Fox Wrap-Up (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out The Three Faces of Eve, Big: 25th Ann., and The Family...
The Three Faces of Eve
A timid housewife named Eve White (Joanne Woodward) is sent to clinical psychiatrist Dr. Curtis Luthor (Lee J. Cobb) following a series of blackouts. During these blackouts, Eve seems to be doing things she doesn’t remember. Dr. Luthor realizes that he may be dealing with a rare multiple personality disorder when he’s introduced to a vulgar, boisterous party girl that goes by the name ‘Eve Black.’ As he tries to guide the Eves through their turmoil, a third personality, dubbed Jane, emerges and complicates the situation.
Fox’s ‘Studio Classics’ releases continue to be an outstanding excuse for me to catch up on the hundreds of time-honoured films I haven’t otherwise found the time to see on my own. Nunnally Johnson’s The Three Faces of Eve has been on my list for some time now. Johnson was more known as a writer where he covered a wide range of subject matter without losing his signature voice. His most celebrated written work was his adaptation of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath (I might actually prefer his adaptation of How to Marry a Millionaire), while The Three Faces of Eve is the critical favourite among the eight films he directed. Johnson developed his screenplay with Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, two clinical psychiatrists that co-authored a non-fiction book of the same name. It was the first popular account of Dissociative Identity Disorder, a still controversial diagnosis that became fodder for soap operas and daytime talk shows.
Despite the disorder having a future in schlocky television, Johnson’s film is not a trashy exposé – it’s a respectable, decidedly dark look at the issues, at least as much as a 1957 medicine could provide (Hugo Haas’ Lizzie, based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Bird’s Nest and also released in 1957, is reportedly a more tacky take on the subject matter). The opening scene, where broadcaster Alistair Cooke looks directly into camera and describes the ‘reality’ of the situation, is a bit of an educational film style flub, but, otherwise, even the more stiffly constructed sequences are considerably cinematic. Stanley Cortez’ moody CinemaScope photography plays a big part, but Joanne Woodward’s Oscar-winning turn as the title character is clearly the ingredient that perfects the formula and puts The Three Faces of Eve into its classic status. The performance could’ve been a hammy gimmick, but, even 56 years and hundreds of multiple personality characters later, Woodward’s take still feels fresh and utterly natural. Lee J. Cobb’s supporting performance, which is significantly less celebrated, is similarly organic, blending elements of warmth and authority (he had quite a year between this and Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men).
This 1080p Blu-ray is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is black & white. Once again, this is the first time I’ve seen the film, so I have no memories of fuzzy, pan-and-scan VHS tapes to compare this remaster to. Even without something to gauge an opinion on, I recognize that this is a fine, sharp, and very, very clean transfer. The grain is minimal, as are pulsing artefacts, but enough film texture is present to signify that the producers held back on digital tinkering. There are a handful of scenes that appear grainier, but these are usually dissolve shots, making the effect unavoidable (at least without heavy DNR enhancement). Details are well established from front to back thanks to Johnson and Cortez’ use of wide-angle lenses (which sometimes create anamorphic distortion) and enhancement effects are reduced to a slight haloing. The closest this transfer gets to a ‘problem’ is that the lighter elements are occasionally flattened with grey, instead of a proper mid-tone gradation, but, generally, the contrast levels are nice and subtle. The specs list The Three Faces of Eve as having a 4-Track Stereo mix, but I’m sure most theatrical releases were presented in mono, as-is this DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack. Despite the tracks being crammed into a single channel, the sound is pretty rich and very nicely layered. The dialogue track is relatively organic with a low sound floor and very little crackle (there is some distortion when Woodward sings). Robert Emmett Dolan’s score is beautifully represented without overwhelming the performances. The extras include a commentary with The Films of 20th Century Fox author Aubrey Solomon, a Fox Movietone News reel (2:20, SD), and a trailer.
Big: 25th Anniversary Edition
Tired of being a kid, Josh Baskin (David Moscow) wishes he was big. When he wakes up the next day, he’s an adult (Tom Hanks)! Now, Josh must hold down a job – and please a new boss (Robert Loggia). Tougher still, he must convince his best friend that he’s still himself, and explain to a beautiful woman (Elizabeth Perkins), who falls for him, that he’s not. Soon, Josh just wants to be a kid again, but can he? (From Fox’s official synopsis)
Penny Marshall’s Big is so easy to take for granted. Like most decades, the ‘80s were overwhelmed by mediocre, throwaway comedies, many of which fans still glom onto out of nostalgia. It’s often better not to revisit these movies as a levelheaded adult. I’ve personally had many a fond memory shattered. But Big is different. It’s genuinely special, a fact that has been proven to me after watching it for the first time in probably 20 years. There’s plenty of hideous fashion and name-branding to mark it as a late ‘80s feature, but Big also has a timeless quality and a real warmth that makes it comparable to a Frank Capra production. Marshall, along with screenwriters Gary Ross & Anne Spielberg, expertly balance a light comedic tone without overwhelming the film’s more dramatic weight or dropping over into trite sentimentality. Even when the jokes are lame, it’s awfully difficult to remain unmoved by Hanks’ charming portrayal. There’s also an awful lot of logistical thought put into this particularly irrational concept. As a director, Marshall would often lose herself in Oscar-baiting schmaltz, like Awakenings, and shockingly forgettable junk, like Renaissance Man, but her two high-concept Tom Hanks comedies, Big and A League of Their Own, definitely stand the test of time and among the best mainstream comedies of the era.
Usually, the release of a long-standing favourite on Blu-ray is reason to celebrate, but this is essentially a re-release of Fox’s original Blu-ray. The only differences are the ‘25th Anniversary’ banner, a collection of Zoltar fortune teller cards, and a slipcase cover that plays the film’s awkward version of ‘Heart and Soul’ when you open it. Fortunately, the 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer is solid without being spectacular. The limitations most pertain to the film’s understated look (it’s especially plain for a Barry Sonnenfeld-shot movie). The detail level, colour vibrancy, and general clarity changes from shot to shot a bit more than I’m used to, seemingly for no reason outside of the conditions surrounding the shot (lighting, interiors vs. exteriors). There are only a handful of moments where the difference is notable, though, with the majority of the images appearing significantly sharper than the included DVD copy. The film grain usually appears natural and elements are usually sharply separated, featuring minor edge enhancement effects along the harshest black edges. The most vivid hues, especially the pink lighting during the party sequence, have some chroma noise artefacts that likely could’ve been avoided in the mastering process, but, otherwise, I’ve got no major complaints. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix is likely the same one Fox has been using since earlier DVD versions. It’s not all that different from the original stereo track (which is also available here, though compressed). The dialogue has been nicely centered while stereo and surround effects remain true to the original spread. The directional effects are limited mostly to general ambience, like office, street, and party noise. Howard Shore’s grotesquely sappy score gets a boost in warmth from the LFE support, though there is one moment where it swells, cracks, and is suddenly much quieter towards the end of the film.
The extras are the same as those on the original Blu-ray release (and probably special edition DVD), including:
- A 130-minute extended cut of the film.
- An ‘audio documentary' commentary with writers/co-producers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg, moderated by Pete Pantrella. The ‘documentary’ part comes in when the writers play highlights of their original audio concept tapes (only available with the theatrical version).
- Eight deleted scenes (all of which are included in the longer cut), plus five intros from Marshall (15:00, SD/HD)
- Big Beginnings writing featurette (16:50, SD)
- Chemistry of a Classic cast featurette (23:50, SD)
- The Work of Play real-world toy design featurette (10:00, SD)
- Hollywood Backstories: Big retrospective featurette (21:20, SD)
- Carnival Party Newswrap EPK (1:30, SD)
- Two trailers and two TV spots
A mafia boss and his family are relocated to a sleepy town in France under the witness protection program after snitching on the mob. Despite the best efforts of Agent Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) to keep them in line, Fred Manzoni (Robert De Niro), his wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their children Belle (Dianna Agron) and Warren (John D'Leo) can't help but revert to old habits and blow their cover by handling their problems the ‘family’ way, enabling their former mafia cronies to track them down. Chaos ensues as old scores are settled in the unlikeliest of settings. (From Relativity’s official synopsis)
We still like to remember a time when Luc Besson was a good filmmaker. After all, he made La Femme Nikita, Léon, and The Fifth Element in a row – that clearly takes some kind of talent. But The Fifth Element was released 16 years ago. Since then, Besson has become a brand name, co-writing and producing some of the most generic, uninspired, and thoroughly mediocre action films of the last decade-plus. The movies he’s deemed special enough to direct himself have included universally disliked dramas ( The Messenger, Angel-A, and The Lady), partially animated fantasy films, only one of which received a major release outside of France, and, now, The Family – a depressing obituary to Robert De Niro’s career as a movie gangster. Originally, The Family was going to be another one of those movies that Besson only wrote and produced, but took on directing duties at the behest of De Niro himself. His disinterest is a pretty strong indication of the lack of interest from every corner of the production. It’s very obvious that everyone is coasting on inherent talent here. In other words, it’s a perfectly mediocre non-disaster. The screenplay was written by Besson and Michael Caleo, based on the novel Malavita, by Tonino Benacquista. Every fish-out-of-water cliché is chopped up and tossed in the pot with tired gags about mafia lifestyles. The joke wears thin very quickly, there are too many subplots (each of which require a tonal shift and each of which might have made a better movie if fully developed), and there are no real surprises in the narrative. There are, however, some cute moments and Besson gets a lot of mileage out of the fact that his characters genuinely love and support each other. It would’ve been one cliché too far if there was constant familial angst interrupting the antics. I suppose I also liked that the film is genuinely R-rated, not a neutered PG-13, like most of Besson’s recent productions – when the action gets violent, it doesn’t hold back.
The Family using both Arri Alex Plus digital and 35mm cameras. It is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p HD, though it’s rarely clear what was shot digitally and what was shot on film.. Visually, Besson and cinematographer Thierry Arbogast appear to have been inspired by fellow countryman Jean-Pierre Jeunet by including his penchant for wide-angle close-ups and his typical orange/green/red palette (though, because this is a modern movie, there’s plenty of teal tossed in there for good measure). Details are limited only by pin-point focus; otherwise, the hyper-decorative, highly-contrasted images are swimming in textures and well-separated colour patterns. Fine grain dances around most of the images, but there’s also not a lot of typical film-based artefacts. The vivid colours don’t have issues with noise and the hard edges have few notable sharpening effects. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is given plenty of chances to shine, including basic atmospheric ambience (heard best during the second act’s party scene), bombastic action interludes, and De Niro’s aurally stylized fantasy/nightmare sequences. The climax, which sort of recalls a similar series of events at the end of Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, is every bit as boisterous and aggressive as a ‘straight’ action movie, including loads of directionally enhanced gunshots and explosions. Composers Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s traditional French-infused score bounces beneath the comedy with a nice LFE throb. The various family antics are represented via punk, hip-hop, and big band jazz, all of which are given a poppy, multi-channel presence. The extras include Making The Family with cast and crew interviews (10:20, HD), The Many Meanings of FU*% montage (1:20, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Relativity releases.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 10th December 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 English, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish and French
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Expert Commentary, Movietone News, Extended Cut (Big), Writers' Commentary, Big Beginnings, Chemistry of a Classic, The Work of Play, Hollywood Backstories: Big, Carnival Party Newswrap, Deleted Scenes, Making The Family, The Many Meanings of FU*%, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nunnally Johnson, Penny Marshall, Luc Besson
Cast: Joanne Woodward, David Wayne, Lee J. Cobb, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Dianna Agron, Tommy Lee Jones, John D'Leo
Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Drama, Fantasy and Thriller
Length: 303 minutes
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