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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Horror > Mystery > Drama > Espionage > Spying > Gangster > Robbery > Murder > Blue Velvet (1986/DEG/MGM Blu-ray)/The Conversation (1974/Paramount/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Cul-De-Sac (1966/Criterion Blu-ray)/Trespass (2011/Millennium Blu-ray)

Blue Velvet (1986/DEG/MGM Blu-ray)/The Conversation (1974/Paramount/Lionsgate Blu-ray)/Cul-De-Sac (1966/Criterion Blu-ray)/Trespass (2011/Millennium Blu-ray)

 

Picture: B†††† Sound: B/B/C+/B†††† Extras: B+/B+/B-/C-†††† Main Programs: B/A-/B-/C+

 

 

Films have become so bad that even otherwise rational, smart people will get angry telling you that all of one type of film is the same, like thrillers, not having seen any really good ones.Here are four wide-ranging examples that break that stereotype.

 

 

David Lynchís Blue Velvet (1986) is a great example of one of two kinds of thrillers that audiences find difficulty relating to, being that the film is thematically complex and has more deep symbolism and meaning than it may first appear.The tale of the darkest possible side of suburban America shows that this fantasy idea of the country in post-WWII mode is alive like a zombie into the mid-1980s, but its dark side hides an underground world of sex, violence, perversion and the ugly legacy of the past glossed-over that is about to figure prominently in the life of a new generation (including Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern) in ways they never expected.

 

He discovers a beautiful woman (Isabella Rossellini taking one of the biggest risks of her career) who is interesting, unusual and turns out to be involved with some sick characters including an ultraviolent maniac (Dennis Hopper in one of the darkest comeback performances in cinema history) who lives mentally between a sick work of sexual violence and hit music of the early 1960s.Then it gets worse and of course, darker.

 

Much imitated since, it remains one of Lynchís strongest films and 25 years later, as relevant as ever.For DVD a few years ago, he approved a new HD transfer of the film that delighted him and this new Blu-ray has that transfer of one of the few hits of the short-lived DEG studio.This new edition has all the previous extras (save Lynchís celebration of the new DVD) of that DVD including a Theatrical Trailer, 2 TV spots, A Few Outtakes, Vignettes, Mysteries Of Love documentary, a 90-second-long clip of Siskel & Ebert debating the film and over 50 minutes of newly found Lost Footage that is so good, a few key scenes left in makes the film even more powerful.See the film again, then that new section and see if you agree.

 

 

Francis Ford Coppolaís The Conversation (1974) is the other great example of a complex thriller, but this is in trying to figure out the mystery of what is going on and that has to do with murder.One of my favorite Coppola films, Gene Hackman is Harry Caul, the best wire-tapper in the business, but the tables are about to be turned on him when he intercepts audio that makes him wonder what he just heard.Is democracy being subverted?Is someone about to be assassinated?How is the CIA involved?Is something much uglier about to happen?

 

With limited information, he starts to slowly investigate, but the more he does, the more trouble he finds and the more obsessed he gets.He made this film at the same time as Godfather II and I think it is actually the better film in what turned out to be his peak year as a filmmaker.The script (which he wrote) is exceptional, the sound design innovative and the result a masterwork worthy of its few predecessors, including Antonioniís Blow-Up (1966) and one most thrillers have still not caught up to, though Brian De Palma did with Blow Out (1981, reviewed from Criterion elsewhere on this site) and Tony Scottís Enemy Of The State (1998) with Will Smith cast Hackman opposite him as a very similar character.

 

Extras include two feature length audio commentary tracks (one with Coppola, another with sound designer/editor Walter Murch), Close-up On The Conversation featurette, archive on-set interviews with Hackman and five new extras: new on-camera Coppola and composer David Shire interviews, Harry Caulís San Francisco featurette showing the locales then and now, archival screen tests, archival Coppola audio dictating the original script and discussion with Coppola about his early short film exercise No Cigar.

 

 

Roman Polanskiís Cul-De-Sac (1966) is an early thriller by yet another director capable of work on the level of Lynch and Coppola, trying something different with some great actors and often succeeding in making an interesting film.Donald Plesence and Francoise are a couple living in isolation until two gangsters (Lionel Stander and Jack MacGowran) invade their area and ruin their lives in all kinds of ways.From there, it becomes a psychological and sometimes physical battle between the parties and more invasionary forces through the film.The subtle powers of stress are as important as the explicit ones and though there are a few minor missteps, I like the film and it is worth rediscovering or seeing if you never saw it before.It is one of Polanskiís better films in his early prime as a filmmaker and look for Jacqueline Bisset later in the film.

 

Extras include Criterionís illustrated, informative booklet with technical information and David Thompsonís High Tides essay, while the disc adds a 1967 Polanski TV interview, Theatrical Trailers and 2003 documentary about the film called Two Gangsters & An Island with Polanski, producer Gene Gutowski and the great Director of Photography Gilbert Taylor interviewed.

 

 

Finally, Joel Schumacherís Trespass (2011) may not be his best thriller, but this one shows that even with a somewhat formulaic script, a superior combination of a cast and director working on a higher level than usual can make the familiar interesting to watch.Nicolas Cage (8MM) and Nicole Kidman (Batman Forever) are a married couple with a daughter who are doing well, or seemingly so, when they are suddenly invaded by a group of masked people looking for money.Despite telling their daughter not to go to a party, she has gone anyhow, but these people are serious.

 

You can imagine what happens next, but Schumacher does it with such energy and intent (trying for a more commercial film than some of his recent projects) that it is more watchable than you might expect, even though it is not great.Still, it is not the typical boring thriller we have seen far too many of in recent years and is worth a look if you are interested.Cam Gigandet and Ben Mendelsohn lead the rest of the well-cast actors.Extras include previews and brief Trespass: Inside The Thriller featurette.

 

 

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 AVC @ 27 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Velvet is that Lynch-approved master, though we donít know how much he would approve it now.Despite some minor detail issues, the film is stylized a certain way and the Blu-ray can handle that for the most part.Director of Photography Frederick Elmes (1988ís Permanent Record and other Lynch films) delivers one of the great scope films of the 1980s, shot in the underrated J-D-C Scope format and this Blu-ray looks better the larger the screen you play it back on, has fine color range and some great demo shots.The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Trespass is a good use of scope, but no where newly as engaging, but is one of the better looking releases of a new film on Blu-ray this year and Director of Photography Andrzej Bartkowiak (Prince Of The City, The Verdict and Schumacherís enduring Falling Down) does a fine job just the same and you also get some great shots here too.

 

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer Conversation is another film that has some gritty camerawork (Bill Butler and Haskell Wexler both lensed it) is as impressive as it may ever look, though the original film was issued in dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor prints that are very valuable today.This has some great shots that remind us of that, but this is not always that kind of print or presentation.Still, it is effective with some expected grain, but a solid presentation overall.

 

The 1080p black and white 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Cul-De-Sac also has some grain, but Director of Photography Gilbert Taylor delivers some amazing work here (he was great in monochrome and color) and this transfer comes from a 35mm composite fine grain master positive print which was then cleaned up further to deliver these fine results.The PCM 1.0 Mono mix comes from a 35mm print (optical) and is also remastered as best it could be resulting in a combination as faithful to the film as could be expected.Polanski approved this release.

 

The other three Blu-rays have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless audio mixes that are all very effective and impressive in their own ways.Trespass is a brand-new film so it is expected to have a good multi-channel mix and this one is pretty consistent.Velvet was an analog A-type Dolby theatrical release and the sound has been nicely upgraded to sound as good as it could, with the dialogue showing its age the most, but the hit records and Angelo Badalamentiís score really benefit even more than on the DVD where this soundmaster likely debuted.Though The Conversation was originally a monophonic release (a version of that track is also here), Murch did an amazing job upgrading his complex sound design for multi-channel presentation and you would now think this was at least a stereo release back in the day.Instead, it adds a new dimension to the film form the men who created what we now know as a 5.1 mix.

 

 

-†† Nicholas Sheffo


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