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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Drama > Urban > Arab > French New Wave > Autobiography > Childhood > Cinema > Surrealism > Italy > Th > Detroit Unleaded (2013/Gas Afterhours DVD)/The 400 Blows (1959/Umbrella Import Region B Blu-ray)/The Great Beauty (2013/Criterion Blu-ray w/DVD)/L'Immortelle (1963/Kino/Redemption Blu-ray)/The Past (2

Detroit Unleaded (2013/Gas Afterhours DVD)/The 400 Blows (1959/Umbrella Import Region B Blu-ray)/The Great Beauty (2013/Criterion Blu-ray w/DVD)/L'Immortelle (1963/Kino/Redemption Blu-ray)/The Past (2013/Sony Blu-ray w/DVD)/To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter (2013/Icarus DVD)

Picture:C+/B/B & C+/B/B- & C/C+ Sound: C+/B-/B & B-/C+/B & C+/C+ Extras: C/C/B-/B-/B-/D Main Programs: B-/B/C+/B-/B-/B

PLEASE NOTE: The 400 Blows Import Blu-ray is Region B, can only play on players capable of handling that version of the format, is now only available from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment and can be ordered from the link below.

By coincidence, we have just received a fine indie and foreign films, mostly French, plus a recent Italian comedy/drama and an American indie you should go out of your way for...

That film is Rola Nashef's Detroit Unleaded (2013), a remarkable comedy/drama set in the title city and centered around gas stations. He opening scene takes place a few years ago (you can tell by the lower gasoline prices) has an gas station owner/operator taking care of things on the night shift, business as usual until a robbery occurs. A few years later, his sons have taken over the business, now struggling against a flashy new gas station, both run by Arab American parties, but the older cousin Mike (Mike Batayeh from Breaking Bad in a very funny turn) doing what he can to make the place profitable, dreaming of a chain of stations and juggling a second job.

Sami (E.J. Assi in a breakthrough role) takes the other shift Mike cannot, but he is not very happy and wonders what else he could do, truly thinking of other, better possibilities with his life. He is holding it together and steady, including some denial and self-oppression until he meets Najlah (Nada Shouhay in a terrific turn) who works for a cell phone store run by a friend of Mike's (and her brother), but Sami is more interested in her than phone cards. What follows is funny, honest, impressive and except for some a few problematic montage sequences that sabotage its pace, one of the best independent films I have seen in a while. Could Nashef be on the frontier of a distinctive new voice in cinema, one that brings out the character of Detroit?

Maybe. She can direct, write and handles the actors is top rate and we get energy, chemistry and consistency that is so badly missing from many similar major studio releases we have seen in recent years. This is a new talent that deserves to be seen and heard. With Detroit Unleaded, she is off to a great start.

Extras include a Behind The Scenes featurette, Original Theatrical Trailers and Deleted Scenes.

In speaking of the lives of teen and young adults, Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (1959) is obviously a breakthrough film for the naturalistic look at such people, a key classic of the French New Wave that put Truffaut in at the top of the filmmakers in the movement with Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard and began a remarkable and still-unmatched series of autobiographical films that came to be known as the Antoine Doinel films.

Not only is it beautifully shot on black & white film by Henri Decae, it was shot in Dyaliscope, a newer version of CinemaScope that gave the frame a new freedom and natural look without as much distortion. When the film arrived, its visuals were a shocking, stunning revelation that along with its writerly way of telling of a personal life was landmark resulting in an international sensation that made Truffaut an instant master of cinema. Jean-Pierre Leaud plays Doinel at 12 years old and is totally convincing, showing us this life in simple, yet remarkable terms. He is a troubled child, but he has one thing going for him, a calling and unconditional love of pure cinema, of film and the film ultimately becomes a love letter to love, life and art that changed filmmaking forever and for which the phenomenal success of Spielberg's most profitable films would have never been possible.

I like the film very much, yet it is not among my favorite Truffaut films, but the one for which I judge his entire output. Seeing it in such a great print on Blu-ray has me appreciating and enjoying it in ways I has not in years and as it slowly makes the format worldwide (Criterion has issued two Blu-ray editions!), it can be rediscovered as it should be.

Extras include the Original Theatrical Trailer and Les Mistons, a 1957 short film directed by Truffaut.

In speaking of Criterion, they have issued a new Blu-ray/DVD set of Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty, Italy's 2013 entry for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award. Sorrentino gave us the underrated 2008 gem Il Divo and Sean Penn's risk-taking This Must Be The Place (2011, both reviewed elsewhere on this site), so this time out, he examines aging, fantasy, reality, class division, culturally (and religiously) immune walls and regrets as Jep (Toni Servillo) is out partying on his 65th Birthday, only to be haunted by the past, the surreal and we get flashbacks along with many images that range from gaudy to deathly to religious to humorous to erotic.

I liked the ambitions of the film, but besides covering ground we have seen covered in many other films, its visuals are too often in the Fellini mode without the wonderment and sometimes even the point. The look of the film is a decent Super 35mm shoot and the scope lens is well utilized, but by sticking to only one Kodak stock, it holds the films often impressive visuals back a bit. This is not to nit pick, but I just wanted more and got some uneven results in an otherwise smart, ambitious work. Now you can see for yourself.

Extras in this slipcase packaging include a DigiPak with both format discs are a nicely illustrated booklet on the film including informative text and the essay Dancing In Place by Phillip Lopate, while the discs adds the Original Theatrical Trailer, Deleted Scenes, new separate interviews with Servillo & Screenwriter Umberto Contarello and new interview with Director Servillo and Italian culture critic Antonio Monda.

Another ambitious film I thought had limits despite being more successful was Alain Robbe-Grillet's L'Immortelle (1963), directed by the author of Alain Resnais' French New Wave masterpiece Last Year At Marienbad (1961, though that was written after this film was) involving a loner (Jacques Doniol-Valcroze) visiting Istanbul and falling for a beautiful, mysterious woman (Francoise Brion) who he instantly obsesses about and is determined to be with. However, she is mysterious and is connected to the darker side of the city in ways he could never initially imagine.

The ideas of time, space and memory intersecting in ways that are complex and challenging are often successful here, but this is not always successful, is haunted by Hitchcock (especially Vertigo and North By Northwest) and juggles writerly aspirations with a readerly plot with some success. It is a warm up for Marienbad and has its moments, as well as being a major debut for Robbe-Grillet that remains one of his most successful films. Despite some shortcomings, it is worth a good look.

Extras include a Robbe-Grillet trailer gallery, plus new trailer announcing his films from Kino/Redemption and a 32+ minutes interview with Robbe-Grillet on his career and this film in particular.

Asghar Farhadi's The Past (2013) is the director's impressive follow-up to his 2011 film A Separation (reviewed elsewhere on this site) presenting a complex tale about an upset, somewhat neurotic divorced woman (Berenice Bejo in a departure from her fine work in The Artist) who receives a visit from her ex-husband (Ali Mofassa) so they can complete their divorce, but she has taken up with a younger man (Tahar Rahim) who is upsetting their older daughter (Pauline Burlet) as the circumstance in which he is free (his wife is in a coma from a bizarre incident) and by so much unresolved on her part. Other younger children who are theirs are affected too.

At first, this might sound like a predictable melodrama, but the screenplay has a few nice, even clever surprises and the cast is top rate and totally convincing in their roles as the film slowly develops and is sly in how it builds into a rich, personal experience that is hard to turn away from once you start watching it. I wished Bejo's star benefitted the film and the film herself because she is a major actress and movie star who deserves more success and holds her own among many challenging performances. Farhadi continues to show his mastery of filmmaking and I hope more people see this one soon. It is worth going out of your way for.

Extras include a Director's Guild Q&A with Farhadi, Making Of featurette and feature length audio commentary track by Farhadi.

Finally we have To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter (2013) whose short films La Jette (inspired by Hitchcock's Vertigo and the basis for Gilliam's 12 Monkeys) and Sans Soleil were just released as a double feature from Criterion, passed away. This release has seven shorts read by various friends and fans of the late filmmaker, artist and multi-media innovator taking about his life, work, innovations, love of the arts, cinema and life, plus showing clips of his work throughout with the likes of film scholar David Thomson and 12 Monkeys screenplay co-writers Janet & David Peoples.

There are no extras, but this is a fine look at an underrated, challenging and sometimes overlooked artist more people should know about and see the work of. I've liked most of Marker's work and we have covered several of them on this site. If you are unfamiliar with him, this is a great place to start and even if you are, you should catch this one.

All of our Blu-rays look really good, though the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Past can show look a bit softer than the rest despite being shot on the versatile Arri Alexa HD camera, though I wonder if some of that is the style chosen. The 1080p 2.35 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer on 400 can show the age of the materials used a bit, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and even has some demo shots. I did not get to compare to the Criterion Blu-ray, but this is impressive for the most part.

The 1080p 1.66 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image transfer on L'Immortelle can show the age of the materials used, but this also not only is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film, but actually surprised me with some of its shots of Istanbul. An extras on the disc notes this was made at the same time (released the same year) as the Technicolor James Bond classic From Russia With Love (reviewed on Blu-ray and more elsewhere on this site) and holds its own against that extensive restoration. I has small issues with that one too.

The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Beauty is the newest film shoot in Super 35mm as noted above, with Director of Photography Luca Bigazzi definitely shows his talents here and I don't think this would look as good as an HD shoot despite my reservations with the faster stock.

The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the Detroit (shot on a RED HD camera), Past and Beauty DVDs should be about equal, but Beauty is a bit softer for some reason than the others. Oddly, the simply HD shot, anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Marker look a bit better.

In the sound department, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Beauty and Past are easily the sonic champs despite their dialogue-rich tendencies with the former sometimes louder than expected and the latter with a consistent soundfield. Both also sport finely recorded music scores that are a plus without being overbearing.

Though the Criterion Blu-ray version is a PCM 2.0 Mono release, Umbrella has decided to make their 400 Blows Blu-ray with a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is odd and does not always work and is itself an upgrade from the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono of their old DVD. However, the PCM 2.0 Mono on L'Immortelle is somehow weaker, partly from its age, but can compete with the weaker-than-expected, lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on both Detroit and Past. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on Beauty fares better and that leaves lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 simple stereo on Marker passable and nothing spectacular, but competent just the same.

To order The 400 Blows Umbrella import Blu-ray, go to this link for it and other great titles (often hard to find) at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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