Thursday, 28 June 2012

“Training Day”. A Review Of The 2001 Film Now Reissued Onto BLU RAY.


"...In Order To Catch A Wolf...You Have To Think Like A Wolf..."

I remember seeing "Training Day" at the cinema in 2001 - the audience applauded at the end - and most left their seats with its gritty brilliance seared into their unconscious. I'm pleased to say that revisiting this urban drug story in 2012 finds that Antoine Fuqua's directorial debut hasn't lost one jot of its power - and better still – is now genuinely enhanced by its reissue on BLU RAY.

The picture quality is far better than I expected - a really crisp transfer. Its default aspect is 2.4:1 - so there are bars top and bottom of the screen - but even stretched to full frame - the print quality still holds up. A lot of the scenes are one-on-one dialogue pieces in the front of cars between the two male leads - but expertly filmed and edited - there's no real blocking. Side shots of their faces are startlingly clear - even the sequences towards the end in people's homes and out on the streets at night are very, very clean. It's a top-notch transfer...

Written by DAVID AYER (a white man who grew up in the South Central projects of Los Angeles) and directed by ANTOINE FUQUA (a black man who did the same)- it's about a fresh-faced cop Jake Hoyt (played by Ethan Hawke) who is hooked up with legendary narcotics Detective Alonzo Harris (played by Denzel Washington) for one 'training day'. From dawn to dusk - it will be a baptism of fire.

And while the young rookie Hoyt seems to cut the mustard in the eagerness department, unfortunately he's also highly principled - and Alonzo feels that this Academy naivety will get him killed in the real world (dialogue above). So Hoyt struggles. At first Alonzo has the air of a man doing what he has to do to keep the river of drugs off the streets of Los Angeles. His methods may be brutal but the end justifies the means - doesn't it? Then things get gradually murkier...and even life-threatening...

Soon after a car bust - Jake is drawn into Alonzo's doped-up world and begins to feel like he's being played - but Alonzo keeps proffering believable reasons for his actions. Only a brave intervention (a young Latino girl being attacked by two lowlifes in a lane) saves Jake from the clutches of a double-barrelled bathroom death. Soon (bruised and battered) Jake is taking the game to Alonzo's neighbourhood - and on it goes to a brilliant but inevitably bloody ending...

Part of the reason why "Training Day" works is that there's an air of authenticity in the script that echoes The Wire and The Sopranos (both Author and Director have been there). The bad language and street talk is either vicious or impenetrable - and frequently both. A dance of fear and intimidation co-exists between the cops and the largely Black and Latino communities. 
No one is clean and few get away from it unaffected. Some areas of the city are even no-go zones - poverty and bad housing being a breeding ground. Gun law abounds and it's hard to tell the difference between Dictators - the drug-pusher or the police officer who protects the drug-pusher...

Denzel is truly magnificent in the part (a departure from his nice-guy roles) - he inhabits his gold-chained Alonzo with a power and ferocity that few actors could even get near. You feel this mouthy monster owning the areas he walks into and you understand why many of them smile as Alonzo approaches - but would gladly put several bullets in his back as he leaves. 
Ethan Hawke does well to keep up with such a tour-de-force - and at times - even matches him. 
It's not surprising that Washington took his 2nd Oscar for it ("Philadelphia" was his first).

The supporting cast too is exceptional - Snoopy Dogg and Dr. Dre as drug-dealing hoodies - Macy Gray as a crack wife - Eve Mendes as Alonzo's squeeze - Scott Glen as an old veteran - and the trio of corrupt officials - Tom Berenger, Raymond J. Barry and Harris Yulin (who feature in the 'Alternate Ending' in the Extras). And special mention should also go to the locals and the then unknown Latino cast - some of who are actually gang members. Fantastic stuff...and so impressive...

To sum up - a great film then - now made better by a format that allows it to shine.
This is precisely what a good BLU RAY reissue should be.

Recommended like a hard rock in the crack den at the back of 10 Downing Street...(yo David).

BLU RAY Specifications:
VIDEO: 1080p High Definition 2.4:1 Aspect Ratio
AUDIO: Dolby Digital English 5.1, French 5.1 and German 5.1
SUBTITLES: English, French and German
1. Feature-Length Commentary by Director Antoine Fuqua (Director)
2. Additional Scenes
3. Alternate Ending
4. HBO First Look: The Making Of Training Day
5. 2 Music Videos - "No.1" by NELLY and "Got You" by PHAROAHE MONCH
6. Theatrical Trailer

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

“Frida” on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 2002 Film Now Reissued On A 2012 BLU RAY.


 "…Radical And Courageous And Very Romantic…"

I had a feeling that this would be an exceptional BLU RAY reissue and I'm glad to be proven right.

The picture quality is uniformly gorgeous and highlights the vivid array of expertly researched detail the 150-strong production company filled every scene with - Mexican clothing, terracotta interiors, chaotic art studios and colonial South American buildings. Its default aspect is 1.78:1 - so it fills the entire screen without stretching or loss of clarity. You combine this with a sympathetically-written script, brilliant acting and a genuinely affecting and unfolding story (never mind the huge amount of EXTRAS transferred in full from the DVD - see list below) and the whole experience is a joy to re-watch and re-discover.

The first thing that strikes you about the print is that 'colour' is everywhere. It opens in Mexico in 1922 when Frida Kahlo is a precocious 15 year-old and able-bodied (before her horrific accident) and over the course of the movie progresses nearly 30 years hence - so lighting - textures - interiors - all have to be matched. The Blues, Reds, Yellows and Gold are full on and evoke a Mexico of the period (all beautifully done by Production Designer Felipe Fernandez - Oscar nominated for his work here).

The autobiographical nature of her art is captured in cleverly woven-in scenes and her painful injuries/nightmares are portrayed at times by grotesque animation peopled from her canvas creations. Frida suffered back pain all her life (an iron rod skewered her abdomen and uterus in the accident) and famously painted lying down with a mirror over her bed (she later had toes and a leg amputated due to her injuries). Yet she defied all expectations and after two years in casts managed to walk again. Taymor's movie fills the screen with this - her spirit, her driving need to matter and her bisexual lovelife and gender-bender dress sense. This is a world where politics and passion are seething in the streets - and boozy nights are spent discussing the first and engaging in the second...

The cast is large and seriously talented - and Frida is a role Salma Hayek openly admits she'd always wanted to play. The worst you could say about her performance is that her beauty and astonishing sensuality sometimes hinder believability. But she gives her all and her supporting cast are so well chosen that her film-star looks get quickly forgotten. Given the depth and difficulty of the part - her nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role is richly deserved.

And while Ashley Judd (her dialogue discussing their marriage titles this review), Geoffrey Rush, Edward Norton, Antonio Banderas, and Roger Rees all contribute their vignettes with heart and commitment - the film's real ace-in-the-hole is ALFRED MOLINA. He is simply astonishing as Diego Rivera - the Mexican murals painter who married Frida in 1929 at the age of 43 when she was only 22. Diego was a fat ugly man who became her mentor, lover and on/off husband for 25 years. Loveable one minute, loathsome the next - the film is so much better because he's in it (Salma sings his praises in the extras). A lecher, habitual womanizer and a serious-minded Communist - it's a ludicrously difficult part to nail - yet Molina is never anything less than brilliant. Charming at first when he's getting what he wants (wooing Frida in the alley outside his studio) - then to his wandering glassy eyes as infidelity creeps to the surface (watching her sing at a party, but eyeing the other women there) - he later crosses the line completely by sleeping with her sister (fathered a child by her too). The big question is - why did a woman as committed to loyalty as Frida countenance this boor for even a second? Friends gave their union 'two months' - her own mother described their marriage as being between " elephant and a dolphin..." The answer the film tells us is LOVE.

In interviews, Director Julie Taymor states that both she and Salma returned to Frida's diaries and found they were not about betrayal and men-as-pigs (as many feminists feel) - they were all about Diego and her. Frida really loved him - admired him - supported him. Of course she wanted to slit his throat on several occasions - and was ultimately broken by him (the scene where she cuts her hair is particularly powerful) - but she seemed to stick with his first wife's advice to accept the rough with the smooth because the overall gain was worth it ("...He's the best of friends and the worst of husbands."). It's an odd relationship in an oddball world. Yet both Hayek and Molina are so believable that when the film morphs from one of her paintings of the married couple standing in a room into the actors playing them - it's hard to tell the difference. Taymor (who devoted almost two years of her life to the project) does well to rescue Frida from self-pity and loathing - showing instead her courage and joie-de-vive - her fierce loyalty no matter what. Her partner Elliot Goldenthal also provided the film with a beautifully apt Latin guitar score (for which he won the Oscar).

To sum up - it was never going to be an easy task to film the life of this icon of Mexican art (Frida) and interpret her tumultuous lifelong relationship with another free soul (Diego) - yet both June Taymor and Salma Hayek pulled it off admirably. It was nominated for six Oscars and won two - Best Make Up and Best Original Music. You can't help but think it should have won more (especially for its two leads)...

A quality BLU RAY reissue then - and like a good political knees-up with Leon Trotsky - wholeheartedly recommended.

BLU RAY Specifications:
VIDEO: 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio [Full Screen]
AUDIO: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
SUBTITLES: English, English for the Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing, Spanish

1. (Feature Length) Audio Commentary by Julie Taymor (Director)
2. A Conversation With Salma Hayek - Lead Actress Playing Frida Kahlo (near-40 minute facing-camera interview covering all aspects of the shoot)
3. AFI (American Film Institute) Q&A with Julie Taymor conducted 2 Oct 2002 by Deszo Magyar (30 minutes)
4. Bill Moyers Interview With Julie Taymor (19 minutes)
5. Chavela Vargas Interview - A 93-year old Mexican Lady Singer who knew Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (Subtitled, 15 Minutes)
6. The Voice Of Lila Downs - a Mexican Singer-Songwriter who sang some of the music for the soundtrack (5 minutes)
7. The Vision Of Frida with Rodrigo Prieto (Cinematographer) and Julie Taymor (6 minutes)
8. The Design of Frida with Felipe Fernandez (Production Designer) (near 3 minutes)
9. The Music of Frida with Elliot Goldenthal and Salma Hayek (5 mnutes)
10. Salma's Recording Session - she sings "La Bruja" (near 3 minutes)
11. Bringing Frida Kahlo's Life And Art To Film: A Walk Through The Real Locations.
Felipe Fernandez talks of his painters, designers and architects who recreated Frida and Diego's home "The Blue House".
They did the courtyard, the vivid wall colours, the cacti, her bed with the mirror above, framed Communist imagery.
Later in the film they recreate Diego's modernist home where the couple hosted Trotsky etc (near 6 minutes)
12. Portrait Of An Artist - clips from the film mixed with interviews with Julie Taymor, Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd and two Producers (14 minutes)
13. "Amoeba Proteus" - Visual FX Piece (near 10 minutes)
14. "The Brothers Quay" - Visual FX Piece (1 minute)
15. Bookmarks - allows you to bookmark portions of the film

Thursday, 21 June 2012

"Brassed Off". A Review Of The 1996 Film - Now Reissued On A 2012 BLU RAY.


“…No Hope…Just Principals…”

Set in the fictional mining town of Grimley in North Yorkshire ten years after the calamitous miner's strike of '84 to '85 – "Brassed Off" is about a colliery band with a 100-year history facing dissolution should their coal pit be closed by a determined powers-that-be (the Tory party bent on destroying the Trade Unions). It's a small British movie about big British things and when it was released into cinemas in 1996 – it delivered its laughter and tears with a warmth and passion that disarmed many at the time.

In fact - re-watching it now on this superlatively clean and crisply rendered 2012 transfer to BLU RAY (the absolute best its ever looked) – I'm once again struck by its huge heart and the great performances from a committed cast – and that mass job losses devastating a community is still painfully relevant to this day.

Written and Directed by MARK HERMAN (who went on to do the equally good "Little Voice", "Purely Belter" and "The Boy In Stripped Pyjamas") - this is a working-class world where housewives have a fag and a cup of tea on the garden wall while their frayed padded-bras flutter on the clothesline in the morning breeze. People shop in Spar and Kwik Save and say "daft" and "bugger" all the time. Out-of-work fathers read the Daily Star in deckchairs in their concrete yards - and the Arkwright Tour Bus boasts an advert on its rear of trips to exotic places like Paris and New York - but mostly does trips from the local pub The Collier's Arms. Life is a struggle and money always a problem – and if the pit closes then there will literally be 'no future' for hundreds of men and women with families to support…

A lot of the movie's seething underbelly of anger and frustration is offset by self-deprecating jokes… When Danny the ailing conductor of the brass band (Pete Postlethwaite) gives his sappy but good-hearted son Phil a piggyback on his bicycle to band practice (a truly fantastic Stephen Tompkinson) – demented by four kids, a crippling mortgage and loan sharks – his had-enough wife Sandra (Melanie Hill) chucks plates at him as he leaves. Danny casually remarks as they cycle away - "...bit clumsy with the crockery your Sandra…". When local girl Gloria (Tara Fitzgerald) returns as a business sophisticate to do a feasibility study on the viability of the pit – she is fondly remembered by the pool-playing Andy (Ewan McGregor) for giving "top half only" when she was a teenager. Their rekindled romance is lovely and believably real.

Then when she sexily shimmies onto the tour bus in her tight skirt – two concerned wives (Sue Johnston and Mary Healey playing Vera and Ida) turn up at the door and tackle Danny who is doing a head count about the wayward men taking a shine to the gorgeous Gloria. Danny explains, "That girl blows a flugelhorn like a dream!" "Danny Ormondroyd!" Vera replies. "At your age!" Gloria then gets sandwiched by two older men at the back of the bus (Philip Jackson and Peter Martin playing Jim and Ernie) "I'm a quantity surveyor" she explains when asked about her job. "Wanna survey my quantity love?" Jim saucily suggests. She quickly counters, "You know what they say – no job too small!"

But sadness and frustration are never far away from the surface either. A husband and wife cross each other on the footpath in the morning as their shifts intertwine - too tired, too rushed and too beaten to speak (Jim Carter – now the Butler Mister Carson in "Downton Abbey"). When they do talk the 3rd time it happens she remarks – "You used to be full of fight…" He drops his head – it's true. 
Wives and mothers huddle around kettle-drum fires for warmth and sit in makeshift tents outside the colliery gates where their constant chant goes up as the scabs pass the picket line – "The miners united – will never be defeated". When of course they were…

Debt Collectors punch out a desperate father in front of his wife and kids – and a few days later coldly remove all their worldly goods from their home. A friend manning the cash register in a local supermarket slips a £10 note behind the receipt to a mortified mum who can’t afford 60p Orange Squash for her kids. And when the pit does finally close – the boys stand outside the gates with their instrument cases in hand knowing it’s all over – years of tradition wiped away by politics and bloody-mindedness. At least a form of redemption is offered to them by way of financing their entry into the National Finals held in London - which they proudly attend and win with a rousing performance of "Charge Of The Light Brigade". And it all ends with Pete Postlethwaite's rousing speech to the assembled - tearful stuff full of pathos and heartbreak.

It opens with miners down a pit finishing their shift in the dimly lit caves - so there is some grain – but once they emerge into the yards from the lifts and from thereon in – this May 2012 Channel 4/Miramax release looks 'so' good it's positively disarming. Its default aspect is 1.85:1 so it fills the full screen (no bars top or bottom) and you have to ask - where has this picture quality been all these years? I don't recall it ever looking this special – even on the reissued DVD of a few years back?

The extras are disappointing though. The interviews with the principal four are short and enthusiastic – but hardly great and the 'Sub Plot Extra' merely cobbles together scenes of say Andy and Gloria's story – so you've seen them already and collated like this is pretty pointless and even irritating. 
The Biographies and Photo Galleries offer some info and images – but it's all terribly underwhelming and no real improvement on what went before. Still – there is that picture quality…

I honestly hadn't expected to be so 'moved' by "Brassed Off" this time around – yet the script got to me on several occasions. Stephen Tomkinson's character Phil dressed up and moonlighting as the clown Mr. Chuckles - when the injustice of his situation gets to him and he loses it at a children's party (his dialogue from earlier titles this review) - Pete Postlethwaite's character lying in a hospital bed with blood in his lungs and sadness in his heart – when the boys gather outside in the dark and begin playing "Danny Boy" in a Brass Band style. I'll tell you – it's a hard man indeed who doesn't shed a tear.

To sum up - at last "Brassed Off" is given the transfer it thoroughly deserves – and if you’ve any affection at all for this ballsy little film – then you need to own it on BLU RAY. And what a great way to remember Pete Postlethwaite - exuding that everyman humanity that engendered him to a whole nation.

Nowt wrong with that ye daft buggers…  

BLU RAY Specifications:
ASPECT: 1.85:1 ratio
1. Theatrical Trailer
2. Interviews: (a) Mark Herman (Writer & Director) (b) Ewan McGregor as Andy (c) Pete Postlethwaite as Danny (d) Tara Fitzgerald as Gloria
3. Sub Plots: Clips of the film edited together to give story arcs on say Gloria and Andy – father and son – Danny and Phil – and so on.
4. Biographies (Film, TV and Theatre): Pete Postlethwaite, Tara Fitzgerald and Ewan McGregor
5. Photo Libraries

Thursday, 14 June 2012

“The Mask Of Zorro” on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 1998 Movie – Now Reissued In 2010 On BLU RAY.


Back in the day I had a Superbit DVD of this beautifully filmed and hugely entertaining hero-of-the-people movie - and along with "Vertical Limit" - it was a virtual benchmark for how good the DVD format could look. The Superbit Series to DVDs were like gold audiophiles to CDs - dedicated to giving you the best quality possible.

So it's not surprising to find that Martin Campbell's skilfully filmed "The Mask Of Zorro" on BLU RAY is a proper 'looker' – gorgeous - and then some.

Right from the opening shot of canvas being slit by the two young boys hoping to get a glimpse of Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) - through to the confessional scenes between Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones where she explains her passion for a bandit (dialogue above) - indoors or out - "The Mask Of Zorro" is a treat to look at. You see their costumes - the sweating skin – the heat of the desert and the dust of the towns - even the deliberate sepia-tint that surrounds the face of Zeta-Jones at times – it's all cleanly rendered.

And while the film's natural default is 2.40:1 (which means bars at the top and the bottom of the screen) - even switched to FULL SCREEN - there's only minor stretching and very little loss of definition. The sound too is magnificent – horses hooves, blades clashing, gunpowder shots, wood splintering, buildings exploding – all brought to the fore by a storming 5.1 mix. 

The cast is spot-on too – Stuart Wilson as the dastardly and arrogant Don Rafael – Matt Letscher as the cold-blooded killer Captain Harrison (in the employ of Don Rafael) - and of course the trio of lead stars – Hopkins as the wronged older Zorro, Banderas as his hot-headed protégé and Zeta-Jones as the daughter stolen away from Zorro 20 years earlier along with his beloved wife. They have a ball donning capes, dropping onto moving horses and pitting steel-against-steel on tables, in barns and around goldmines.

And while Banderas is perfect for the part (sexy, witty, charming) and had great chemistry with his leading lady – it's the ethereally beautiful Catherine Zeta-Jones who steals the show. She had a star quality about her at the time that was almost palatable - part Liz Taylor part Joan Collins – she was all-woman and a match for any wannabe bandito wanting to compromise her virtue. All in all – a wildly entertaining ride that stills stands the test of time (it even comes with a DVD and copious extras too).

"The Mask Of Zorro" is a cinematic blast on BLU RAY – a film that likes itself – and has every good reason to.

Recommended like a drunken canter with Tonto…

BLU RAY Specifications:
ASPECT; 1080DP High Definition 2.40:1
AUDIO: English, Italian and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD MA
SUBTITLES:  English, English for Hard f Hearing, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish

1. Blu Ray Exclusive – Movie IQ BD-LIVE connects you to access real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while you’re watching the movie
2. Director’s Commentary
3. Exclusive Documentary: Unmasking Zorro
4. Deleted Scenes
5. "The Legend Of Zorro" - Behind The Scenes Sneak Peek
6. Music Video by Marc Anthony and Tina Arena
7. Exclusive scene from "The Legend Of Zorro"

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

“The Sting Collector’s Series” on BLU RAY. A Review Of The 1973 Film Now Fully Restored And Reissued In A ‘Limited Edition BLU RAY Book Pack’ As Part Of Universal’s 100th Anniversary Celebrations.

In April 2012 Universal Studios was 100 years old - and to celebrate that movie-making centenary - they've had 13 of their most-celebrated films fully restored for BLU RAY. But it doesn't stop there. As many as 80 other titles will be given US re-launches across the year each featuring distinctive "100th Anniversary" gatefold card-wrap packaging - and in some cases a host of new features. 1973's "The Sting" is one of the thirteen singled out for full restoration (see list below) - and like the other BLU RAYS in this series so far - is very tastefully done.

UK released Monday 11 June 2012 - "The Sting Collector's Series" comes in a gorgeous limited edition 40-page 'Book Pack' (Barcode 5050582893151). The outer hardback holder has an awkward card wrapped around it which is attached at the front with a flimsy circular sticker - not the most eloquent of objects it has to be said and it contains info that isn't on the back sleeve of the book pack - so you don't want to lose it. It's hard to keep in place without damage - so I put the whole shebang in a plastic sleeve for protection. It's also worth noting that most of the AMERICAN issues are 'two-disc' sets containing the BLU RAY, the DVD and also means to obtain a Digital Copy via download. It appears that the UK issues will contain ONLY the BLU RAY in the Book Pack. However, if you want say "Out Of Africa" or "Buck Privates" (which have yet to be given UK releases) - then the US issues will do because their non-region coding will allow them play in all machines.

Digitally remastered and Fully Restored from Original Film Elements - Universal are reputed to have stumped-up over $300,000 for the restoration - and the results are wonderful for about to 90 to 95% of the time. The opening four minutes will worry fans because the definition is slightly hazy - but once past that - there is a steady stream of moments that are truly breathtaking throughout the duration. Filmed largely on sets on the Universal lot - the quality lighting is consistent throughout even in those difficult and darkly lit night sequences. There is (it has to be said) slight blocking and grain at some points - but mostly you're enjoying the overall sparkle of the print too much to notice.

And because it's uber clean - it accentuates so much. We finally get to see the immaculate costumes and suits of the legendary EDITH HEAD (ties, shirts, hats, overcoats). Then there's the awesome sparkle of Paul Newman's famous blue eyes and Robert Redford looking so handsome in every shot that you just want to hit him! The clarity continues right through the plot cards to the closing credits - which are so clean it could have been done yesterday. The transfer is not all perfect by any means - but at times - this is as beautiful and as filmic as I've ever seen. The audio is crisp and clear too.

You also forget why it received 10 Oscar nominations and won seven - including Best Picture. Everything about "The Sting" works - the charisma of the three principal leads - Paul Newman as Henry Gondorff the master of the 'big con', Robert Redford as the reckless and wild small-time hustler Johnny Hooker and Robert Shaw as the vicious and egotistical Chicago mobster Doyle Lonnegan. Then there's the fantastic ensemble cast - Charles Durning as the corrupt Lt. Snyder, Eileen Brennan as the madam Billie who runs a bordello over an amusement arcade and Harold Gould as the dapper Kid Twist who hires the crew that will bring down Lonnegan on a racetrack scam (he wants the crew to be "The Quill..." which is Grifter-speak for the best). Aiding Gondorff in this endeavour is Jack Kehoe as Eric The Kid - a small-time Grifter who wants revenge for a friend's death at the hands of the mobster Donegan, Ray Walston as J.J. Singleton who helps in the poker game scam and reads out the wire in the bogus betting parlour, John Heffernan who quits his dreary bank job in a heartbeat to join Gondorff's crew as a teller and Dana Elcar as the supposed FBI agent. You may even recognize the dulcet tones of Robert Earl Jones as Harvey the Grifter at the beginning of the movie who gets killed - his son is James Earl Jones - the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars. The other big ingredient of course is the superlative and evocative film score by Marvin Hamlisch that brilliantly reintroduced Scott Joplin's ragtime music to the world.  

The 40-page booklet is pure eye candy as you can imagine. It opens with a 2-page appreciation by film-critic and historian Leonard Maltin, a pictorial actor/character "The Players" list, 2-page spreads on Newman, Redford, Shaw and George Roy Hill, reproductions of the script, Edith Head's design drawings, Advert campaigns, a piece on the composer Marvin Hamlisch and the music, Oscar nominations, telegrams of congratulations etc. Lovely to look at...

Having directed Redford and Newman in "Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid" - GEORGE ROY HILL was the Director of choice for "The Sting". His almost army-like style is discussed in the pleasingly long and detailed principal extra "The Art Of The Sting" which is divided into 3-parts. He was clearly admired by the actors who trusted his vision (he won the Oscar for Best Director) - it's just such a shame there's no interview with him to illuminate the proceedings. It's also clear that both Redford and Newman who mention each other in the present tense were filmed just prior to Newman's sad passing in 2010. Charles Durning and newcomer Dimitra Arliss give telling and superb recollections of the shoot (how Shaw got his limp) - and both speak highly of the three principals - and the sheer 'fun' it was making the film. They also quite rightly keep referring to David Ward's almost 'perfect' script - which he'd worked on for a whole year. 

To sum up - I've loved re-watching this timeless caper movie in such top-notch quality. And it's heartening to see Universal Studios finally throw some proper money at the preservation of their movie legacy - and be proud about doing so too. I'm collecting the whole series - and live in hope that other studios respect their past in the same glorious way.

In 2013 "The Sting" will be 40 years old and has (not surprisingly) stood the test of time.
This 2012 BLU RAY is a lovely reissue of it - and for fans of this glorious Americana piece - a must buy.

BLU RAY Specifications:
1. The Art Of The Sting - A 3-Part Documentary. Features interviews with Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Dimitra Arliss, Marvin Hamlisch (Music) and David S Ward (Script) (55 minutes)
2. 100 Years Of Universal: Restoring The Classics. A look at the intricate process of fixing the fading negatives (scratches, tears, colour loss, grain) and audio (overbearing hiss) by the experts involved (10 minutes)
3. 100 Years Of Universal: The 70's. A look at the iconic films and moviemakers of that time - Spielberg, Landis etc (11 minutes)
4. 100 Years Of Universal: The Lot. A behind-the-scenes look at what was done on the famous Universal Studios lot (10 minutes)
5. Theatrical Trailer

VIDEO: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 1.85:1
AUDIO: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French, Italian, German, Spanish DTS Mono 2.0 and Japanese DTS 5.1
SUBTITLES: English SDH, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Icelandic, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish and Traditional Mandarin

PS: The 13 Restored Titles in this Limited Edition Book Pack 'Collector's Series' are:

1. All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
Released 13 Feb 2012 in the UK. Restored, Remastered and comes in a beautiful 40-page Book Pack. SEE DETAILED REVIEW.

2. The Birds (1963)
Release date to be advised...
NOTE: the UK 23 April 2012 'DVD' with Universal 100th Anniversary packaging does NOT contain a restored print - it will be in the BLU RAY book pack later in the year.

3. (Abbott And Costello in) Buck Privates (1941)
Released 17 April 2012 in the USA (will play on UK machines). A 2-disc Book Pack with Blu Ray, DVD and Digital Copy. It's fully restored and digitally remastered.

4. Dracula (1931)
Release date to be advised. Will contain both Spanish versions. NOTE: the UK 23 April 2012 `DVD' with Universal 100th Anniversary packaging does NOT contain a restored print - it will be in the BLU RAY book pack later in the year.

5. E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Release date to be advised...

6. Frankenstein (1931)
Release date to be advised...

7. The Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)
Release date to be advised...

8. Jaws (1975)
Released August 2012 in the USA/September 2012 in the UK. BLU RAY Book Pack. Fully restored print with Spielberg's involvement - new extras.

9. Out Of Africa (1985)
Released 6 March 2012 in the USA (will play on UK machines).
Early reports say the BLU RAY is 'beautifully restored' - no UK release as yet. 

10. Pillow Talk (1959)
7 May 2012 UK release. BLU RAY in a 48-page hardback Book Pack. Fully restored print and remastered sound. SEE DETAILED REVIEW.

11. Schindler's List  (1993)
Release date to be advised...

12. The Sting (1973)
Released 11 June 2012 in the UK. BLU RAY in a 40-page Book Pack. Fully Restored Print/Remastered Audio.
NOTE: there's an American 'card-wrap' version of this also - so check which issue you're buying.
The card wrap is B007N31ZLA. The 'Book Pack Collector's Series' is B007UOWM6E (SEE DETAILED REVIEW).

13.  To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Released 10 January 2012. BLU RAY with 44-page Book Pack. SEE DETAILED REVIEW.

PPS: For a list of the 60 or so titles in the "100th Anniversary" series to date (June 2012) see the 'comment' section attached to this review

Saturday, 9 June 2012

“All Through The City (With Wilko 1974-1977)” by DR. FEELGOOD (2012 EMI 3CD/1DVD Book Set - Peter Mew Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...All Your Lovin'...Thrills Me So..."  

Frankly (Frank) - "All Through The City" by Canvey Island's finest Pub Rockers is a bit of a box set barnstormer. Covering the Wilko Johnson/Lee Brilleaux/John Sparks/Big Figure years - it features 4 full album's worth and a large haul of previously unreleased studio outtakes and live cuts from the time. There's even a lengthy DVD that (in itself) would make a superb stand-alone release. And it's just dropped in price too to below £15!. Here are the finite details...

Released 16 April 2012 in the UK - and taking its title from a track on their debut LP - "All Through The City (With Wilko 1974-1977)" by DR. FEELGOOD is a 3CD + 1DVD box set on EMI 5099955980524 (Barcode 5099955980524) and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 (79:11 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 13 are their debut album "Down By The Jetty" - released in the UK in January 1975 on United Artists UAS 29717
Tracks 14 to 24 are their 2nd album "Malpractice" - released in the UK in October 1975 on United Artists UAS 29880

Disc 2 (73:27 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 13 are their 3rd album - the live set "Stupidity" - released in the UK in September 1976 on United Artists UAS 29990
Tracks 14 to 23 are their 4th album "Sneakin' Suspicion" (and last with original guitarist Wilko Johnson) - released in the UK in May 1977 on United Artists UAS 30075

Disc 3 (72:41 minutes):
Tracks 1 to 13 and 18 to 20 are PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED
Track 14 is "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66" and is the non-album B-side of their 1st UK 7" single "Roxette" released November 1974 on United Artists UP 35760
Tracks 15, 16 and 17 are "I'm A Hog For You Baby", "Stupidity" and "She Said Alright" and are all album outtakes from the "Down By The Jetty" sessions.
They were first issued on the May 2006 2CD 'Collector's Edition' of "Down By The Jetty"
Track 21 is "Keep It Out Of Sight (Live)" and is a non-album B-side of their 4th UK 7" single "Roxette (Live)" released October 1976 on United Artists UP 36171
Original copies of the live set "Stupidity" came with a free collector's 7" single [FEEL 1] - two extra live tracks - "Riot In Cell Block No.9" b/w "Johnny B. Goode".
They are Tracks 22 and 23 on Disc 3.

Even though the catalogue number for "Down By The Jetty" uses the UA code for Stereo (UAS) - the album was famously recorded and released in MONO - and that MONO remaster is what's included on this box set (the 2006 version). The 'STEREO' mix is on the 2CD "Down By The Jetty - Collector's Edition" released in June 2006 - both versions remastered like this box set by PETER MEW at Abbey Road Studios.

Track 13 on Disc 1 is a duo of cover versions "Bonie Moronie/Tequila" and was recorded live in London's Dingwalls in July 1974. Six more tracks from that concert are on Disc 2 of the 'Collector's Edition' of "Down By The Jetty" and are NOT on this box set.

"Malpractice", "Stupidity" and "Sneakin' Suspicion" have all been available before on CD on Grand Records in the Nineties - but this 2012 box set offers properly remastered versions of them for the first time.

Wilko Johnson had always adored Johnny Kidd & The Pirates and especially their guitar player Mick Green - and tucked away on the B-side of their 1964 hit "Always & Forever" on HMV Records POP 1269 was an obscure cover version of a Piano Red song from 1962 on Okeh Records called "Doctor Feelgood" (Red's group was actually called Dr. Feelgood & The Interns). Wilko chose this apt name for his new rockin' band from Canvey Island in Essex - and a kick ass British Rhythm 'n' Blues legend was born. I mention all of this because the single is pictured on Page 3 of the superb booklet centered in the hardback pack - along with interviews with Wilko (December 2011), liner notes by HUGO WILLIAMS, discography details that picture the albums, comic book strips, trade adverts, 7" singles on United Artists, NME and Melody Maker reviews and all the usual memorabilia associated with a retrospective like this.

A very, very smart move is the inclusion of a non-region-coded 23-track DVD (22 songs and 1 interview). Recorded in England (20 cuts from 1974) and Finland (2 cuts from 1975) - the Concert/TV appearances show the full-on thrill of a Dr. Feelgood live show in their prime. They were little short of sensational and regularly annihilated most other bands in their path. Their manic no-nonsense fast and furious songs were also beloved by Rock 'n' Rollers and even pre-dated Punk by two years. I can't stress enough how the DVD adds so much to the 3CDs of rocking mania - remastered to perfection by PETER MEW at Abbey Road.

I know people rave about the debut with "She Does It Right", "Roxette" and so many more (and quite rightly so)  - but for me the follow-up "Malpractice" is the absolute balls too. I wore out the 2nd track "Going Back Home" on my original vinyl copy. Co-written with Wilko's guitar hero and mentor Mick Green - it has the most fantastic Lee Brilleaux harmonica solo. I also love the Bo Diddley cover "I Can Tell" and their menacing version of Bobby Parker's "Watch Your Step". Original gems include "Another Man", the sleazy "Don't Let Your Daddy Know" and the chugging "Because You're Mine" (co-written with Big Figure and Nick Lowe). The remastered sound too - what a punch. Love it...

It all came to a frenzied head on the live "Stupidity" set when the British public feel completely for their charms and put it on the Number 1 spot in October 1976. Again - I'd forgotten how good it is - frantic - urgent - "Walking The Dog" and "I'm A Hog For You Baby" sounding so exciting and huge. Following that pinnacle was always going to be difficult and I remember at the time 1977's "Sneakin' Suspicion" was met with disappointment - like the band was threading water - and their sound was now limiting instead of being fresh. But relistening to the cracking title track (the only single off the album), "Walking On The Edge" and especially what should have been the follow up single "Paradise" (all Wilko originals) - they're fantastic (lyrics above). I also so dig their take on the Eddie Fontaine hit "Nothing Shaking (But The Leaves On The Trees)" with Lee's harmonica tearing through your speakers. The Lew Lewis cover "Lucky Seven" and the Willie Dixon/Howlin' Wolf take on "You'll Be Mine" are great fun too.

I had expected the unreleased stuff on Disc 3 to be workmanlike - and some of it is - but there are shockingly good studio outtakes that will get fans animated in the trouser area. It opens with a rough and ready take on Piano Red's "Dr. Feelgood" which is very good - but it ups a whole different notch with "Everybody's Carrying A Gun", "I'm A Hog For You Baby" and "Time And The Devil" studio recordings from January and August 1976. They're brill. Less successful is a weedy demo of "Sneakin' Suspicion" and a limp instrumental called "Malamut" which features Mick Green on guitar. Better by far is a cover of Alvin Johnson's "Casting My Spell On You" which is pure Wilko Feelgoods - it's brilliant. The crudely recorded cover of Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You" is good too with a great chucking beat and again they hit you with another nugget - a properly rocking version of "My Girl Josephine" by Fats Domino. The live stuff is very much in the vein of "Stupidity". Very tasty indeed...

To sum up - I've loved working through this sonic blast - this memory fest - and now at a bargain price of twenty-eight pounds new - it's time to don the sharp suit music lovers and do the leg-splits boogie. In fact mention Dr. Feelgood to those who saw the band in their prime and a manic grin will fill their wrinkled visage that no cigarette-smoking scalpel-wielding surgeon will be able to remove.

On a more personal note - I once glimpsed Lee Brilleaux in 1989 clacking his way down Berwick Street in his steel-heeled leather shoes - looking like a cross between Arthur Daley and a man ready to blow a demonically possessed harmonica no matter what the cost. I wished I'd stopped him, shook his hand and just said thanks. Well this is for you Lee - Wilko - and all the boys in the band.

Bootiful my son...

PS: see also my review of "Taking No Prisoners - The Gypie Mayo Years" 5CD/1DVD Dr. Feelgood box set




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INDEX - Entries and Artist Posts in Alphabetical Order