Blu-ray Disc reviews by Bill Hunt (with Dan Kelly & Todd Doogan) of The Digital Bits
Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense
1984 (2009) - Palm Pictures
Released on Blu-ray Disc on October 13th, 2009
Also available on DVD
Film Rating: A
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 19.5
[Editor's Note: The film portion of this review is edited from a previous review by Dan Kelly.]
Moviegoing is probably one of the more subjective art experiences. The concert film is even more so than the average film. In a dramatic film, if there is a character or actor that you're not particularly fond of, there are other elements to hold your interest.
If you don't like an actor, there are sure to be scenes in which he or she does not play a part. The concert film, on the other hand, is a different story. After all, if you don't like the band playing, it's likely that you're not going to even bothering seeing the film. The focus of the film is, in fact, the band on stage. Stop Making Sense may just be the exception to that rule. Talking Heads are admittedly an acquired taste, but as a film, Stop Making Sense is so well put together, and Talking Heads put on such a great live show, that there's enough here to keep even fans of passing interest entertained throughout most of the show. This film has deservedly earned its reputation as one of (if not THE) best concert films of all time.
The stage is at first bare. David Byrne comes out wearing his trademarked white canvas deck shoes and white suit, and he performs a stripped-down version of Psycho Killer, with only a recorded drumbeat as accompaniment. He ends the song with the "spastic dance" (as it's called in the storyboards) as he trips over parts of the stage being wheeled out behind him. From there on, the performances, band and stage pieces slowly grow from modest and understated into full blown theatrical rock show. Part of the excitement in this performance is watching it grow through each song. By the time Byrne, Weymouth and company get down to doing Slippery People, one of the more inspiring songs of the set, the players (including keyboardists and back-up singers) are all on stage. Each performance is rousing and stimulating, and the performance of Burning Down the House is one of the more high-energy I've seen on film.
Jonathan Demme (best known for directing films like Silence of the Lambs and Beloved) helped bring the group's vision of their stage show to the screen, with the help of cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (Blade Runner, U2: Rattle and Hum). The pace of the concert builds in complexity and the show becomes more involving as it progresses. In this aspect, it plays out a lot like a traditional film, and less like a concert. There are also no shots of the audience until the very end of the movie. The band members (all of them, not just Byrne) are always the center of attention. Stop Making Sense is absorbing and entertaining from beginning to end.
Palm's new Blu-ray Disc edition, released to commemorate the film's 25th anniversary, features a new 1080p transfer mastered from a 35mm interpositive. The resulting image presents the film looking as good as we've seen it at home. Stop Making Sense has always been somewhat high-contrast and grainy - a little soft on detail. But that's certainly true to the theatrical experience of the film, and the BD image captures it all well. Blacks are deep and dark, and fine detail is fair. The occasional nick or scratch is visible on the negative, but the image overall is quite good looking, with moderate grain rendering a very film-like quality to the presentation. The audio quality is absolutely fantastic. Lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 is available in your choice of the live audience "feature" mix or a "studio" mix (of the two, the studio mix is recommended, as it makes the best use of the 5.1 audio space). Also available is the same PCM 2.0 stereo mix that was available on the DVD.
Extras include everything that was on the previous DVD edition, including audio commentary with Demme and all four band members, storyboards with notes by Byrne, a pair of bonus songs, Byrne's self-interview video, text notes and the film's trailer. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a never-before-seen, hour-long press conference with the full band, filmed in 1999 at the occasion of the film's theatrical re-release.
Stop Making Sense is a highly entertaining concert film, featuring groundbreaking songs, dedicated musicians, energetic (and admittedly comical) choreography and an enthusiastic crowd. Even if you're not a big Talking Heads fan, if you enjoy music and live concert material, this is one Blu-ray that should be at the top of your purchase list.
Thank You for Sending Me an Angel
Found a Job
Burning Down the House
Life During Wartime
Making Flippy Floppy
What a Day That Was
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Once in a Lifetime
Genius of Love
Girlfriend is Better
Take Me to the River
Crosseyed and Painless
Big Business/I Zimbra (bonus)
Bill Hunt, Editor
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
2003 (2009) - Office Kitano/Miramax (Disney)
Released on Blu-ray Disc on September 15th, 2009
Also available on DVD & a 4-film Blu-ray box set
Film Rating: B
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 14
[Editor's Note: The film portion of this review is edited from a previous review by Todd Doogan.]
"Beat" Takeshi takes over the role of Japan's legendary Blind Swordsman, Zatoichi - a fictional character originated by the late Shintaro Katsu.
In this advanture, Zatoichi encounters a pair of "sisters" who work as geishas but harbor a desire for revenge on the Ginzo gang (a band of toughs that threaten local merchants), who killed their parents. Ichi gets drawn into their scheme, as he's prone to do, and much blood flies from the blade of his razor-sharp cane sword. Much like the films in the original series, this adventure isn't specifically about Ichi. Rather, it spends much time with the sisters and their blooming friendship with Aunt O-ume, as well as the Ginzo gang and their boss' attempt at hiring a bodyguard in the form of Hattori, a ronin samurai with a sick wife who just might give Ichi the fight he's been looking for all these years. Zatoichi is definitely a Takeshi film. Its pace, subtle humor and its outsiderís take on violence all reveal his cinematic signature. But it's also very much an Ichi film, and you'd be hard pressed - after watching four or five random Ichi films (including this one) - to recall if it was Takeshi or Katsu in the role when remembering certain scenes. In our book, that alone makes this a success.
The video quality on Miramax's new Blu-ray version is generally good, with nice color and clarity. Contrast in particular is excellent. Fine detail is a bit lacking however, as too much DNR has been applied to the image, rendering the overall appearance a bit digital. It's worth noting that the DNR issue may not be Miramax's fault - it's likely on the master they got from Japan. We also own the European Blu-ray release by Artifical Eye, and some filtering is apparent there too. There's a little bit more detail on the European BD, but color and contrast are significantly better on the Miramax disc, so we prefer it on that score. Unfortunately, on the Miramax BD, the DTS-HD lossless mix has been wasted on the English dubbed soundtrack, rather than the original Japanese audio most fans will have hoped for. That's a shame, as this is a film that really has fun with the subtle play of audio and music cues. The sonic quality of the lossless mix is fine, but we couldn't care less because we'd never listen to anything other than the Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which as far as we can tell is the same one from the original DVD. It's also good, but the audio grade gets major points off for the oversight. (Note that the U.K. BD DOES have the original Japanese audio in DTS-HD. It's all-region, but the menus are in PAL format so not every player will be able to display them properly - the Oppo does, but Panasonic doesn't. Even if the menus aren't displayed right, however, the film should still play normally on all BD players.) A Spanish Dolby 2.0 mix is also available here, along with English subs and captions, and Spanish and Arabic subs.
The Miramax Blu-ray includes the same extras as the previous DVD version, including a 21-minute "making of" featurette and about 20-minutes' worth of video interviews with various crew members. All of it is SD, mostly in the original Japanese with English subs. (The featurette is narrated in English.) Note that the U.K. Blu-ray has these extras and more (including a longer version of the featurette, more interviews and the film's trailer). Of course, the original DVD release was a double-feature with another Beat Takeshi film, Sonatine. That's not included here, so you'll need to keep the DVD if you want it.
If the U.K. BD had the Miramax video (DNR and all), your choice would be clear. As it is, if you're a serious fan and are willing to pay a little more to get a little more, we'd still import the U.K. Blu-ray. It's worth the added cost for the Japanese lossless audio alone. If you don't really care that much, the new Miramax BD is fine... if you can get find a good sale price. Either way, Beat Takeshi's version of Zatoichi is fun and well worth a spin. It's a nice first experience with the character for those who have yet to discover the older (and highly recommended on DVD) films starring Shintaro Katsu as the legendary Blind Swordsman.
Bill Hunt, Editor