The One and Only Crimes of Passion (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

In the audio commentary, Ken Russell says he thinks this is likely Kathleen Turner's best movie, certainly screenwriter Barry Sandler's best movie, and probably his own.  I think that's completely crazy, but there's no denying that Crimes of Passion is a far out and exotic movie.  It's one you'll definitely want to watch all the way to the end.  It's got some great qualities and plenty of exoticism, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it's a particularly good movie.
We're presented with a bit of a strange love square here.  Turner is an upper class New Yorker leading a double-life as a seedy prostitute.  She's got plenty of johns in her life, but Anthony Perkins stands out as a preacher/ maniac who has a twisted obsession with saving her, forcing her to kill him, and just generally whacking out on amyl nitrite.  On the other hand, you've got straight edge, suburban John Laughlin, who's trapped in an unhappy marriage with Annie Potts (Ghostbusters, Designing Women), the bitter but very jealous mother of his two children.  Of course, everybody's paths wind up crossing, and over-sexed melodrama ensues.
So much of this film takes place in a single room/ set, that it feels like we're watching a play, consisting of silly, plotless vignettes about a prostitute's day job.  Colored lights shine and crazy synth music plays as Turner switches from one crazy costume, wig and accent to another.  Then Perkins turns up for a bit to Psycho things up, and then we take a break for a very earnest dialogue about modern marriage with Laughlin and Potts with all of the mature insight of a high school dramatist.  Every so often, there's a quick bit of story, and the whole movie takes a coffee break when Annie Potts sits down to watch MTV and we see an entire music video from beginning to end.  This movie is full of porn, nudity, Halloween costumes and dialogue like "I never forget a face, especially when I've sat on it."  I think Russell just likes this film the best because he was free to be the most self-indulgent he'd ever been this side of Fall Of the Louse of Usher.  Russell fans will be pleased to get Russell in spades; and if you're looking for outrageous, you won't be disappointed, even all these decades later.
Anchor Bay first released Crimes of Passion as a non-anamorphic, barebones DVD back in 1998.  But thankfully they reissued it in 2002 as an anamorphic special edition with additional scenes restoring it to its unrated director's cut.  And that was the definitive release for the DVD era.  But now in the days of blu, Arrow has come along with a new DVD/ blu-ray combo pack, which offers us both cuts Anchor Bay had previously released, now in HD with a brand new 2k scan.
2002 Anchor Bay DVD top; 2016 Arrow DVD mid; 2016 Arrow blu-ray bottom.
What I like about getting concurrent DVD and blu-ray releases against an older DVD is that it lets you see how much of the improved picture is courtesy of the new transfer being put on the disc, and how much is from the jump from SD to HD.  Interestingly, the license plate is actually a bit clearer on the old DVD than the new one, though obviously the blu is clearest of all.  But no, I certainly wouldn't make a case that the Anchor Bay DVD is superior to Arrow's.  The colors are so much dimmer and flatter; by comparison, the old DVD looks like you're watching it through grey gauze.  And Arrow's transfer, while still 1.85:1, pulls out to reveal more picture on all four sides (though it varies shot to shot; in some the sides are about equal).  Grain is also too small to be resolved on the old disc, but quite clear and obvious on the new blu.

Audio wise, all three discs just offer the original mono track, which is all I'd want anyway, though of course only the blu has uncompressed LPCM.  All three also include English HoH subtitles. 
And like I said, Anchor Bay's 2002 reissue was a special edition, so it's got some great extras.  First of all, there's another entertaining Ken Russell commentary.  He's joined by screenwriter Sandler, and they're definitely having fun with this film.  Besides that, there's about 20 minutes of deleted scenes.  Yes, even the 2-hour expanded director's cut still has additional scenes, all of which expand on the themes found in the feature, though most of them probably would've made the film worse if left in.  The deleted scenes also have audio commentary with Sandler (but not Ken).  Then there's the trailer and an insert with the same artwork Arrow used for their reversible cover.

Thankfully, Arrow included all of Anchor Bay's extras onto their set, otherwise we'd all have to hang onto our DVDs, because those features were essential.  They've also added new, on-camera interviews with Sandler and composer Rick Wakeman, as well as a fullscreen version of the music video that played in the film.  As I already mentioned, Arrow's blu has reversible artwork and a nice booklet with notes by Paul Sutton and archival interviews with Russell and Turner.  It's not a lot of new stuff; most of the important features are from the DVD.  But hey, a little more is still more.
So do I recommend this one?  Hmm.  If you've never seen this film, you should probably rent it before purchasing.  It's a film to see once, but maybe not to revisit again and again.  If you're a fan, though, and already have the DVD, well, I still might be tempted to prioritize the HD bump pretty low compared to other titles.  But it's certainly a clear upgrade and the best, definitive version.  The colors really pop now, which is important for this particular film.  It just depends how you feel about the film; and you'll need to see it for yourself to work that out.

Vestron Finally Shows Our Parents Some Love (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I remember first seeing the ads for Parents when first came out as a kid.  I didn't see it in theaters, but finally caught it on cable.  Back then, I was pretty disappointed, because I only knew Randy Quaid from movies like Vacation and was expecting this to be more of an overt comedy.  Sure, I could tell from the campaign that it had its dark, twisted side; but I was till imagining something like The 'Burbs or even Hysterical.  But as an adult, I appreciate that Parents, while it has some genuinely funny moments and could certainly be classified as a dark comedy, is more of a dramatically and artistically substantive piece as well, with more in common with Blue Velvet than Saturday the 14th.  So it's not a title I sought out in its early days on DVD, now the film feels like an absolute essential for my collection.  And happily Vestron has my back with a fancy new blu-ray.
Our hero is a little boy living in an idyllic 50's suburbia who only has one thing to fear: his parents.  And don't get smart with me and tell me that's two things.  His parents, as a collective unit, are one thing; and it is played to perfection by Quaid and Mary Beth HurtSandy Dennis is also excellent as a school psychologist with no idea what she's walking into, as we explore the darkness that brews underneath our supposed post-war utopia.  Not only does actor Bob Balaban (Gosford Park, Tex the Passive Aggressive Gunslinger) prove himself a capable director in getting strong performances even out of his child actors, but fills the flick with striking visuals and an immense amount of atmosphere for such an innocuous environment.  The production design is also immaculate, and particularly impressive for such a low budget feature.
Parents was originally released through Artisan/ Pioneer as a barebones, fullscreen DVD in 1999.  But in 2006, Lions Gate quietly repackaged it in a double bill with 1990's Fear, which actually upgraded it to a proper, widescreen presentation.  That widescreen transfer resurfaced in 2015's Horror Collection 6 Movie Pack, where it was still barebones of course.  But now in 2017, Vestron Video has included it in their blu-ray line, not only bringing it to HD, but loading it with special features.  Let's have a look!
2015 Lions Gate DVD top; 2017 Vestron BD bottom.
So, the first thing you'll notice is, well... I'm not sure what the first thing you'll notice is, because the blu is an improvement in so many ways.  Clarifying contrast, brighter colors and much clearer detail - you can actually make out all the little bricks in the wall of the second shot!  It doesn't help the DVD's case any that it has a serious interlacing problem, which the blu of course cleans up.  And the framing's also been adjusted from a slightly off 1.76:1 to a more intentional 1.85:1.  Taken on its own, the blu's grain resolution might still be a little soft, but it's a massive upgrade.

All previous DVDs have had the stereo 2.0 mix, but the blu has it in DTS-HD, and as usual with Vestron, they're giving the film subtitles for the first time ever.
It's a couple decades late, but Parents finally has a special edition.  Previously, the only extras this film ever had was the trailer on the original full-screen DVD.  But Vestron and Red Shirt, as always, have killed it.  First, we get an audio commentary by Bob Balaban and producer Bonnie Palef, who both remember the stories behind the film very well.  Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne history with the film goes back even further, though, and he has a lot of light to shed in his on-camera interview.  Did you know this was almost Todd Solondz's first mainstream feature?  That actually would've made a lot of sense.  Anyway, we also get another one of Red Shirt's patented "isolated score" tracks, where the first half is an interview with composer Jonathan Elias, and the second half is the soundtrack album.  They also scored on-camera interviews with Mary Beth Hurt, the unique perspective of "decorative consultant" Yolando Cuomo and DoP Robin Vidgeon.  There's also an extensive stills gallery, the trailer and two goofy radio spots.  And once again, Vestron presents it in an attractive, shiny slipcover.
Man, I've said roughly the same thing before, but this Vestron line is the most exciting things to happen to horror fans in a long time.  All these long-shelved titles finally getting their due.  I mean, the fact that this was in one of those Horror Collection sets was a good indicator, but otherwise I never would've guessed we'd see a title like Parents get this treatment in 2017 - not that it doesn't deserve it.  They've already got a set of all the Wishmaster films coming up next, but I can't wait to see what they announce after that.

The Nicole Holofcener Library

Today I thought we'd take a look at the video disc catalog of one of my favorite filmmakers, Nicole Holofcener.  She started under Woody Allen (as a PA on Hannah and Her Sisters and apprentice editor for A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy), and her body of work isn't that large yet, but she's been making features since 1996.  She also directs a lot of television (Orange Is the New Black, Sex & the City, Six Feet Under, Parks & Rec, etc), but I've seen some of it and read several interviews where she confirms my feelings that she really disappears into her TV work.  So the episodes she works on don't really feel like little Holofcener films, but just one more entry in the series.  So seek them out if you're a fan of those shows she works on, but I'm going to be focusing on her films as writer and director.  So the line-up above is pretty much the ideal Holofcener collection to date, though there are other editions of most of those titles, which we'll get into.  And she did also write the screenplay for two films she didn't direct: Every Secret Thing and Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Walking and Talking is Holofcener's first film and it feels that way.  It's got that vibe of the early Kevin Smith and Spike Lee era, like a young and low budget filmmaker preening to show off their cleverness.  It's also more of a straight forward rom-com than most of her later work that grew out of being just genre fair.  Still, it's got a lot of great writing and a terrific cast, including Holofcener regular Catherine Keener, Kevin Corrigan, Anne Heche (who, despite having a reputation as maybe being a celebrity first and an actor second, is actually pretty good in this) and Liev Schreiber.  It's just that this film is more schitcky.  For example, Heche's character playing a student therapist and basically each of her patients is a bit.  We've actually got Vincent Pastore telling her he sees a little red devil, like in the cartoons.  It's like the equivalent of the wacky neighbor in a sitcom or a pleasant couple encountering a crazy waiter in a sketch show.  But the more naturalistic moments, like Keener's character struggling to accept change or the subplot of their cat getting cancer really work.  So overall, Walking and Talking is definitely worth having in your collection, but if you've never seen a Holofcener film before, I'd say pick another one to start with and then come back for this.
Miramax released this on DVD through Buena Vista back in 2002, with a disc looking not too different from their 1997 laserdisc.  It's widescreen, and at least it's anamorphic; but looking at it today, it definitely looks soft and, well... like an old DVD.  It's actually slightly window-boxed, but only a little around the sides, like they might've been guarding against overscan.  Or maybe I'm giving them too much credit.  Either way, it's weird and shouldn't be there.  The DVD is long out of print now anyway; and in 2011, Miramax reissued it with a new, ugly cover, this time through Echo Bridge [right].  I wasn't actually expecting anything, but in the back of my mind I was hoping for a little upgrade.  Maybe a new transfer had been struck from an HD television master or something.  But I rented it, and here are the results:
2002 Buena Vista DVD on top; 2011 Echo Bridge DVD below.  ...I think.
It's essentially the same disc.  I mean, it has a new label on it; but the menu and everything are identical, and yeah, it's the same old transfer, encoded with the same ol' window-boxing and everything.  It's also barebones, without the trailer or anything; just a couple of bonus trailers and a Miramax commercial.  The Buena Vista came with an insert while the Echo Bridge disc does not.  Both versions also provide two audio tracks: a basic stereo mix and a French dub, plus optional subtitles.  Things could be worse; it could be interlaced and non-anamorphic.  But it's just kinda cheap and a disappointment for fans.
Holofcener's work really matured with her second film, Lovely and Amazing, going from a quirky and entertaining little indie comedy to real film art that's still funny and entertaining.  Everything that worked about the first movie is here, including Keener as another character unable to deal with change in her life, though this time she's got some great new layers.  And everything that fell a little flat has been replaced by killer new material.  This film does overtly deal with feminine body and beauty issues, but where most films today (including some current Oscar nominees, cough cough) would come off patronizing and lame, this film handles in a brilliant and honest way.  The drama is also more affecting, where the previous film only really managed to make you feel that way about the cat.  This time you're really pulled into the intertwined stories of Keener, Emily Mortimer, Brenda Blythe and child actress Raven Goodwin, who actually won a lot of awards for this at the time.  I'm sure DVDExotica regulars will also get a kick out of seeing Phantasm 2's James Le Gros in a fairly sizable role, not to mention a young Jake Gyllenhaal.
Lovely and Amazing was put out as a new release by Lions Gate in 2002, just a few months after Walking and Talking, but looking substantially better.  Still standard def, of course, but better compressed, and no weird window-boxing.  The film's 1.78:1 this time, contrast is a little stronger and the colors are more natural.  This was reissued in 2003 as part of Lions Gate's gimmicky Signature Series (according to Todd Solondz, they didn't even use the filmmaker's real signatures on the covers), but like all of those releases, they're the exact same discs.  So it doesn't matter which one you buy.  The audio is in 5.1, and includes optional English and Spanish subtitles.
And this release is no fancy special edition, but we do get something this time, and at least somebody put in a little effort.  The primary special features are four, very short featurettes (about 2-4 minutes each).  They're all on-camera interviews edited together, thankfully without clips of the film, considering how short they are, and they do manage to bring in most of the cast as well as Nicole herself.  We also get the trailer this time, plus one of the least exciting easter eggs of all time: a bonus trailer for an unrelated rom-com.  No insert this time, except for a Lions Gate catalog.  Really minimal stuff, but for us starved fans, at least it's not nothing.
Next up is Friends With Money, which was possibly her highest profile film - I mean, look at that screenshot; it's in 'scope for gosh sakes - but I think gets a bit of a bad rap.  Jennifer Aniston is one of the stars, and this came out when she was right at her peak, and audiences had very set expectations of what a Jennifer Aniston comedy was.  So I think some people were a little underwhelmed to receive a more grounded Holofcener film instead of more ribald date movie.  But taken as it is, it's pretty great.  The cast is spot on.  Aniston is suited for Holofcener's style, and alongside Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and of course Catherine Keener, all of Holofcener manages to shine through whatever Sony may've mandated for this production.
2006 Sony DVD widescreen on top; fullscreen below.
Consequently, the 2006 Sony DVD is also Holofcener's only real special edition.  I mean look, they even give us a choice of viewing ratios: 2.35:1 and 1.32:1.  Obviously the prior is correct; but the latter gives us a peek behind the mattes, at least well as chopping off some of the sides, of course.  For standard def, the picture looks pretty great, and is pretty representative of the top of the line in 2006, you know, considering there's a lot of handheld camerawork.  The audio is in 5.1, with an optional French dub, plus optional English and French subtitles.
And we get a healthy dose of extras.  Admittedly, no awesome two-hour documentary, but we do get Nicole Holofcener's only audio commentary (along with producer Anthony Bregman), an eleven minute making-of, and two featurettes: one looking at the Los Angeles premiere and the other a promotional talking heads piece.  That's probably the most they could squeeze onto a single-sided disc anyway, considering they gave us two versions of the film.  There's no trailer, which is a little surprising since they threw in a whopping eleven bonus trailers, but it's still the most satisfying special edition in the library.  Oh and the insert's just an ad for other Sony DVDs.
And now that we reach the new films, we finally get them in HD!  Please Give is a film that came and went pretty much under the radar.  Despite being back in 'scope with more Sony money, I'm not sure anybody even noticed besides her loyal fanbase, which is a shame because it's so good.  I feel like we're watching Catherine Keener grow up with us in these films like Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter films.  Here she's married to Oliver Platt and concerned with her looming mortality because she lives a high quality of life seemingly at the expense of everyone around her.  We've got another terrific ensemble, with strong performances by Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet as sisters and The Dick Van Dyke Show's Ann Morgan Guilbert playing their grandmother.
2010 Sony DVD on top; 2010 Sony blu-ray below.
So like I said, we're still in 2.35:1.  The HD obviously trumps the DVD, with a cleaner, less smudgy look.  But it's still soft and I'm noticing some edge enhancement halos (it's on the DVD, too).  Unfortunately, somebody at Sony had some bad ideas about "fixing" the picture up and wound up doing some harm.  Apparently, this was shot in 16mm, so perhaps a lot of effort went into making it look like a more typical, modern film.  It's no disaster, but the softness is disappointing.  The audio's in 5.1, in DTS-HD on the blu, and also includes a French dub plus English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Special features are minimal but not non-existent.  We get your standard 'making of' featurette, a brief Q&A with the director, a couple quick outtakes and the trailer.  And there's a bunch of bonus trailers.
Finally we come to her most recent film to date.  This one seemed to sit on a shelf for a little while, but wound up getting a lot of exposure when star James Gandofini died and this was his last picture.  Thankfully, Holofcener's Enough Said was a good enough film to stand up to that additional scrutiny.  It actually feels like a return, in a way, to Walking and Talking.  It's more of a traditional rom-com, and even stars a female lead who initially rejects her love interest for being physically unattractive.  I've never heard her say so or anything, but I sort of imagine Holofcener decided to take a second pass at her first film and update it with her more mature sensibilities.  Probably not, but if she did, it certainly worked.  I remember the trailer ham-fistedly edited some of the jokes, but the final film's quite good, while still being a lot more light-hearted than the last couple movies.  Having excellent co-stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Toni Collette and of course Catherine Keener, of course, really helps.  There might be a little less dramatic heft or meat on its bones; but it's still expertly made and charming.  Again, it's like Walking and Talking for grown-ups.
2014 Sony DVD on top; 2014 Sony blu-ray below.
And we're back to 1.85:1.  Happily, this has none of the issues we saw with Please Give.  It looks super crisp.  Even the DVD is a testament to how a first class transfer can shine through even in standard definition, and outshine some blus with weaker source masters to pull from.  Perhaps being a digital film (Holofcener's first, though she probably got some previous experience with the medium on television), where it had to pass through less processes to wind up on our home video discs, helped eliminate any hurtful alterations.  The audio is in 5.1 DTS-HD, with a French and Spanish dub, plus optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.
As far as extras, again we get a few little things.  There's about six minutes of outtakes, and five tiny featurettes, averaging 3-4 minutes apiece.  And unlike some others, these are heavy on clips from the film, and a few interview soundbites even repeat, so you have to sift to find tiny nuggets here.  Still, I highly prefer that over nothing.  The trailer's also on hand, and this release does come in a slipcover.  Oh, and interestingly, the outtakes (but not the other stuff) are a blu-ray exclusive; they're not on the DVD release.  I wonder how many people made the jump from DVDs to blu just for them?
So that's her entire catalog so far.  She's already filming her next film, The Land of Steady Habits, but apparently it's for Netflix, so we may have a long, annoying wait for any kind of physical release. In the meantime, you know what I'd love?  For Criterion to pick up her early DVD-only releases, restore them in 2 or 4k, and release them as an awesome trilogy set, like they did with Whit Stillman and Wallace Shawn.  Or even just the first two if Sony is difficult about licensing Friends With Money.  Fresh transfers, substantive extras with Holofcener and some of her great cast members, maybe even a retrospective documentary on her career, and throw in her still unreleased short film Angry.  That would be incredible.  And if they hustle, it could coincide with the release of her next film.  But in the meantime, this is what's out there.