by ANDY DURSIN
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Over the past year Olive Films has tapped into Paramount’s back catalog and released dozens of top quality Blu-Rays, for films as varied as John Wayne programmers of the ‘50s and vintage film noirs to “The Hellstrom Project” and ‘80s cult favorites like the underrated Peter Weller-Christopher Collet drama “Firstborn.” Among the label’s early 2013 offerings is THE QUIET MAN (****, 129 mins., 1952), John Ford’s classic which has received one of the Blu-Ray format’s most sterling transfers for a catalog title.
For Ford and John Wayne aficionados – as well as most any American with Irish blood in their backgrounds – “The Quiet Man” needs little introduction. Ford’s lyrical tale of an Irish-American boxer (Wayne) named Sean Thornton who returns to Inisfree and his Emerald Isle roots, falls for – and has to win the hand of – local lass Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara) while taking on her combative older brother (Victor McLaglen) is a fairy tale of Golden Age Hollywood proportions. Brilliantly shot on location by Winton C. Hoch, “The Quiet Man” has its share of Irish stereotypes like Barry Fitzgerald’s matchmaker but Ford and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent – working from a 1930s story by Maurice Walsh – instill every character with genuine heart and goodwill, a sentiment that even the Irish themselves – whom for years generally disliked the film – eventually came to respect.
I hadn’t watched “The Quiet Man” all the way through since one of my professors at Boston College screened an old VHS copy for our film appreciation class, on a small TV, back in the mid ‘90s. Needless to say that presentation did little to convey the film’s dreamy Technicolor hues, and even subsequent DVD presentations weren’t exactly impressive. Happily, Olive’s new 4K scan of “The Quiet Man” has resulted in a flat-out gorgeous 1080p AVC encoded Blu-Ray presentation. With unwavering detail – some images even have a photorealistic quality – and perfect colors, “The Quiet Man” ranks as one of the very best catalog releases I’ve ever seen on Blu-Ray, especially for a film made prior to the ‘60s. Needless to say, for those of us who grew up on the film during the home video era, it’s truly like seeing the movie for the very first time.
Olive’s BD also includes Leonard Maltin’s half-hour retrospective documentary on the picture, created in the early ‘90s for one of Republic’s VHS releases. It provides a casual view of the production, but a more in-depth analysis is provided in a lengthy booklet that extracts author Joseph McBride’s commentary on the film, culled from his book “Searching For John Ford.” It’s an ideal complement to what’s undoubtedly going to rank as one of the year’s finest Blu-Ray releases.
Also new from Olive are a pair of ‘80s relationship dramas, making not only their debuts on Blu-Ray but in widescreen home video releases for the first time.
Charles Shyer’s directorial debut, IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES (**, 113 mins., 1984, PG), is a heart-tugging tale of bickering parents (Ryan O’Neal, Shelley Long) who move to Hollywood and have their souls stripped away by fleeting fame, all the while neglecting their young daughter (Drew Barrymore) who opts to divorce them in court!
Essentially mirroring Peter Bogdanovich and his career trajectory in the ‘70s, Ryan O’Neal’s erudite professor/movie buff-turned-filmmaker first gets blitzed by fame after one of his pictures becomes a box-office smash. He loses interest in wife Long and ends up throwing the family away by having an affair with his latest starlet (Sharon Stone in her feature debut). Long subsequently leaves him and writes a tell-all that becomes a national bestseller, at the same time O’Neal’s career collapses when his musical vanity project – written as a vehicle for Stone’s diva who can’t sing – dies, taking his relationship with her along with it (shades of “At Long Last Love”). All the while, little Barrymore is left to exist as an object between the two – like a neglected pet, she tells the jury at the film’s end, that they pay attention to only when they feel like it.
Shyer and Nancy Meyers’ script is something of a one-note TV movie for the most part: it establishes the relationship between O’Neal and Long in an overlong first act, charts both characters’ respective seesaw rides on the Hollywood success train, and includes ample arguing between the duo. It’s straightforward and intermittently funny, but mostly comes across as a downbeat, and repetitive, commentary on how people can get lost in the glitz of show business.
Watching this film again reminded me of how “Cheers” improved when Long left the show after a few years – I’m not sure what it is about her but I found Long strident and patently unlikeable here throughout the film, whereas O’Neal’s character is more open to expressing his failures and at least exhibits some kind of reconciliatory behavior. It’s debatable whether it’s because of an imbalance in the writing or simply because O’Neal’s performance has more nuances to it – either way, I’d have enough of Long in this film well before the movie rolled its way to a melancholy finish.
What’s also particularly surprising is how poorly utilized Barrymore is in the picture – aside from her final speech, she has very little to do in the movie, and also receives scant screen time in relationship to O’Neal and Long. At nearly two hours in length, “Irreconcilable Differences” is less the family comedy-drama that it sold itself as than a chronicle of a failed marriage, written in a somewhat pedestrian manner at that.
“Irreconcilable Differences” was an independent production from Lantana Films that Warner Bros. distributed theatrically. It has made scant appearances on home video over the years, most recently as a hideous Lionsgate DVD that looked to have been derived from the same home video master produced for its VHS release in the mid ‘80s! Olive Films’ remastered Blu-Ray is a huge step up, obviously, from all prior releases, presenting the film in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer that does justice to William A. Fraker’s cinematography. The mono audio offers clear and distinct dialogue (and an especially syrupy score by Paul DeSenneville and Oliver Toussaint, augmented with Richard Clayderman piano performances); extra features include an insightful commentary from Shyer and his associate Bruce A. Block, plus a two-minute featurette and on-camera introduction from the director. A slideshow and an ancient theatrical trailer round out one of Olive’s more robust supplemental offerings.
Also new from Olive is another ‘80s film about divorce that’s a much more entertaining and balanced affair: Alan Alda’s A NEW LIFE (***, 107 mins., 1988, PG-13), Alda’s third feature as director/star. It’s also, when compared with the likes of “The Four Seasons” and “Sweet Liberty,” the weakest of his feature efforts, though the picture still has its moments.
Alda plays a newly divorced Wall Street workaholic whose wife (Ann-Margret) strikes out on her own while he plays the field with pal Hal Linden. Eventually Alda settles into a new relationship with doctor Veronica Hammel while his wife finds a new man – a much younger one at that – in waiter/aspiring artist John Shea.
“A New Life” resembles a TV drama at times – not unlike “Irreconcilable Differences” – but the film is much more entertaining on balance. That’s due to Alda’s script, which mixes dramatic material with laughs, with only a few, pointed sequences between him and Ann-Margret taking up screen time. The film isn’t about the disintegration of their marriage so much as it’s an exploration of adults starting over in the dating pool, and on that level, the film plays honestly, never once giving viewers an indication that the formerly married couple will get back together (in fact there’s little evidence of why they were ever married to begin with). Alda is quite good here, instilling enough on-screen evidence for you to believe that he drove his ex-wife crazy, but also bringing some endearing elements to his role as well – it’s a believable character that trumps Ann-Margret’s regrettably more basic role of the frustrated wife who can’t seem to settle on her desires. Her storyline isn’t nearly as interesting or well-rounded as Alda’s, with a pat resolution that feels like something out of a “Love Boat” episode, though the actress does what she can with the material.
Shot mostly in Toronto (doubling for NYC), “A New Life” is easy-going and ultimately upbeat. While it never reaches the comedic heights of Alda’s superior films, the movie is still quite likeable, and TV vets Alda and Linden are a delight to watch in their scenes together (the scene in which Linden leaves Alda to escort his much younger date up to her apartment is hysterical).
Olive’s 1080p AVC encoded transfer marks the first widescreen release of “A New Life” and, I believe, its first home video appearance since its original VHS release in the late ‘80s! The transfer shows its age but offers a nice amount of detail. The mono audio is just fine and no extras are included.
Also New & Noteworthy
CHASING MAVERICKS Blu-Ray (**½, 116 mins., 2012, PG; Fox): Another feel-good Walden/Fox family film that’s a cut above the norm courtesy of Bill Pope’s cinematography and some terrific surfing sequences that provide a flourish to its finale. Up until then, this true-life chronicle of young surfer Jay Moriarty (a charisma-challenged Jonny Weston) and his tutorial into the world of riding giants, thanks to local surf legend Frosty Hesson (Gerald Butler), fares a bit rockier on-land. Perhaps that’s due to director Curtis Hanson having been replaced by Michael Apted after the “L.A. Confidential” helmer fell ill; the result has a bit of an uneven tone to the mostly flaccid domestic sequences, but when “Chasing Mavericks” sticks to the sea, it’s entertaining for viewers of all ages. Fox’s Blu-Ray includes a gorgeous 1080p transfer, commentary from Apted and the writers, deleted scenes, numerous featurettes, a 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack and Uitraviolet streaming copy.
RUST AND BONE Blu-Ray (122 mins., 2012, R; Sony): Typically dense melodrama from Jacques Audiard works because of its central performances. In this adaptation of Craig Davidson’s novel by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, Matthias Schoenaerts plays a street boxer with a 5-year-old son who becomes a bouncer in Southern France. There, he meets Marion Cotillard’s whale trainer whom he forms a bond with – one that grows stronger after she’s critically injured in an accident involving one of the killer whales. “Rust and Bone” may be oft-putting to some audiences, and with its lengthy running time and melodramatic tone, will be most strongly recommended to devotees of Audiard, but there’s no denying the performances: Schoenaerts is terrific and Cotillard absolutely sells her difficult role of a broken woman who tries to regain her life after a shattering accident. Sony’s Blu-Ray includes commentary from the writers; deleted scenes with commentary; Making Of featurette; Toronto International Film Festival segment; a VFX breakdown; 1080p AVC encoded transfer; and 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack boasting an Alexandre Desplat score.
TRISTANA Blu-Ray (99 mins., 1970, PG-13; Cohen Media Group/E One): One of Luis Bunuel’s most acclaimed films is the latest to receive a sterling HD remastering on Blu-Ray from Cohen Media Group. Catherine Deneuve is at her most luminous here as the title character – an orphan who’s raised by Don Lope (Fernando Rey), a nobleman who comes to accept her as both his daughter and wife. When she eventually falls in love with Franco Nero’s artist Horacio Diaz, things become complicated in an eloquent Bunuel outing that looks tremendous on Blu-Ray. Working from a new restoration of the film, the 1080p AVC encoded transfer is crisp and satisfying, with extras including an alternate ending from the film’s European release; commentary with Deneuve and critic Kent Jones; a visual essay by Peter William Evans; trailers; and both the movie’s original Spanish track with English subtitles as well as an English dubbed mix.
THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS Blu-Ray (100 mins., 2012, R; Image): Joel Matthews stars in this direct-to-video action flick as a soldier, recently returned home from combat overseas, who gets plunged into a cartel’s plan of smuggling drugs across the border. Matthews’ reluctance diminishes after one of the cartel’s strongmen (Emilio Rivera) kidnaps him and puts his wife and daughter in jeopardy; meanwhile, Ray Liotta puts in an appearance as an ex-Navy SEAL who tries to help Matthews out in this film from writer-director Waymon Boone. Available March 12th, “The Devil’s in the Details” includes a 1080p transfer, DTS MA 5.1 soundtrack and a behind-the-scenes featurette.
BORDER RUN Blu-Ray (96 mins., 2012, R; Anchor Bay): Preachy, would-be “ripped from today’s headlines” affair stars an increasingly plastic-like Sharon Stone as a “hard nosed right-wing journalist” who comes to sympathize with the plight of illegal immigrants after her relief-worker brother (Billy Zane) goes missing on the other side of the Arizona border. Patently dumb for the most part until Stone delivers a ham-fisted speech to the police in the finale, during which point the viewer can finally tell which side of the political aisle the movie was on (but you could’ve also guessed that from the premise). Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer and 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
New From PBS
SILICON VALLEY DVD (90 mins., 2013; PBS): Excellent documentary profiles the origins of Silicon Valley, specifically through the accomplishments of Robert Noyce and Fairchild Semiconductor, which paved the way for the telecommunications and modern electronics revolution. Compelling and highly recommended, with PBS’ DVD including a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
PIONEERS OF TELEVISION Season 3 DVD (4 hours, 2013; PBS): Four more episodes comprise this third season of the marvelous PBS series narrated by Ryan Seacrest. “Superheroes” focuses in on the primetime exploits of “Batman,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Wonder Woman” and “The Greatest American Hero,” featuring new interviews with Adam West, Lynda Carter, William Katt and Lou Ferrigno; “Primetime Soaps” relives the days of “Dallas and “Dynasty”; “Funny Ladies” chronicles Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Marla Gibbs and Phyllis Diller among others; and “Miniseres” is the most fascinating of the lot, profiling the rise of outstanding limited-run productions like “Rich Man, Poor Man,” “Roots” and “The Thorn Birds.” For anyone who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, PBS’ DVD comes highly recommended.
ANGUS BUCHAN’S ORDINARY PEOPLE DVD (114 mins., 2012, PG-13; Sony): Faith and fact-based drama follows three troubled men – a criminal, a grizzled auto mechanic and a young alcoholic – whose lives intersect at the Mighty Men Conference, presided over by Angus Buchan, a farmer whose evangelistic transformation fueled the film “Faith Like Potatoes.” F.C. Hamman’s film isn’t likely to win over non-believers but it’s an inspiring tale suitable for older children and their parents. Sony’s DVD, available March 19th, includes an extensive Making Of, a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack.
LAW & ORDER CRIMINAL INTENT Season 10: The Final Year (‘11 Season) DVD (6 hours, 2011; Shout!): Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe return as Goren and Eames for this tenth and final season of the second “Law & Order” spinoff. Shout’s two-disc DVD set includes the final eight episodes from the series: Rispetto, The Consoler, Boots on the Ground, The Last Street in Manhattan, Trophy Wine, Cadaver, Icarus and To the Boy in the Blue Knit Cap. 16:9 transfers and stereo soundtracks comprise the release.
SECRET MILLIONAIRES CLUB DVD (133 mins., 2012; Vivendi): Animated kids series offers youngsters lessons in business, money management and education, with “appearances” chipped in by Warren Buffett and Shaquille O’Neal among others. Vivendi’s DVD boasts six episodes from the series, bonus webisodes, 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks.
THE HIGH FRUCTOSE ADVENTURES OF ANNOYING ORANGE: Vol 1 DVD (113 mins., 2013; Vivendi): If you liked “Veggie Tales” you might get a kick out of this new series with the Youtube favorite taking to his own Cartoon Network show. Volume 1 of episodes from the show, dubbed “Escape from the Kitchen,” streets on March 12th from Vivendi, offering stereo soundtracks and 16:9 transfers.
EATERS DVD (95 mins., 2010, Not Rated; E One): Marco Zristori and Luca Boni’s Italian zombie opus delivers plates of gore, neo-Nazis and as much undead action as genre fans would hope for. E One’s DVD includes an unrated 16:9 transfer, 5.1 Italian or 2.0 English dubbed track and a Making Of featurette.
THE LONELIEST PLANET DVD (113 mins., 2011, Not Rated; IFC/MPI): Julia Loktev’s unusual drama follows a young couple (Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg) on a trip to the Georgian mountains that goes awry. Not exactly a thriller but a slow-going, moody relationship drama, “The Loneliest Planet” is interesting for adventurous viewers willing to take on its glacial pacing. MPI’s DVD includes a behind-the-scenes documentary and photos from real-life mountain expert Bidzina Gujabidze who co-stars in the film as a not particularly helpful guide. The 16:9 transfer and 2.0 soundtrack are both fine.
STRANGE FRAME DVD (98 mins., 2013; Not Rated; Wolfe Video): Stylish hand-drawn animation is the main selling point of GB Hajmin’s offbeat, futuristic fantasy chronicling the relationship between a songwriter (voiced by Tara Strong) who falls in love with a saxophonist (Claudia Black) before forming their own band. Unusual design and an eclectic voice cast (Tim Curry, Ron Glass, Alan Tudyk, Michael Dorn, Claudia Christian and George Takei comprise some of the familiar pipes) make this first-ever animated lesbian sci-fi fantasy a curious view for interested viewers. Wolfe Video’s DVD, out on March 19th, includes featurettes, a deleted scene, trailer, 16:9 transfer and 5.1 “surround sound by Skywalker Sound.”
NEXT TIME: HUDSUCKER PROXY on Blu-Ray and THE BLOB! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!