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Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

Cinema Paradiso

(1988, BD release March 21)
The story of Salvatore, a successful film director, returning home for the funeral of Alfredo, his old friend who was the projectionist at the local cinema throughout his childhood. Soon, memories of his first love affair with the beautiful Elena and all the high and lows that shaped his life come flooding back, as Salvatore reconnects with the community he left 30 years earlier. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Contrary to popular opinion, I’m actually not a fan of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso. On top of that, I was not prepared to review this particular release, which, thanks to its reputation, obviously deserves critical attention. With that in mind, I’ve cheated and stolen bits from Jonathan’s positive review of the Lionsgate barebones Blu-ray (nobody tell him though):
Quote: Cinema Paradiso is filled with hilarious, childish antics, endearing characters, and to this day it remains one of the most romantic views of cinema that has ever been committed to celluloid. This is in no small part due to Ennio Morricone's delightful score. It is one of those soundtracks that you've likely heard in many other movies and television shows without realizing it. It drives the emotional impact of the movie home, while the terrific performances from the main characters don't miss a beat.

There's a real sense of community to village that the Cinema Paradiso occupies. You gain a familiarity with the cinema's patrons, and this allows for the slapstick jokes to really hit the mark. For example there's the snobby man on the balcony who always spits on the people below him, until one day the favor is returned in the form of a used diaper. A Catholic priest censors kisses out of films, which is often met with a booing crowd. When the theater gets new ownership and a kiss occurs on the screen, the audience goes wild with joy and the place all but turns into a full on brothel. Tornatore's displays a sense of humour not unlike the type Federico Fellini showed in Amarcord, which is very much a good thing. It pokes fun at censorship, authority and class disparity, while demonstrating that the power of cinema can bring people together from many different backgrounds.

Around the halfway mark, things take a darker turn. After tragedy strikes at the cinema, Salvatore grows up and his adolescent nonsense is replaced by an interest in a young woman named Elena. This section of the film isn't as engrossing or memorable as what comes before it, and part of the reason I prefer this version of the film is because the longer cuts devote more time to this romantic subplot. The movie possesses some truly saddening moments (which I won't spoil), it always keeps its wits about it. When coupled with the heartwarming relationship between Alfredo and Salvatore (which is fatally minimized in the other versions of the film), the result is a captivating and memorable love letter to cinema. There are wonderful images and scenes in Cinema Paradiso that stick with the viewer long after viewing, and lovers of film owe it to themselves to see this classic.


Arrow’s release includes the first ever US Blu-ray availability of the 173-minute extended director’s cut, as well as the original 121-minute theatrical version (there is no sign of the original director’s cut, which reportedly ran 155-minutes). Previous DVDs often featured both cuts, but, for whatever reason (perhaps the condition of the materials?), there was never an HD release of the longer version until Arrow put out a version of this disc in the UK (in 2013). In regards to the different cuts, Jonathan says:  Quote: While the extended cuts fill in some of the gaps of the story, I prefer the pacing and focus of the international cut that is on this Blu-ray. For those that have not seen the film, I recommend starting here. This is one of those rare cases where the cut version is objectively superior to the director's vision, but fans and purists should take the time to watch both.

Whatever your preference, both version have been sourced from the same restoration. The original 35mm negative was scanned at 2K and the footage was digitally cleaned up with an eye for authenticity – meaning that the people behind the restoration avoided smoothing out grain texture or changing the original colour timing. I didn’t bother taking screen caps for the sake of direct, frame-to-frame comparison, but a brief glance at the full-sized caps included with Jonathan’s review reveals that Arrow’s disc is a massive upgrade. Details are much sharper, dynamic range is much deeper, and there are no signs of the older transfer’s edge enhancement, mushy gradations, or compression effects. The colour timing is also notably different, correcting the Lionsgate disc’s hazy, cooler look. It’s arguable that the remaster has skewed a bit too red with the skin tones, but there’s no question that the warmth makes a big difference in terms of maintaining that aforementioned dynamic range. The blues of the theater interiors and lush greens of the countryside are not hampered by the brighter reds and yellows, either. The only real issue I see here is an uptick in grit throughout the darker warm hues and I assume this is a natural artefact. Most of the gradations are smooth without depleting the important grain texture.

This Blu-ray includes an uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio version of the DVD’s 5.1 remix for both cuts of the film, as well as an LPCM mono theatrical cut option for the theatrical cut and an LPCM 2.0 stereo option for the director’s cut (the Lionsgate release only had a mono option). All of the tracks feature the original Italian language only (even during the late ‘80s, this, like other Italian films, featured quite a bit of ADR work). I usually err on the side of avoiding unnecessary remixes, myself and, though I found this 5.1 track to be respectful of the original stereo design, I was particularly disappointed by the lack of a real discrete center channel. The slight stereo spread of some of the dialogue puts me in the mono/stereo camp, despite the fact that Ennio Morricone’s spectacular score does get a boost from the surround and LFE channels.

The extras match the UK release (and are similar to the Umbrella Entertainment’s Aussie DVD), including:
  • Audio commentary with director Giuseppe Tornatore and Italian cinema expert critic Millicent Marcus – I believe this track was originally recorded for the Weinstein Company deluxe DVD release and is only available with the theatrical cut. Marcus acts as more than moderator here – she’s an expert who has studied the film and spoken to the filmmakers, who frames the themes, discusses the behind-the-scene process, and includes interview clips with the director (speaking English) for further context. Interview clips aside, this is among the most screen specific tracks I’ve ever heard as Marcus does her best to describe every single shot she can, which can be a bit overwhelming, but this is ultimately a satisfying and educational experience.
  • A Dream of Sicily  (54:45, HD) – This made-for-television documentary profile of Tornatore and his career features interviews with the man himself, Salvatore Giuliano (1962) director Francesco Rosi, and painter Peppino Ducato. The interviews are set against extracts from Torantore’s early home movies, his features (mostly Cinema Paradiso) and pieces of Morricone’s music (including extracts from his spaghetti western work).
  • A Bear and a Mouse in Paradise (27:26, HD) – The director discusses the genesis of Cinema Paradiso, its themes, and the characters of Toto and Alfredo. Actors Philippe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio are also featured here as interview subjects.
  • The Kissing Sequence (7:01, HD) – Tornatore talks about the origins of the famous “kissing sequence,” including with full clips identifying each kiss within the montage.
  • Director’s Cut and 25th Anniversary re-release trailers


 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

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Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

Property is No Longer Theft

(1973, BD release March 28)
A young bank clerk (Flavio Bucci), denied a loan by his employer, decides to exact his revenge on the local butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) who is not only a nasty, violent, greedy piece of work but also one of the bank’s star customers. Quitting his job, the clerk devotes all of his time, tormenting the butcher and stealing his possessions one-by-one, including his mistress (Daria Nicolodi). (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Even with decades of accolades (including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film) and an enduring legacy, Elio Petri’s career is still overshadowed by the likes of his arthouse and left-wing filmmaker contemporaries. His films have aged beautifully, because of their unique personalities, which combine genre parody, endlessly relevant political satire, and pointedly absurd situations. Few filmmakers are able to satisfy artistic and social curiosities with such potent entertainment value. After exploring S&M relationships in A Quiet Place in the Country (Italian: Un tranquillo posto di campagna, 1968) and touching upon the corruption of authority through the lens of the giallo and poliziotteschi (or ‘Eurocrime’) movies with Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Italian: Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto, 1970), Petri applied his ‘man trapped in a Kafkaesque Möbius strip of his own design’ formula to Property is No Longer a Theft (Italian: La proprietà non è più un furto). This film bares all the hallmarks of the director’s best work – comedically co-dependent sexual relationships, a subversion of genre traditions, and dream-logic soliloquies – as it takes direct aim at the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of capitalism.

Property is No Longer Theft skews towards straight spoof, moreso even than Petri’s absurdist sci-fi comedy The 10th Victim ((Italian: La decima vittima, 1965), occasionally tripping over the line into the kind of googly-eyed parody that makes too many Italian comedies so obnoxious. Fortunately, the director and co-writer Ugo Pirro maintain a sarcastic edge that holds the hamminess at bay. In keeping with his other films, this one can be very difficult to follow on a plot level, but this is, I believe, by design, because plot is secondary to the artistic and social statement. The bigger hurdle for English-speaking audiences is the wordplay, which does not translate as well as the concepts and physical comedy. Fortunately for all concerned, Petri’s lively direction, Luigi Kuveiller’s virtuoso camerawork, and Gianni Polidori’s ultra-chic production design are delectable enough that it’s easy to overlook a few missed jokes and other cultural barriers.

Flavio Bucci, best-known for his later appearances as a dim-witted thug in Aldo Lado’s nasty, politically-driven Last House on the Left-inspired Night Train Murders (Italian: L'ultimo treno della notte; aka: Late Night Trains, 1975), the blind pianist in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), appears in one of his only leading roles and is joined by a devilishly sexy Daria Nicolodi, who about to meet Argento herself while making Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975). Co-lead/antagonist/victim of the Kafka nightmare Ugo Tognazzi had enjoyed an illustrious career at the time, including a central performance in Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (also released on Blu-ray from Arrow), as somewhat similar cultural satire that was released the same year as Property is No Longer Theft. Also note that this film is considered to be the final chapter in a loosely-knit “Trilogy of Neurosis” (sometimes referred to as the “social schizophrenia” trilogy) that includes Investigation of a Citizen and The Working Class Goes to Heaven (Italian: La classe operaia va in paradiso, 1971). The former is currently unavailable on English-friendly DVD or Blu-ray.

Property is No Longer Theft was released on Italian DVD, but without English subtitles, so Arrow’s Blu-ray marks the film’s English-friendly debut on any digital format. The footage was remastered on behalf of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (in Torino, Italy) and Cineteca di Bologna (in Bologna, naturally). The original negative was scanned in 4K and then restored digitally at a 2K resolution (it doesn’t seem like Arrow was directly involved in the process, outside of mastering the Blu-ray itself). The effort has resulted in a fantastic and very natural-looking 1.85:1, 1080p transfer. Based on the film’s age and fact that cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller’s photography is designed to appear somewhat soft, I doubt this particular movie could look any better than it does here. Though the grain is sometimes heavy, depending on the type of shot (darker scenes and the ones affected by dreamy soft focus), the overall effects appears natural and rarely hamper the even levels of the gradations. Details are relatively sharp, especially the patterns within the complex production/set design and close-up textures. Colour quality is vibrant without being overly-punchy and most of the hues are neatly separated. The only notable issue is the strength of the black levels, which are pretty grey. I assume that this is the result of the restoration staff trying to lighten up some sequences that appeared too flat and/or dark. The effort was not in vain, because, while the blacks are particularly deep, different shades are neatly defined.

The original mono Italian soundtrack was also restored from the original optical negative and presented in uncompressed LPCM. There are hints of fuzz and hiss throughout the dialogue and effects tracks, but plenty of ‘roundness’ for an Italian production and not a lot of high-end distortion. As per usual for movies from the area and era, there was no recorded on-set sound, so all of the performances are ADR’d and all of the minor, mostly incidental effects were achieved using foley work and library sounds. Ennio Morricone also composed this film’s musical score. It isn’t nearly as famous as his work on the more popular Cinema Paradiso, but offers plenty of off-kilter character, including the experimental, rock and jazz-inspired edge he patented while scoring spaghetti westerns and gialli. The music conveys considerable aural depth for a mono track and its many layers are easily discernible during the most boisterous moments.

Extras include:
  • My Name is Total (19:46, HD) – Flavio Bucci recalls his career and working on Property is No Longer Theft.
  • The Middle-Class Communist (23:33, HD) – Producer Claudio Mancini discusses coming up in the industry, working with leftist filmmakers (Petri, Giuliano Montaldo, and Giulio Questi), and the films he produced with/for Petri.
  • The Best Man (23:04, HD) – Makeup artist Pierantonio Mecacci also talks about his earlier career and making Petri’s actors look good over the years.


 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

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Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

The Creeping Garden

(2014, BD release March 14)
Long overlooked by biologists, in recent years, this curious organism has become the focus of much research in such areas as biological-inspired design, emergence theory, unconventional computing and robot engineering; much of which borders on the world of science fiction. The film transports us from the laboratory into its natural habitat, depicting these otherworldly lifeforms using startling time-lapse macro-cinematography to reveal hidden facets of the world around us. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Tim Grabham & Jasper Sharp’s The Creeping Garden occupies a nebulous space between an arthouse midnight movie and high school science class documentary, and, as such, scratches a cinematic itch I never knew I had. I have seen surrealistic and artfully involving documentaries before, but few, if any, have taught me something I never knew about the natural world, while also soothing and disturbing me with mesmerizing imagery and music. Grabham apparently did similar arthouse/doc stuff with his first feature, KanZeOn (2011), and Sharp, who is making his directing debut here, is better known for his writing on Japanese film ( Behind the Pink Curtain, 2008, and The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, 2011), as well as his participation on a number of commentary tracks for various Japanese BD/DVD releases. Their love of genre film ensures that there are allusions and call-outs to sci-fi movies about blobby, people-eating monsters, but the real meat of the material here is the skin-crawling, yet fascinating imagery and the deadpan, sometimes horrifying descriptions of the physarum’s functions. Additionally, the filmmakers explore the roots of timelapse photography, which sets the historical significance of the study and, intentionally or not, frames the slime mould’s horrifying/incredible movements in a pseudo-mythological way. The latter half of the movie explores experiments designed by both artists and amateur scientists. Though these projects are also quite interesting, descriptions of their creative/scientific intent can occasionally distract from the purity of the physarum footage. I’m probably not alone in my desire for an alternate, companion-piece supercut of the macro-photography.

Creeping Garden was shot using various digital cameras (they aren’t all listed in the specs) and is presented on Blu-ray in 2.35:1, 1080p video. Despite the mix of macro and microscope photography and standard shots of humans doing research, et cetera, the film has a very uniform look to it, likely due to delicate colour timing and other tampering in post. The results are very clean and sterile, but also moody with dark edges and desaturated environments. The transfer captures the complex textures of the slime itself and contrasts that with the smoother, more orderly details of the ‘human world’ – though these ‘standard’ shots do exhibit some minor blocking/aliasing along the harder edges.

Despite being a very new movie, Creeping Garden was not mixed into 5.1 and is instead presented in its original 2.0 audio and uncompressed LPCM. There is on-screen dialogue in the form of clips and interview footage, but the majority of the sound is devoted to the eerie mix of abstract sound design (which blends artificial and natural noises into an immersive aural stew) and composer/producer Jim O’Rourke’s (of Sonic Youth fame) computerized score that he created by rearranging the physarum-inspired music discussed throughout the film. Even without discrete center and surround channels, dialogue/incidental noises do seem to be centered and the music encompases the room just fine.

Extras include:
  • Commentary by directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp – This charming and informative track is a nice contrast to the moody qualities of the film. Grabham and Sharp mostly focus on the process and challenges of making the movie, rather than delving further into the science of slime moulds.
  • Biocomputer Music (6:06, HD) – A closer look at the science fiction-like biocomputer music system, which is featured in the movie. With this, slime mould is able to ‘communicate’ musically.
  • Return to the Fungarium (3:03, HD) – Footage of the other organisms in the fungarium at Kew Gardens.
  • Feeding Habits of Physarum (2:19, HD, optional subtitles) – Professor Andrew Adamatzky discusses the feeding preferences of physarum.
    • cinema iloobia short films – Grabham’s macro-photography and science-related shorts that inspired The Creeping Garden:
    • Milk (2009, 1:12, HD)
    • Rotten (2012, 1:16, HD)
    • Paramusical Ensemble (2015, 9:43, HD) – Concerning locked-in patients who compose music with new computer technology
  • Angela Mele’s animated slime moulds (2:48, HD) – Basically, this is the end credit sequence created using Mele’s illustrations, minus the text.
  • Still gallery
  • US theatrical trailer
  • Bonus Soundtrack CD


 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

 Arrow Academy Review Round-Up

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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