Clare's Criterion Collection

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Review # 16 – Life Is Sweet

LIS

Spine # 659

Available on Blu-Ray & DVD

Special Features:

DIRECTORAPPROVED SPECIAL EDITION

  • New, restored 2K digital film transfer, supervised by director of photography Dick Pope, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • New audio commentary featuring director Mike Leigh
  • Audio recording of a 1991 interview with Leigh at the National Film Theatre in London
  • Five short films written and directed by Leigh for the proposed television series Five-Minute Films, with a new audio introduction by Leigh
  • Plus: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic David SterrittNew cover by Eric Skillman

Please note that whilst I try to not give away vital plot details/scenes/developments of the film, some reviews may contain mild spoilers.

Review

What makes for a sweet life?

Mike Leigh, the twice-nominated Academy Award British Director burst onto the big screen in the 1990’s with this, sometimes comical, look at an ordinary family in 1980’s Britain.

We have:

Dad Andy, the Chef, dreamer, someone who can never finish any job he undertakes around the house (patio, porch, guitar, take your pick).

Mum Wendy, the shop assistant, eternal optimist, children dance teacher and moonlighting waitress

Twin 1 Natalie, the “normal one”, plumber and would be world traveller

Twin 2 Nicola, the “mouthy one”, eternal layabout and bulimic

The title comes from the running topic throughout the film, food. As I’ve mentioned, Andy is a Chef and one Daughter is sadly bulimic. We also have a restaurant which, to quote Mike Leigh himself is “the most ridiculous and preposterous thing I’ve ever invented in film”. Given that the restaurant is themed (badly) on the national singing treasure of France, Édith Piaf, complete with a spelling mistake in the name you are straight away under the impression that not all will go to plan. Add into the mix the owner, Aubrey (played by the ever great Timothy Spall), a man with the most eye-catching dress sense ever finished off with Timmy Mallet glasses and you realise this cake may not be fully baked.

We watch as the family goes about the daily activities of normal life, eating, talking, laughing, fighting, drinking and working. A few of the scenes are shot either through a doorway or a window, angles that Mike Leigh likes to use and you feel that you are not intruding into their lives even though we are watching some fairly intimate moments. None more so that 2 involving Nicola.

SPOLIER ALERT

Some of the scenes involving Jane Horrocks’ character are quite shocking. We see a young woman, in her early 20’s struggling to fit in anywhere, even her own family. We see her snarl, swear and smoke her way through the film but it is the food scenes that are the most saddest. Binge eating chocolate only to instantly throw up. Even her one friend in the world has to partake in her unhappy and complex relationship with food.

A good heart-to-heart with Mum, where, with the best of intentions, some home-truths are spelt out, we slowly start to see a turn in her life and a small step taken to join the other 3 in the living room. This is a place that Andy will be spending some time in, due to a spoon 🙂

The Extras that come with this disc were very helpful to me and enabled to appreciate the film more. Mike Leigh gives a very insightful interview in which he describes his influences:

For his films:

Living and dying

Family

Growing up and growing old

Directors:

Jean Renoir

Fritz Lang

Satyajit Ray

Frank Capra

Yasujirô Ozu

The work from Ealing Pictures and the British New Wave of the 60’s

French New Wave, though not Godard anymore. A wonderful quote was given during the interview:

“Even Godard until, like a lot of people, I fell out with him around the middle to late 60’s when he, you know, started to disappear up his own bum”

So that is Life Is Sweet, overall I scored this film 7 (Good) though it just missed out on making an 8 (Very Good)

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The Red Shoes – Review # 12

TRS

Spine # 44

Available on Blu-ray & DVD

Special Features:

  • New high-definition master from the award-winning 2009 digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Introductory restoration demonstration with filmmaker Martin Scorsese
  • Audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie, featuring interviews with stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and Scorsese
  • Profile of “The Red Shoes,” a documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with members of the production team
  • Video interview with director Michael Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker Powell, from the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, in which she discusses Powell, the film, and the restoration
  • Audio recording of actor Jeremy Irons reading excerpts from Powell and Pressburger’s novelization of The Red Shoes
  • Collection of rare publicity stills and behind-the-scenes photos
  • Gallery of items from Scorsese’s personal collection of The Red Shoes memorabilia
  • The “Red Shoes” Sketches, an animated film of Hein Heckroth’s painted storyboards, with the Red Shoes ballet as an alternate angle
  • Audio recording of Irons reading the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Red Shoes”
  • Theatrical trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic David Ehrenstein and a description of the restoration by UCLA film archivist Robert Gitt
  • New cover by F. Ron Miller

Please note that whilst I try to not give away vital plot details/scenes/developments of the film, some reviews may contain mild spoilers.

Review

For those of you that have read my Art Blog you will know of my recently  acquired interest in Ballet.  With this in mind I purchased The Red Shoes and I can honestly say that I’ve made one of the best buys of my life.  This is an absolutely fantastic film!  An explosive mix of jealousy, love, manipulation and obsession is played out to a stunning backdrop of dance and music.

An excellent attribute of the film are memorable quotes and below is a perfect example:

“Why do you want to dance?”

“Why do you want to live?”

” I don’t know exactly, but I must”

“That’s my answer too”

That excerpt marked the first meeting between Boris Lermontov and Victoria Page and thus the story of The Red Shoes began.

Whilst the script of the film gives us many more profoundly deep quotes, as shown above, it is the Technicolour cinematography that makes this film such a visual spectacle. There are many great scenes, the crazy charge for the seats at the start reminded me of boarding an Easyjet flight!  The 17 minute Ballet scene is breathtaking and no amount of words can do it justice, it HAS to been seen.  As always, Paris and Monte Carlo look stunning and bring extra glamour to the film and also brought back happy memories of my visits to both locations.  The final performance of the Ballet is a haunting scene that offers a glimpse into the bonds created between cast and crew during a production.

As I mentioned at the start, over the past few years I have developed a love for the art of Ballet and this film gives you a very realistic look at just how much work goes into a production. To add authenticity, the Ballet company consisted of professional dancers, a very good decision in my opinion.  My legs ached just watching the rehearsals but I certainly now have more appreciation for these artists.

The Extras that come with this Criterion are equally as fantastic as the film.  As I write this review I have watched them all bar the Audio Commentary, though this is something I will certain watch in the future.  Martin Scorsese is a huge fan of this film and we learn that The Red Shoes has provided an influence in all his films.  It was his Film Foundation that restored this film into the Criterion masterpiece and we are treated to items from his personal collection of memorabilia.  The Widow of the Director, Michael Powell provides great insight, not only to the restoration but also the art of editing, a role she has provided for Scorsese since 1967.  As with the film, we are given another classic quote, this time from the great Pierre Auguste Renoir to his Son, Jean Renoir:

“You should never make a film unless it’s like having to piss, it should be that intense”

That is quite a statement to make but one that will ring true to those that see film as an art form and not as a way to make money.  Sadly today, money seems to be the driving force behind the mainstream film industry and only goes to reinforce how important it is for films like The Red Shoes to be made available.

I mentioned earlier that I love Ballet, unfortunately I do not love the ticket prices.  The Red Shoes does help to explain why the cost is high; the costumes, set design, the travel are just a few of the overheads a production generates.  Please don’t let that make you think that a trip to the Ballet is out of reach.  Matinee performances, usually at the weekend, can provide cheaper prices and even the seats at the top of the theatre offer a wonderful view, I actually prefer to watch from up above so I can see the whole stage.  Make sure to check for sight restrictions on any ticket.

If there is no theatre near to you please check your local cinema, yes cinema.  For those of you in the UK Odeon show performances from Ballet, Opera & Theatre.  In the Canada Cineplex is the place to go.  This service is also available in the US but I have no personal experience.  I am sure a quick online search of your local cinema should provide you with their schedule, look for special events etc.

I hope this review proves useful to you and I urge you, find a way to watch this marvellous film.

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The Ruling Class – Review # 7

a7614-trc

Spine #132

Available on DVD

Special Features:

  • New 16×9 widescreen digital transfer, supervised by director Peter Medak and restored to the original full-length version, never before available in the U.S.
  • Commentary track featuring Peter O’Toole, Peter Medak, and writer Peter Barnes
  • Peter Medak’s home movies, shot on location for The Ruling Class
  • A collection of rare publicity and behind-the-scenes production stills
  • Original trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
  • Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer editionNew cover by Gordon Reynolds

Please note that whilst I try to not give away vital plot details/scenes/developments of the film, some reviews may contain mild spoilers.

Review

Oh dear, my first bad Criterion experience 😦

I really tried with this film, I watched without distraction and to the very end but I just could not get into it.  But, this Blog takes the rough with the smooth, the good with the not so good, so I continued and took notes during the film in order to write this review.

It started off decent enough with a hilarious introduction to the 13th Earl of Gurney.  As expected for an Earl, he lived in a big house and had a Butler.  The Earl seemed to be an eccentric type and as he walked through the house he was undressing, throwing his clothes on the floor for the Butler to pick up.  Once he reached his bedroom we saw that there was a standing arrangement between the two as to what would happen next.  A ballet tutu was donned, a rope attached to the ceiling and, accidentally, a ladder fell over!  Suffice to say, the 13th Earl of Gurney was soon replaced by the 14th.

I did find the film a little comical, the scene mentioned above was followed by another when the Will of the deceased was read.  As mentioned earlier, the Butler seemed to have had the ear of the deceased and as reward inherited “30 thousand smackers”, cue the first of many breaks into song & dance during the film.  This then brought us to the 14th Earl of Gurney (Peter O’Toole) who also, according to himself, was Jesus.  I shall presume this was the “start” of the film but for me this was where it actually started to taper off.  Sure there were still funny moments, mainly from the Butler, who, even after his inheritance, took to very forthright and candid comments towards his employers.  Title fleabags & privileged assholes who can afford to be bonkers is one of his better descriptions of “the ruling class”.

The film continued with the 14th Earl marrying the mistress of his Uncle (13th Earl’s Brother, who had his eye on the title for himself and his hapless Son), producing an Heir and no longer believing he is Jesus.  He instead moved his attention to 19th Century killer Jack the Ripper.

Now this part of the film interested me, who isn’t by Jack the Ripper?  When I read the brief synopsis on Criterion it was this part that first attracted me to the film.  The history and theory that the perpetrator was a member of the Upper class, some say even a member of the Royal Family was the connection with this film.  Maybe if this had been the Earl’s chosen “character” from the start I would have connected with the film better, who knows.  I have yet to watch the Extras that come with this Criterion, maybe they will help me see the film in a different light?

A note to animal lovers, there is a scene of a foxhunt.  I am uncertain to how graphic it is as I hit fast forward.  The scene starts at the 1 hour 58 minute mark.  There is also a scene in an animal laboratory in which a rat is injected and another is seen cut open.  I do apologise but I did not note down the time for this scene but you will be able to spot it as two characters walk through a laboratory before the animals are seen.

If you do choose to watch I hope you enjoy.  This is by no means a bad film, just not for me.

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