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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Fashion > Relationships > Character Study > Jealousy > British > Sexuality > Literature > Teens > Op > Phantom Thread (2017/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Women In Love (1969/United Artists/MGM)/The Virgin Suicides (1999/Paramount/both Criterion Blu-rays)

Phantom Thread (2017/Universal Blu-ray w/DVD)/Women In Love (1969/United Artists/MGM)/The Virgin Suicides (1999/Paramount/both Criterion Blu-rays)

Picture: B & C+/B/B+ Sound: B+ & C+/B-/B Extras: C+/B/B- Films: B

Here are three really fine, smart, mature, intelligent motion pictures that explore people, their nature and living by three great filmmakers...

Daniel Day Lewis has sadly (without comment) decided to end his extraordinary acting career with Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread (2017) as a tailor who makes some of the most beautiful, incredible and remarkable dresses and outfits of anyone around. He is used to his life being a certain way with a certain routine and certain people in his life, but then he meets a young woman he becomes interested in (Vicky Crieps) and a subtle disruption begins.

Does he love her, her him and might she ruin his life just by being there? His sister Cyril (the great Leslie Manville) is not so sure about her, protective of her brother, their name, business and reputation, but she moves in and the slow tensions begin.

Anderson is one of the most amazing filmmakers around, but his recent films have not had the commercial success they've deserved and this is yet another gem like Inherent Vice, The Master and his last film with Lewis, the modern hit There Will Be Blood. The only filmmaker on such a winning streak currently is another big screen filmmaker still embracing celluloid, Christopher Nolan. Yes, he's that good.

Cheers to to the amazing work of all involved, the amazing acting of the cast and just the beautiful, leisurely flow of this 1950s period piece, which constantly has life and energy in different ways that keeps you watching. If Lewis was going to retire as he has, this is a great high note to go out on.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber-capable devices, while the Blu-ray adds Camera Tests with audio commentary by Paul Thomas Anderson that includes specifics on how they chose their film stocks, For the Hungry Boy is a collection of deleted scenes with music by Jonny Greenwood, House of Woodcock Fashion Show narrated by Adam Buxton and Behind the Scenes Photographs has stills from the film by Michael Bauman with demo versions of Jonny Greenwood's fine score.

For years, Ken Russell made a name for himself as a journeyman director on British television, but in an odd twist, James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman signed him for his theatrical film directorial debut. Billion Dollar Brain (1969) turned out to be the final of three films with Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, the crook turned spy whose debut in the 1965 classic The Ipcress File is considered an all-time classic. The film had mixed success, with many feeling it got as wild as the Bond films it was trying to be the opposite of, but we can now see in hindsight it was partly Russell going all out for his first film.

Russell's Women In Love (1969) was then a big surprise sophomore choice, leaving behind any commercial route permanently and starting a series of some of the most important, elaborate, educated, smart, bright, clever British cinema releases we would see over the next decade or so. Based on a D. H. Lawrence novel of living free in a changing Britain and how that plays out sexually in such a suppressed society, we start with two good friends (Glenda Jackson and Jennie Lindon), a rougher contact in high society (Oliver Reed) and more open, freewheeling friend (Alan Bates) examining the slowly blooming new freedoms, their connection to nature, each other and what that portends for the future in this lush, warm, personal film that holds up extremely well today and has some of the best work of all involved.

Any movie like this made for the most part since the 1980s would talk the talk about showing the changes, but not show it, show it badly and/or be more sexually oppressed than not, but Russell has zero trouble from this first film he had control over himself dealing with all kinds of human sexuality, yet that freedom is incidental to character study, capturing the story and bringing it to life as he does so well here. No, it is not without minor flaws, but no doubt Russell established himself as an auteur at this point and would solidify that by the films hat followed.

1969 was an extraordinary year for filmmakers and filmmaking, at least as important as the fabled thoughts and felling about 1939 (also a great year), but this film was subtly groundbreaking and with the rollback of rights, et al, seems as fresh as ever despite being set in the near past.

Eleanor Bron and Vladek Sheybal also star.

Extras include a poster foldout on the film including informative text and an essay by scholar Linda Ruth Williams, Two audio commentaries from 2003, one featuring director Ken Russell and the other screenwriter and producer Larry Kramer, Segments from a 2007 interview with Russell for the BAFTA Los Angeles Heritage Archive, A British Picture: Portrait of an Enfant Terrible, Russell's 1989 biopic on his own life and career, Interview from 1976 with actor Glenda Jackson, Interviews with Kramer and actors Alan Bates and Jennie Linden from the set, New interviews with director of photography Billy Williams and editor Michael Bradsell, Second Best, a 1972 short film based on a D. H. Lawrence story, produced by and starring Bates and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

Last but absolutely not least is Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides (1999), her remarkable feature film debut that was one of the best releases of its year and not only does it hold up, but it has been given a top grade reissue by Criterion and Paramount (I'm still celebrating the studio finally working with Criterion on a regular basis) in a Blu-ray edition as strong as when I first saw the film theatrically.

Based on the Jeffrey Eugenides book, the film is a mystery investigating why a group of sisters eventually all took their lives which happens here via a group of young men in their neighborhood interested in them. This includes one sister getting self-destructive early, religiously restrictive parents (Kathleen Turner and James Woods, played well together) being oppressive of them in ways that are not Handmaid's Tale-style tough still problematic and the sisters themselves (led by Kirsten Dunst) who we spend all kinds of time with to the film's advantage.

The film does a great job of capturing the 1970s (never as easy as it seems) and once you start watching, it really is hard to stop. Another great moment has to do with the arrival of a young Josh Hartnett, whose work here put him on the map and sealed his status as a new film star as much as it did Dunst's, though the whole young cast is great here and more of them deserved better than they got later. Hayden Christensen does turn up as one of the guys who joins Hartnett's character to take the gals to the prom. Yes, its that kind of movie.

Extras include an illustrated paper foldout on the film including informative text and an essay by novelist Megan Abbott, New interviews with Coppola, DP Ed Lachman, actors Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett, author Jeffrey Eugenides, and writer Tavi Gevinson, The Making of "The Virgin Suicides" (1998 documentary directed by Eleanor Coppola) featuring Sofia Coppola; Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola; actors Dunst, Hartnett, Scott Glenn, Kathleen Turner, and James Woods; Eugenides; and more, Lick the Star, a 1998 short film by Coppola, the official (and odd) music video for Air's soundtrack song "Playground Love," directed and shot by Coppola and her brother Roman Coppola and an Original Theatrical Trailer.

As for playback performance, they al look as fine as they can in the format, though we were hoping to see the new 4K 2160p Ultra HD Blu-ray of Phantom Thread before this posted so we could add it here, but we'll hopefully see it later. As it stands, the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image looks fine throughout, shot with remarkable form by Anderson as an uncredited Director of Photography, his use of the grain in the advanced Kodak Vision 3 35mm camera negative film stocks is superior and impresses throughout as it usually does in all of his films. Color is always interesting and the look is solid and consistent throughout. The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image can barely handle the image, but is passable at best.

The 1080p 1.75 X 1 High Definition image transfer on Love is also remarkable, a new 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative. Color was by the Deluxe lab (U.K. division), but the color range is stunning and not slightly darker than usual as you might expect from a British production of the time. Director of Photography Billy Williams delivers for Russell in what I one of the now underrated director/DP collaborations.

The 1080p 1.66 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Virgin Suicides has stunning color grading (also a 4K scan from the original 35mm camera negative), making the film look as great as it ever has and not only increases its smooth density, but its realism and naturalism, no matter how dream-like it gets. Director of Photography Ed Lachman understands the film stocks, filters, colors and more, delivering vivid clarity that will impress everyone.

Both makes me wish Criterion would issue some 4K Blu-rays very soon.

As for sound, the DTS: X 11.1 on Phantom (with a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 7.1 lossless mixdown for older home theater systems) is easily the well mixed and presented sonic winner, going just beyond being dialogue-based with its beautiful Jonny Greenwood score and fine selection of sound elements. Very pleasant and sonically thorough. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the DVD is no match by any means, but bearable.

The PCM 2.0 Mono on Women is a pleasant surprise too, an old optical mono theatrical release whose original magnetic soundmaster had survived in fine shape, so the mono sound here is naturalistic, yet very warm and full, more so than you would expect from non-stereo feature film productions of the time. The legendary composer Georges Delerue delivers another one of his gems here.

That leaves the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Virgin a fine combination of classic Pop/Rock hits (some of the greatest songs ever recorded actually) with music from Air that meshes seamlessly, naturally and just adds to the strength of the film. This was originally a 5.1 theatrical release, preserved on a Dolby SR (Spectral Recording) master and never seems harsh, phony or shrill. That's impressive, plus digetic music is purposely not always clean and clear (note how some records on the turntable are a bit warped) for further realism. Wish more films were that smart.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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