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Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap Up

My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn is the kind of Oscar baiting project Harvey Weinstein produces in his sleep, and after years of despising such material I was hesitant to care. But despite the period setting, the dead celebrity impressions, and Britonphile themes, I found myself mostly charmed by Simon Curtis’ buoyant, but not too bubbly real life story of aspiring filmmaker Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) and his adventures with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Curtis peppers in just enough era nostalgia and twee quirk to flavour the pot, and does well to keep the story moving at a pace breakneck enough to give a STV action director pause. The tone is sweet without turning sickening, the characters are loveably natural without hamming it up, and the story is shockingly relatable, though it seems to me it would relate more to fans of Monroe and the filmmaking era. My problems with the film mostly revolve around its patently ‘made for BBC’ look and feel. It’s not something I can specifically put my finger on, especially since Curtis manages to successfully mix theatrical breadth with intimate handheld looks, but even the 2.35:1 framing can’t quite make me believe I’m not watching a really good Masterpiece Theatre special. It’s also quite easy to lose track of the secondary characters, especially since the brutal pace doesn’t really allow for an epic number of on-screen personalities. The production probably could’ve done away with Dougray Scott entirely, whose Arthur Miller need only appear in frame to establish his presence, and poor Emma Watson flounders as a most inconsequential love interest. Toby Jones, Judi Dench and Dominic Cooper, on the other hand, manage to really serve the focused tale well with only minutes of screen time. All in all My Week with Marilyn is an entertaining film that doesn’t stretch much deeper, or busy itself with too much subtext (both a curse and a blessing, depending on your mood).

Shot on traditional 35mm My Week with Marilyn looks quite clean, with only a hint of grain to remind us there’s actual film infolved. The colour palette changes up quite a bit throughout the production, switching between soft pastels, harsher painterly warm hues, and natural outdoor greens and browns. The general look is all a bit soft, occasionally even smoky, so superfine details are generally not an issue, but the edges of the more sharply focused shots are basically well cut, with perhaps a touch of haloing effect during the darkest scenes. Blacks are usually tinged with a bit of colour, but remain well packed in terms of crush. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is expectedly simple based on the material, mostly coming to life in the stereo and surround channels for musical moments. There are a few crowd scenes (flashbulbs are LFE heavy) and outdoor ambiences, but this is mostly an intimate, dialogue driven affair. That said, the disc’s producers probably could’ve turned up the volume a bit. The score, which is a mixed effort from composers Conrad Pope and Alexandre Desplat gets a lot of frontal channel work, and even a hair of LFE support in its bassiest throbs. The period jazz music from the likes of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra fair even better, and are delightfully warm. The extras include a commentary track with director Simon Curtis, and Untold Story of an American Icon (19:10, HD), a behind the scenes featurette.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap Up

5 Days of War

When was the last time you even thought about Renny Harlin, let alone enjoyed one of his films? The Long Kiss Goodnight? Deep Blue Sea? Or, like me, do you have to admit a guilty affection for Driven? My point being that even Harlin’s most diehard fans (excuse the pun) have mostly written him off as a has been. According to his latest release, Harlin has fallen below the straight-to-video poverty line, and is making pseudo-propaganda films for Eastern European countries. 5 Days of War (also known as 5 Days of August for its international release) isn’t any kind of revelation, or even a particularly good movie, but as an unabashed fan of Harlin’s brand of cinematic junk food I’m happy to see the guy achieving something just this side of prestigious, at least in terms of visual impression. Harlin employs a bit of the Paul Greengrass shaky-cam approach, but generally speaking his fingerprints are all over the film, specifically in his use of the widescreen frame, and the flow of his cameras. If the estimated $12 million budget listed on wikipedia is accurate, Harlin gets a solid bang for his buck (so to speak), which is impressive following his downfall at the hands of notoriously over-budget flops like Cutthroat Island and Driven. As a director his biggest shortcoming is found in his pacing. Considering the subject matter an epic telling seems appropriate, but generally speaking this would be better served with a taught, 90 minute teardown. Mikko Alanne and David Battle’s screenplay is welcome considering how generally under-covered the Georgian/Russian conflict is, and they’re smart to approach the material from the Western press’ perspective, at least where Western audiences are concerned. Unfortunately, the meat of the conflict ends up lost in the clichéd melodrama of fictional characters, and the intricacies of the politics behind the battling are more or less entirely lost with the heavily Georgian slant, which paints the country as peaceful victims and nothing else (rumour has it that the film was partially funded by the Georgian government). 5 Days of War is an uneasy mix of gung-ho propaganda and Hollywood happy ending bullshit, but will likely find a happy audience among war action fans.

This Blu-ray comes fitted with a solid and sharp 1080p, 2.40:1 transfer that revels in its occasional mixed media approach (Red One digital HD for the bulk of the film, lower res digital for the faux-documentary footage, and even some heavily banded older style video chat footage). Generally speaking Harlin and cinematographer Checco Varese opt for a warm, high contrast look, and lean heavily on golden hues, with poppy green and red highlights. These colours are quite vibrant and remain pure without blocking or major bleeding effects. Detail levels are impressive, especially when Harlin revels in the complex textures of the Georgian countryside. The high contrast blacks look spectacularly deep, and the glowing highlights are smooth, with only minor edge haloes on a couple of the most heavily gold-hued shots. My only real complaint pertains to a handful of ghosting effects. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is aggressive during times of war, and subtly busy between action beats. The war bits are clearly the most impressive, and run a gamut from extremely bombastic, to punchy, dynamic extremes, and soft, rumbling LFE representations. Trevor Rabin’s musical score actually misses more than it hits with its heavy-handedness, but is warmly and effectively mixed among the more aggressive intensity of war noise. Extras include a deleted scene/b-roll reel (11:00, HD), and Anchor Bay trailers.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap Up

Sinners and Saints

Sinners and Saints takes place during the hurricane Katrina flood, and ties into the Iraq War, but that’s mostly where the political intrigue and modernity begins and ends. This is just about as generic as a hard R-rated cop thriller can get, featuring nary an iota of unique content to put it beyond its competition. The violence is pretty graphic, even shocking in its take-no-prisoners, any-poor-background-character-could-get-it approach, but never wild or consistent enough to fully impress as anything but a decent imitation of better filmmakers. Co-writer/director William Kaufman has been co-writing and directing indiscernible crime/action films I’ve never heard of since 1999, and clearly has a working knowledge of the cinematic process. He knows how to point and shoot, and though somewhat hyperbolically edited, his action sequences make sense and are nominally thrilling. He’s especially good at shooting precision killers doing their thing crisply and efficiently. However, I’d say Sinners and Saints looks generally sub-television in terms of production value. Breaking Bad, for example, looks more cinematic than anything here. Despite decent performances (Johnny Strong has real B-star charisma, and it’s unfortunate that he disappeared from the acting scene for a decade), none of the characters are memorable, which is especially unfortunate since the film is more character driven than narrative driven. Some of the villains ooze enough grotesque cheer to stand with the best ‘classic’ Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme baddies (there’s an amusing hierarchy of villains similar to a video game), but the protagonists are treated like the heroes of a big budget Scorsese flick, and fall spectacularly flat in serious comparison. There is a story, occasional mystery, and couple of amusing one-liners, but I honestly struggle to recall a single outstanding plot point or piece of dialogue. With a touch of comedy, and a more wacky visual sense (I’m thinking something along the lines of Wayne Kramer’s Running Scared) Sinners and Saints might have been an entertaining diversion, but as is I can’t imagine it pleasing anyone outside the most bored and uncritical action lovers.

I can’t find specs to verify if Sinners and Saints was shot digitally or on film, but I’m going to guess Kaufman and cinematographer Mark Rutledge shot 35mm, and digitally tinkered with the colour timing in post. The 1080p, 2.35:1 frame is caked in fine, fluttering grain, the contrast levels are tweaked so high that any semblance of black is crushed to its absolute darkest, and the pallet features almost cartoonish levels of saturation. These harsh colours and unforgiving black and white levels are about as clean as can be expected given the grain levels, and detail levels follow suit, appearing sharpish in close-up, but pretty blown out in medium and wide shots. The bigger problems include weird, jittery frame rate issues during some of the wider establishing shots, and some pretty heavy sharpening artefacts. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack matches expectations with a generally clean and busy sound. The shootouts feature a fair amount of dynamic range, and are reasonably eclectic from sequence to sequence. The stereo and surround speakers play a decent role here, and directional movement is particularly impressive when bullets are flying by characters’ heads, or when the camera angle changes mid shot. I’m not super impressed by this rock, pop, and classical infused score, but it’s pretty good for a first time theatrical composition, and I’m pleasantly surprised to learn the composer in hand was star Johnny Strong. The music is a consistent hum throughout the dialogue sequences, is a bit under-mixed during the action sequences, and makes its best impression when it’s rocking the LFE during montage sequences. There were a few moments I caught the video getting ahead of the sound, but otherwise there’s nothing to complain about here. Extras include Sinners and Saints: Behind the Scenes (3:40, HD), seven deleted scenes (7:00, HD), and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap Up

Texas Killing Fields

Texas Killing Fields is most notable among those of us that haven’t seen it for two reasons – it is the feature directorial debut of Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Michael Mann, and it features a pretty great cast for a movie that never got much of a theatrical release. Mann has some of her father in her, but I actually see more or the Coen Brothers and David Fincher influence in this particular film, with perhaps a hint of David Lynch for flavour. The problem is that Mann shares only texture and pacing with these filmmakers, not their quirky sense of visuals, and overall Texas Killing Fields looks a bit made for TV to me. The script, which follows a grizzled police detective and his volatile partner as they investigate a series of murders in Texas, doesn’t do a whole lot to distinguish itself from any number of modern murder mysteries/cop procedural films/TV shows either. At best the story touches upon an eerie sense of inevitability, and at her best Mann picks up on this and presents a lot of the film as a semi-gothic horror story. At worst the story makes no sense, and Mann loses the connections through awkward editing. The A/high B-list cast includes Sam Worthington, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jason Clarke, and Stephen Graham, most of whom had jobs on much more prestigious and impressive projects in 2011. Everyone has a fun time practicing their Texas accents, and generally maintains an even keel, as if the Texas heat prevents them from emoting anywhere beyond a sigh, except for Worthington, who perpetually yells his way through the film. The characters have humanity, especially Morgan (who deserves a better place in Hollywood right now), but mostly fill out boring tropes, and I found it incredibly difficult to care about any of their personal subplots or interconnections, despite Moretz’s redneck family elements showing the most promise. Too bad Winter’s Bone already got to that well and ruined it for everyone else by being so damn good.

It fortunately appears that Mann doesn’t share her father’s affection for the digital look. She and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh use digital Panavision Genesis HD cameras, and utilize the system’s grainy, 35mm look to a strong effect. This is a very dark film, generally defined by deep blacks, dry greens, golden browns, soft blues, and red highlights. The colours are consistent and pure, and when intended, plenty vibrant. Details are dependent on the amount of light in a scene, but generally reveal plenty of texture (including that grain), and relatively complex backgrounds. Contrast levels are high and sharp without much edge enhancement. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 7.1 is a bit low on volume and general stuff happening, but generally speaking, impresses with its natural tones. The aural style keeps things smooth and rich, with consistent, light environmental ambience, and even vocal tones. Unfortunately the bulk of the ambience is centered, with only a few pieces escaping into the stereo and surround channels (specifically the omnipresent thunder). There are a handful of effective directional effects, a strong, throbby LFE presence, and Dickson Hinchliffe’s spooky music is given a decent stereo presence. The only extra is a trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.