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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Biography > Biopic > Politics > History > Faith > Art > Russia > Presidency > War > Assassination > Scan > Andrei Rublev (1966/Criterion Blu-ray Set)/LBJ (2016*)/Paterno (2018/HBO DVD)/Rodin (2017/*both Umbrella Region Free PAL Import DVDs)

Andrei Rublev (1966/Criterion Blu-ray Set)/LBJ (2016*)/Paterno (2018/HBO DVD)/Rodin (2017/*both Umbrella Region Free PAL Import DVDs)

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

PLEASE NOTE: The LBJ and Rodin Import DVDs are now available from our friends at Umbrella Entertainment in Australia, can only play on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Blu-ray players that can handle the PAL DVD and can be ordered from the link below.

The biopic is a staple of cinema since the silent era, so they have too often set into a certain pattern, even if it is only about a certain set of years in the subjects life. Here are four such releases, three brand new and three by well-known filmmakers for you to know about...

We start with the big epic of the four, Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1966) one of his seven great films that made him one of the greatest Russian directors of all time, up there with Eisenstein and even in the face of constant oppression by the Soviet authorities. Taking place in the 1500s, the title figure (Anatole Solonitsyn) is a painter of religious faith whose ideas and beliefs get tested and challenged in many ways throughout the course of the film. However, this journey of religion, art and being is handled in Tarkovsky's more complex approach.

Rightly described as dream-like and/or spiritual, it is about the man's peace of mind, creative state of mind and more, so it has the time of challenge about the intersection of time, space and memory you might get in a French New Wave film of the period (shot in black and white scope like many of Francois Truffaut's early films) and that makes it one of the most complete and complex films on faith ever made. It is also strong on art and being, but I think it has faith and spirituality at the forefront, so ironic considering what would happen to the country in a few centuries, happening while the film was made.

I give Criterion (and Martin Scorsese, who has supplied materials for various versions of this film together) for backing the film early on for people to know how much of a must-see film it is. They did this, by the way, when there was still a Soviet Union, so they can take pride in that no matter what has happened to Russia lately. If they're backing it and celebrating it, then you know you too must see it. Just know it can be a long film, to be up to it energy wise for bets impact in viewing.

Extras include a poster foldout with informative technical text, excerpt of translated by from Tarkovsky translated by Robert Bird and An Icon Emerges essay by J. Hoberman, while the first Blu-ray adds Steamroller and Violin, Tarkovsky's 1961 student thesis film, The Three Andreis, a 1966 documentary about the writing of the film's script, On the Set of "Andrei Rublev," a 1966 documentary about the making of the film, New interviews with actor Nikolai Burlyaev and cinematographer Vadim Yusov by filmmakers Sean Martin and Louise Milne, New interview with film scholar Robert Bird, Selected-scene commentary from 1998 featuring film scholar Vlada Petric

and a new video essay by filmmaker Daniel Raim.

Rob Reiner's LBJ (2016) is a surprise dud for Reiner, whose films usually get wide distribution, but he has had a few dud, though recent films like Bucket List did well and the title have entered the modern lexicon. Here, Woody Harrelson, an actor still easy to underestimate by some, plays the title politician from a few months before the JFK assassination to how he handles the rest of the time he is with us. Harrelson is able to be as showy as he was paying Larry Flynt, sometimes getting as gross believe it or not, but Harrelson is able to almost totally transform into the man and does as decent a job as any actor I have seen try to date.

Jeffrey Donovan plays JFK well enough, Michael Stahl-David as brother Bobby, the also underrated Jennifer Jason Leigh is solid as 'Lady Bird' Johnson, plus Richard Jenkins and Bill Pullman (also always welcome) round out a fine cast. To Reiner's credit, he is thorough about the history and events with little to complain about, plus I loved that he had the actors recreate iconic images and vintage footage from scratch that is a smart move to set it apart from how often the stories of these persons have been told.

There has also been a backlash about anyone playing LBJ (Oliver Stone thinks he had JFK killed, apparently, at least last time I heard him on the subject) lately for some reason, so that may have worked against the film and others might have wanted more intrigue. Also, the subject has been covered a good bit, yet it somehow still seems fresh to me because of its historical importance and how it built a better America. Some may have been uncomfortable with the language and situations we occasionally get from Harrelson's take.

In any case, it is still a film worth seeing, even if you may have covered the subject more than you would have liked. Reiner and company definitely get a prize for ambition!

There are unfortunately no extras.

Barry Levinson is a director like Reiner who is a big name and a major, key journeyman filmmaker in the Hollywood system whose had his share of ups and downs lately, but his new cable telefilm Paterno (2018) is on of his best works in years, doing a great job of clearing up the confusion (sometimes purposely caused by the ultra wealthy, the media, those deep in government trying to cover things up and even some religious outfits) about the massive horror story that is the child sex abuse scandal as the forever scarred Penn State University, one no where near enough people went to jail for and one that is STILL being covered up and rewritten (the showers where the child sexual rapes took place was torn down all the sudden, for example).

In yet another performance that shows why he is one of the greatest actors of our time and all time, Al Pacino totally transforms into the title character, one of the winningest coaches in college football history, so good he long shot down retirement years ago and understood the game so throughly that his talent was inarguable... so is that a legacy that is permanently tarnished?

Riley Keough is the local reporter covering the story as it happens, not knowing just how big and insane the truth will turn out to be. Cathy Baker is good as Sue Paterno as the entire family, right or wrong, is portrayed with dignity and realistically, so the teleplay is very fair in all this, making the film more honest and palpable than it could have been. After Jerry Sandusky is exposed and all hell breaks loose (the film realistically portrays the angry students acting like self-entitled semi-Nazis in behavior we have seen since at the highest levels of our very government) in a behavior we've seen a severe increase in since the 1980s. It is of note that it is a particular problem in Pennsylvania, all the way to Pittsburgh, but more on that ASAP another time.

The film is very brave and its value has only increased in the last few months since the film was broadcast. It almost should have been a theatrical release, but becomes another triumph for HBO and cable TV. Everyone in the cast is good and the film brave, yet I cannot stop thinking of the impact Pacino (often with no dialogue) has here. He totally knows and understands the weigh of the man, the situation and never, ever hits a false note to the point that it is haunting. He and Levinson (they worked together before on the likes of You Don't Know Jack) have an excellent creative relationship as well.

I like this as much as any release here and strongly recommend you see Paterno if you have not already. It is one of the best films of the year, theatrical and otherwise.

Digital Copy and two brief clips meant to promote the telefilm are the only extras.

Lastly we have Jaques Doillon's Rodin (2017) which wants to be a life portrayal of the controversial artist, years after the international success of the Camille Claudel feature film, yet it makes the very mistake that film corrected by managing to trivialize her and play as too narrow in scope. Of course, he is the least known director here and is a journeyman at best. I did buy the look, time period and actors (Vincent London in the title role, Izia Higelin as Claudel and Severine Caneele as live-in-love Rose) so that all worked, but the script and directing do not take full advantage. The women could have been better utilized.

Now also arriving on home video in the U.S., I can see why this was not a big hit here, but it is worth a look for those interested, but just don't have high expectations.

There are no extras.

Now for playback quality. The 1080p 2.35 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfer may be on a single Blu-ray, but the three-hour long film in its new 2K scan from a 35mm internegative has few flaws and rarely shows the age of the materials used, making this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film going back to Criterion's early 12-inch LaserDisc days (this is spine #34!!!) when the company was introducing widescreen and letterboxing to the U.S. home video market. It is always nice to see that rarity of a black and white scope film, as only so many were made and they are always visually compelling.

In rougher shape is the longer version (not preferred by Tarkovsky, but here to see the differences) that has much more obvious damage and is also on a single disc running 20 minutes longer. The restored edition has PCM Mono restored from a soundtrack master and also sounds as good as it likely can, while the longer version has slightly rougher audio.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on LBJ and Paterno look as good as they can in the format with LBJ having the advantage of more lines and slightly better color in the PAL format, yet this does not help the PAL presentation on the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image from the Rodin disc which is too soft for its own good and just has to look better in HD of some kind.

Then there is the DVD sound and all three DVDs offer lossy Dolby Digital 5.1, so they should all sound on par with each other, but LBJ sounds wrong, the mix is off, too soft and we'll hypothesize that something was wrong in the tradedown from the 5.1 soundmaster to this DVD, because this should not sound this poor. Be careful of high playback levels and volume switching.

To order either of the Umbrella import DVDs, go to this link for them and more hard to find releases at:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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