe (HD)
Kurt Russell single take with Optional Commentary by Cameron Crowe (HD)
Trailers (SD)
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Cameron Crowe (HD)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The Addams Family (1991) Paramount Pictures UHD Review!

The Addams Family (1991) Paramount Pictures 11/23/2021

Directed By: Barry Sonnenfield 

Starring: Angelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christiana Ricci, Christopher Lloyd 

Disclaimer: Paramount Pictures has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections.

Includes both original theatrical and Extended edition (2mins longer party scene)

      In the '80s and '90's there was a slew of movies based on old television shows. The thought of course was these IP's had built in fan bases that would result in ticket sales. Some like 1987's Dragnet did poorly whilst others like The Brady Bunch (1995) and The Addams Family (1991) did extremely well. The latter is getting a brand-spanking new UHD edition. The long lost Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) is reunited with the Addams family but things arent as they seem in this spooky, kooky and hilarious outing. 

     I have to say that, The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel, Addams Family Values (1993) are nearly perfect adaptations. From the laser-focus and wonderfully wry and sardonic  worldview of Barry Sonnenfield to the pitch perfect cast, Addams Family thrives where other small screen movie's fall short. I thing is, clearly the filmmakers went back to the original source i.e the Charles Addams cartoons but also blends a bit of the iconic '60s television version. It also helps that you have some much incredible talent both in front of and behind the camera. If I had to complain, this movie feels like a bit of an origin story for Fester-which is why I think the sequel doesn't have to work as hard. 

Still, the overall film is highly detailed, incredible well photo and directed. And, of course is hilarious. If you've never seen this film-now is the perfect time. 

Picture: I have to say that the previous Blu Ray of Addams Family was very solid but had room for improvement. So...the question is, does the UHD fix those issues? I have to say without a doubt, yes! It wouldn't surprise me if Sonnenfield had signed off on this transfer as it seems to perfectly fit the visual tone. Meaning, the movie is refreshed and clear with an incredible field of depth-details in the production design really stand out like never before. But: its not overly bright and retains that moody, spooky Charles Addams quality. Frankly: Its a stunning looking UHD transfer and its clear that a lot of time, thought and resources went into this. I am glad that this isn't overly bright and again, stays faithful to the visual palate. 

Sound: Addams Family has  DTS 5.1 track. Again, like the visuals this sound track has a HUGE sound that is noticeable from the very first moments of the movie. This seems like the same track ported over from the 2019 re-release and is a very nice sounding robust presentation. 

Extras: A HUGE Brand-new feature is Filmmaker Focus: Barry Sonnenfield talks about the Making of Addams Family. This Zoom interview is lively and candid with some nice behind the scenes photos and footage. I really enjoyed this interview and this makes a really great addition to this edition. 

Also imports the previous archival featurette (7mins)