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Category:    Home > Reviews > Biopic > Politics > Art > Homosexuality > Cuba > Childhood > France > Relationships > Japan > Thriller > Amish > Before Night Falls (2000/Fine Line/New Line/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/Marcel Pagnol: My Father's Glory + My Mother's Castle (1990/Gaumont*)/Passion (2008/*both Film Movement Blu-ray)/Witness 4K (1985/Pa

Before Night Falls (2000/Fine Line/New Line/Warner Archive Blu-ray)/Marcel Pagnol: My Father's Glory + My Mother's Castle (1990/Gaumont*)/Passion (2008/*both Film Movement Blu-ray)/Witness 4K (1985/Paramount/MVD/Arrow 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray w/Blu-ray)

4K Ultra HD Picture: B Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: C+/B-/B-/C+/C+ Films: C+

Here are a group of dramas upgraded and restored for your consideration...

Julian Schnabel is not my favorite artist, painter and especially filmmaker, highly overrated and never made anything I really liked or considered of any major importance. Before Night Falls (2000) is as close to anything of his I liked to date, a project he directed, but Javier Bardem really carries the film as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas. The man was openly gay, oppressed by his own government, demonized, censored and eventually fled to the U.S., trying to be heard and to survive.

A biopic trying to be different, it uses more stock footage than expected, but even not counting that, does not always effectively recreate the period and the sexuality side of the film seems very choppy along with the period and everything else that happens here. The supporting cast includes Olivier Martinez, Michael Wincott, Andrea De Stefano, Sean Penn and Johnny Depp from the tail-end of his indie period, all giving a big assist to a film that really needed it. They save the film from its director who cannot seem to connect with the material.

Also a plus is the underrated Carter Burwell's music score. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson also contributed to the music. This was backed and released by the sadly-folded Fine Line Features, an artsy subdivision of New Line Cinema that all serious film fans badly miss along with all the other smaller companies making films with low budgets and ambitious scripts that used to be dubbed 'boutique' distributors. Hope Warner Archive gets the rest of them out on Blu-ray.

Extras include an Original Theatrical Trailer, artwork by the director, home movies of the production, excerpts from Improper Conduct 1983 interview with Reinaldo Arenas and a feature length audio commentary track by the director, Bardem, Composer Carter Burwell, Screenwriter Lazaro Gomez-Carriles and Co-Director of Photography Xavier Perez Grobet.

Marcel Pagnol: My Father's Glory + My Mother's Castle (1990) is a double feature of another pair of films by legendary screenplay writer Yves Robert, seeing the huge success with Jean De Florette and its sequel, Manon Of The Spring (a real victory for now-defunct Orion Pictures) so here he is trying to pull off what Claude Berri did with those films. Not the biggest fan of that earlier set, I still thought they had their moments and this set of films based on the works of the same writer have some too. Being all based on Pagnol's work, there are going to be common denominators.

In this case, all four films managed to capture the spirit of his work, even if I was not ultimately a fan of all of them. Here, it is a two-part biography of Pagnol growing up, based on his own autobiography. Much of this is believable, but that also means some of this includes scenes we've seen in hundreds of other biopics, even if they have taken liberties with Pagnol's work. The worst part would be to do this to make the film more accessible or even somehow commercial, but one does not need to know any differences to know what you have seen over and over again.

Does that mean this has too many cliches? Not necessarily, though the immediate films to compare to for realism and naturalism would include Truffaut's best and the likes of John Boorman's Hope and Glory or Lasse Hallstrom's My Life As A Dog, no matter more specific opinions of said films.

In the end, I was slightly disappointed and it is not to say Pagnol had a boring life growing up, but these just did not stick with made overall, so only those really serious about sitting through these and have a great interest should check them out. Otherwise, at least they are honest if not totally successful, with the actors, locales and consistent tone all plusses.

Extras (per the press release) include the ''Heritage and Nostalgia'' video essay by Ludovic Cortade, Associate Professor in French Literature, Thought and Culture at New York University

  • A Question of Tribe featurette with director Yves Robert's son Jean-Denis Robert, grandson Martin Drescher, and cinematographer Robert Alazraki

  • and a high quality 16-page booklet with new essay by filmmaker, producer and writer Kat Ellinger.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Passion (2008) is the director's first feature film, based on his own short film about several love triangles among a group of young adults in their 30s and the results are either more oppression and denial, or some of them not being able to take it anymore and letting it all out, telling it like it is.

We liked two of his later films we've reviewed, Happy Hour and Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy, so he is definitely a capable filmmaker and is working to show something about people and relationships or the inability of people to connect. The film has some nice shots, a solid cast and a pace that works, even representing isolation in shots that reminded me of Antonioni, particularly The Red Desert without being shallow or thinly derivative. This might not be as well-rounded as his later films, but not bad for a first film just the same.

Extras include (per the press release) an Introduction by director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and the ''From Passion to Fortune'' video essay by film and theatre writer Kenji Fujishima.

Peter Weir's Witness 4K (1985) is the overrated director's attempt to go more commercial, leading to more overrated duds like Dead Poets' Society and The Truman Show. This is not quite as bad and wrecked as those, but the barely suspenseful thriller with a young Amish child (the underrated Lukas Haas in an early child actor role) sees the murder of a man in a restroom when traveling with his mother (Kelly McGinnis) and when the killers realize this, intend to hunt him and anyone around him down.

Harrison Ford plays the police detective out to find the killers and stop them. This drags on, is not necessarily the most authentic portrayal of the Amish and has a ridiculous, 'happy' 1980s 'mall movie' ending that is as phony as the rest of such bad 19890s films AND phony Weir films. Enough people bought this to make it enough of a hit, but then, it is not the highest-budgeted film or its time. At least it does not look cheap.. much. For hardcore, serious fans only!

Extras includes (per the press release) a Limited Edition 60-page perfect bound booklet illustrated by Tommy Pocket, featuring new writing on the film by Dennis Capicik, Martyn Conterio, John Harrison and Amanda Reyes, plus....

  • Brand new video interview with cinematographer John Seale

  • Brand new audio commentary by film historian Jarret Gahan

  • Brand new visual essay on the film's performances by film journalist Staci Layne Wilson

  • Vintage 1985 interview in which Harrison Ford discusses Witness with critic Bobbie Wygant, who logged hundreds of movie star interviews from her home base in Texas over the last few decades

  • Between Two Worlds: five-part archival documentary on the making of the film, featuring interviews with Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Peter Weir, John Seale, producer Edward S. Feldman, and actors Lukas Haas, Patti LuPone and Viggo Mortensen

  • A Conversation with Peter Weir: archival interview with the film's director

  • Two vintage EPK featurettes

  • Deleted scene from the network TV version of the film

  • Theatrical trailer

  • Image gallery

  • Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket

  • Fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tommy Pocket

  • and six double-sided collector's postcards.

Now for playback performance. The 2160p HEVC/H.265, 1.85 X 1, Dolby Vision/HDR (10; Ultra HD Premium)-enhanced Ultra High Definition image on Witness 4K has its moments, especially where color is concerned, but its flatness has caught up with it and though this is as good as this will probably ever look, only holds up so well. The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on the Blu-ray edition is weaker with more softness and some motion blur. I never did like the look of this film and never found it too memorable. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on both disc versions is an upgrade from the old analog Dolby A-type noise reduction system, only so much can be done, so this also sounds as good as it ever will.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Falls can also show the age of the materials used, the use of stock footage notwithstanding, has a little more softness than expected and also has some good shots, but it can be as mixed as the film itself. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix is as good as this film will ever sound, a digital theatrical sound release, but you can hear the sonic limits of the production at the time, which was budget-limited.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers on Passion and the Robert films are not bad transfers, but can also show the age of the materials used, then you also have some detail limits and slight motion blur here and there. Color is decent in all three cases, but the new transfers just miss being (style notwithstanding) as sharp and clear as I was hoping for. This could be anything from the way the film was shot to the film stocks and their storage, though the Robert films are new 4K scans. Could he have shot this very, very slightly extra soft?

All three films are here in lossless PCM 2.0 Stereo with the Robert films also being issued in the old analog Dolby A-type noise reduction system, but they get lossless Dolby TrueHD (misspelled as 'Tru' on the Blu-ray disc menus) 5.1 upgrades and they play a little better than the stereo with Pro Logic surrounds. Passion was a low budget expansion of a Hamaguchi student film and did not get any surround treatment.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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