"Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) on Blu-ray -- How to Make a Horse Opera!

This is yet another film which has benefitted greatly from revisionist reviews. The ORIGINAL reviews, particularly in the US, were dismissive, if not downright scathing. Vincent Canby in the New York Times wrote along the theme, "If you can ignore the fact that this is a really bad movie, you will find it is both interesting to look at and fun." How's THAT for hedging your bets?

Since then, the film has gone on to achieve more than mere cult status, and now is viewed by critics as a seminal film, and possibly one of the BEST Westerns ever made! There's some good analysis of this arc in the Extras and Commentary. The film is now considered "ahead of its time" in that it was one of the first "films about films" -- a film which deliberately quotes elements from other key films of a genre.

The term "Operatic" is also used -- a LOT -- noting the exceedingly slow pacing of critical scenes, as in an opera, where no one can die before everyone sings about it for 15 minutes or so. One commentator goes so far as to suggest, "In this film, stares in close up serve the place of arias!"

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"Muscle Shoals" (2013) on Blu-ray -- A Great Documentary!

With the passing of Aretha Franklin this month, and of Rick Hall back in January, I thought it high time to revisit my thoughts on this terrific documentary from 2013!

Greg ‘Freddie’ Camalier's Directorial debut is a documentary featuring extensive interviews from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Steve Winwood, Gregg Allman, Percy Sledge, Alicia Keys, Clarence Carter, and Donna Godchaux.  Not to mention archival material from Duane Allman, Otis Redding, the Lynyrd Skynyrd band, and Freeman Brown.

And yet these are not the stars!

The STARS are the backing musicians and recording engineers who created musical magic in the sleepy, backwater village of Muscle Shoals, Alabama -- population 8,000 and surrounded by dirt roads -- starting in the late 50s.  As Atlantic Records music mogul Jerry Wexler says at one point, who would ever believe the best from, say, Aretha Franklin -- the unchallenged Queen of Soul -- was music made by a bunch of young, white guys who all looked like they worked at the corner grocery store?

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"Way Down East" (1920) on Blu-ray. Melodrama of the First Water!

Woo Hoo! They just don't make 'em like THIS any more!

Lottie Blair Parker's hit play from 1898 -- originally known in contracted form as, 'Way Down East -- that is, 'Way for Away -- was a moralizing melodrama, ALREADY considered dated by 1920. Indeed, the term "hoary" would even be appropriate.  But D.W. Griffith felt so strongly he could make something of it he went all in, paying an astounding $175K for the rights, and spending $700K, all told, to make the film. Contrast with his, "Birth of a Nation", which had a total cost of $112K.

Well, turns out he was right! The film grossed $4.5M -- a major money maker for Griffith, and the 4th highest grossing film of the entire, silent era!

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"Melancholia" (2011) on Blu-ray. OR, "When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie, That's Extinction!"

REFERENCE QUALITY PQ AND AQ!

A while back I saw a documentary which included work by a famous, Japanese, candid shot photographer.  His abstract looking prints were so popular, his new style was even acclaimed with a really profound-sounding Japanese name.  Profound, that is, until you found out it was simply the Japanese for, "Shaky hand.  No Focus."

Well Writer/Director Lars von Trier has certainly made sure his DP adopted the Shaky Hand style.  In one of the Extras, he even admits the excessive use of uncontrolled, hand-held camera work OUGHT TO result in quite a few viewers getting seasick!

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"Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles" (2011) on SD-DVD -- A Great Documentary!

Sometime in the mid-1980s, somebody — or some group of people — started installing placards in streets and highways, in cities all over the Eastern half of the US. These placards varied in size from something shaped like a US car’s license plate up to something like a poster board. Cut in mosaic fashion out of a flexible, colored, linoleum-like, tile material, these "Toynbee Tiles" were found to be EMBEDDED into the asphalt!

And over the several decade history of appearance of all of these hundreds of tiles — both in the US and in South America — nobody has ever spotted who's doing it. Or figured out why. Or, for that matter, HOW!

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"The Black Pirate" (1926) on Blu-ray -- A Tale of Old Hollywood!

WOW! Come on, me hearties it's time to buckle your swash!

Cast your mind back:

It's 1926, and Douglas Fairbanks, then 42 and owner of his own studio, has decided he wants to get away from the more, light-comedy, action roles he's recently been playing and make a full-on, all-action movie.

About pirates!

AND he wants to do it in full color!

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"Chico & Rita" (2010) on Blu-ray. Amazing Animation with Jazz Recreations!

"Chico & Rita", made in Spain, and with mostly Spanish dialog, achieved the nearly unimaginable by garnering a Nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 2012 Oscars. Unfortunately, it had the bad luck to be up against "Rango"!

Viewing the film, there's no doubt whatsoever it deserved this Nomination. There's enough artistic brilliance in this feature to make, oh, 3 or 4 first rate movies. And the transfer on this Blu-ray disc is staggeringly wonderful!

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"Sita Sings the Blues" (2008) <-- Find a Way to See This!

In 2008, Nina Paley completed a 5 year project to create an animated presentation of the “Ramayana” -- the Sanskrit epic which forms such an important part of the cultural heritage of East Asia -- from Hindu traditions in India, through to Buddhist traditions in, for example, Thailand and throughout Indonesia.

And the RESULT is absolutely, staggeringly, mind-blowingly wonderful!

And yet . . . . it ALMOST never even made it out the door!

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"The Big Trail" (1930) on Blu-ray, OR How Fox Set Back Widescreen Filmmaking by 20 Years!

"Ars Gratia Artis" -- Art For Art's Sake -- is all well and good, but one should never forget moviemaking is, at its heart, still a business.  And nothing is quite so good for business as an unassailable monopoly!

Over the decades, many different approaches to this have been tried:  Studios buying up ALL the movie theaters for example, and the whole "studio system" of locking talent into contracts.

In the late 1920s, William Fox, owner of Fox Film Corporation, came up with his own, cunning scheme to take over the ENTIRE film industry.

The result would set widescreen filmmaking back some 20 years!

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"The Thief of Bagdad: An Arabian Nights Fantasy" (1924) on Blu-ray. They Just Don't Make 'em Like THIS Anymore!

Wow!  THIS is why we watch restored classic films!

Douglas Fairbanks' fantasy epic is presented here in a new digital restoration; the first output from the Cohen Media Group's acquisition of the famed Rohauer Film Collection in 2011.  This is a new, 2K scan made from two, separate, acetate dup negatives, struck from original nitrate prints in the 50s.  The scan has been treated to extensive digital restoration, and digital tinting matching the original print instructions.  And the results are flat out terrific!

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