Crime Week, Day 5: The Bling Ring

Let's lighten up Crime Week a little bit!  After all a true crime doesn't have to be a shocking, gut-wrenching murder.  Breaking and entering's a crime, robbery's a crime... So how about an excellent mediation on one of society's most famous cases of both with 2013's Bling Ring, based on the real string of Hollywood Hills Burglaries from 2008 to 2009.  Now, there were actually two movies about the so-called Bling Ring, both entitled The Bling Ring.  The first, a 2011 Lifetime movie, wasn't unwatchable or anything.  Jennifer Grey is the mom and it's available on DVD, too.  But, of course, this post is for the good one, by Sofia Coppola.
Emma Watson received and proved worthy of the spotlight here in one of her first post-Harry Potter films, although it's the far less touted Israel Broussard (of the Happy Death Day movies) who really walks away with this film in the end, capturing the sincere sweetness behind the youths.  If you don't already know, the bling ring was a crew of fame-obsessed Hollywood high schoolers ("I just have to graduate so I can go to the Institute of Fashion & Design?  That's where all the Hills girls went."  "Cool.  And then intern at Teen Vogue?"  "Totes.  And then have my own line and fragrance, host my own show."  "Yeah.  I'd like to have my own lifestyle."  "Definitely.") who figure out that they can find celebrities' homes and schedules online, and that a lot of them were probably naive enough to leave their doors unlocked.  Thus began a string of burglaries that went unsolved, and often unnoticed, for over a year, despite zero cunning or care being put into getting away with it, even posting selfies of themselves in their victims homes and clothes.  Pretty vacant stars like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and Megan Fox wound up unwittingly funding equally vapid lifestyles of their underage neighbors.
The film somewhat clumsily straddles the line between an insightful examination of a damaged community unable to care for its children and a parody of celebrity culture.  Broussard is definitely starring in the former while Watson stars in the latter.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing.  It's the collision of these two dimensions that created the bling ring, and understanding their world means being able to navigate both.  And Coppola's specialty is creating a poetic ecosystem with the camera, so everything from the pop soundtrack cues to the entertainment news footage all wind up mixing together into one, authentically diseased world we can inhabit with the characters.  We also get a rare non-Apatow casting of Leslie Mann (in the Jennifer Grey role) and cameos from Paris Hilton and Coppola favorite Kirsten Dunst as themselves.  Characters narrate to an off-camera interviewer verbatim statements the real kids were quoted as saying in the famous Vanity Fair article that this film is directly based on, and Paris even allowed Coppola to film in her house, further swirling the fiction with the non, resulting in a more vibrant, complicated art piece than any single tact could have produced on its own.
The Bling Ring's history on home video ain't complicated.  Lions Gate released it as separate DVD and blu-ray releases in the Fall of 2013, and mirroring editions were released in most other regions around the world at the same time.  The only noteworthy point about that is that several of the foreign editions, especially the German editions, include a few additional brief extras, all taken from promo materials, so if you're a super hardcore fan, you might want to look into importing.  But all the extras of substance are on the US discs and all the transfers are made from the same DCP.
1) 2013 Lions Gate US DVD; 2) 2013 Lions Gate US BD.
Both discs are theoretically matted to 1.85:1, though the DVD's actually more like 1.83:1.  Both images contain exactly the same information, however, with the difference accounted for by a slight vertical stretching of the DVD.  Otherwise, like I said, it's all taken from the same DCP, so the colors and everything are exactly the same.  Of course the BD is higher resolution so it's sharper and resolves fine detail more accurately.  This film was shot digitally, so we can't look to film grain to tell us anything; but you don't need an eagle eye to see how much sharper the kids' faces are in the second set of shots, for example.  Apart from that very minor stretching on the DVD, it's exactly what you'd expect from the same transfer being used on a DVD and BD.

Things are just as predictable (happily, most surprises in this area tend to be unwanted) in the audio department, too.  Both discs feature the film's original 5.1 mix, in DTS-HD on the blu, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The only slight surprise is that the BD offers an extra, third set of subtitles, giving us both English and English SDH, whereas the DVD offers just the basic English.
The extras aren't too dense, but they're nice.  There's a 23-minute 'making of' documentary, but it's more than your standard promo EPK piece.  It's one of the more raw, revealing behind-the-scenes pieces we've come to find with a number of Coppola's films.  Then there's another documentary of almost the same length, that goes into the real story, giving you footage of the real ring members, actual security footage, interviews, etc.  When it comes to these true crime films on disc, you really want a piece like this to compare the reality to the dramatization you just watched, and this fills that need.  But if you want to go even further, the final feature is an exclusive interview with Paris Hilton, where she talks about her experience and takes us on a little tour through her home/ the crime scene, answering questions along the way ("those pillows were a gift from a girlfriend").  Finally we get the trailer and a bunch of "bonus" trailers that play on start-up.  Both editions also come in an attractive slipcover.
So this is an easy one.  A widely distributed theatrical film from the time when physical media was stronger?  If this already isn't in your collection, you can pick it up anytime, cheap and convenient.  And short of Criterion creating more extras because they've suddenly decided this is essential to their collection, the current release really leaves you wanting for nothing.  And this is such an endlessly rewatchable film, it would just be silly not to have it.

Crime Week, Day 4: Auto Focus

While we're all in Corona Virus lockdown, let's cheer ourselves up with another film about a real, terrible murder.  Yes, Crime Week continues with Paul Schrader's Auto Focus, the 2002 drama that tells the story of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane, who was found bludgeoned to death in his own bed.  You see, besides being a happily married, affable sitcom star, he'd been living a double-life as a swinger and pornographer; and for some reason, audiences didn't rush out in droves to see this in theaters.
Admittedly, I can't blame audiences for giving this one a miss.  It came at a time when star Greg Kinnear was painfully overexposed in a seemingly endless string of bad movies like Mystery Men, that movie where Robert DeNiro cloned his son, the one where he's a beaming mailman who answers kids' letters to Santa Claus, a comedy where he played conjoined twins with Matt Damon and a remake of The Bad News Bears.  And I can't imagine there was much demand for film about Bob Crane, who hadn't really had a hit since 1971, over thirty years later... especially when the advertising was centered around Kinnear in the Hogan's jacket mugging at passersby like a dozen of his other film posters.  I was reluctant to watch it myself until I was left alone with the DVD and little other choice several years after it had come and gone.
But I'm thankful I did.  If it had been introduced as an exploration of human nature and a notorious, unsolved Hollywood true crime by the man behind Taxi Driver and Blue Collar rather than a bland, lighthearted biopic of an old 60's star I barely remembered, I and I think many others, would've jumped on this.  Kinnear's persona plays perfectly into the role for the first half of the film, but by the second half we learn he can really sink into a challenging part, holding his own against Willem Dafoe, who himself goes for a subtler, more humanistic approach than some of the more gonzo performances other directors ask of him.  From the cast to the art design and Angelo Badalamenti's (Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) score, this film is surprisingly successful in all departments.  Apart from Schrader's unfortunate decision to create a handful of exterior shots digitally - which end up looking distractingly like a video game cutscene - this could almost be a perfect film.  It's certainly one of Schrader's top masterpieces.
Sony released Auto Focus on DVD as a pretty nice special edition.  Anamorphic widescreen up to Sony's usually high standards and a heap of great extras, which we'll detail below.  Just one problem.  The film, as shot, is NC-17, so they edited the film for theatrical and home video release in the US.  They didn't actually cut anything out, but they pixelated a couple shots, and removed some frames in one, giving it an odd, stop motion feel.  But only in the US.  So if you import this from pretty much any other region in the world, you'll get an uncensored version.  And Sony included the complete extras package on all those other import versions, so it's an easy fix, right?  Get any copy except the US DVD.  But in 2018, Auto Focus debuted on blu-ray from Twilight Time.  It's a genuine upgrade, but I guess Sony was still worried about the hassle of an NC-17 transfer in the US, because yup, the blu is censored, too.  That's annoying, and it's compounded by the fact that there are no foreign blu-rays of this film.  So we all have to choose between HD and uncut.
1) 2003 US Sony DVD; 2) 2018 US Twilight Time BD.
As you can see up top, the DVD is slightly windowboxed to 1.83:1,  while the blu-ray is even more slightly pillarboxed, but not enough to change the ratio from 1.78:1.  Both discs claim to be 1.85:1 on the back of their cases, but we're surely we're used to that popular mistake by now.  Anyway, that means the blu reveals just a tiny bit more information along the top and bottom than the DVD.  The matching colors, brightness, etc, shows us that despite the nice boost in clarity over the DVD, this is the same root master being used for both discs.  So despite being a much newer blu-ray than our previous few crime flicks, the master's just as old.  But Sony does good preservation work, and you can see how much more natural the film grain is captured here than on, say, Monster.  In brief, this is a better blu less in need of a new scan and holds up rather nicely.  Sure, I'd love to see another restoration for UHD someday, but for 1080p, this is quite satisfactory.

As to the audio, the DVD gives us the English 5.1 mix and a French 5.1 dub, with optional English and French subtitles.  The blu-ray dumps the French stuff, but bumps the 5.1 up to lossless DTS-HD and also includes a second 2.0 mix, also in DTS-HD.  And yes, it still has the English subs.
Now, Twilight Time didn't come up with any extras except for their usual isolated music track (in DTS-HD 5.1) and a booklet with notes by Julie Kirgo.  But fortunately, the DVD was pretty packed with great content, and Twilight Time hung onto it all, so we're not left wanting for much.  We get three audio commentaries.  The first, by Paul Schrader, gives the best overall coverage, talking about the real case, creative decisions made during the process, facts about the filming and so on.  The second is by Kinnear and Dafoe, and it's the lightest of the three.  They do provide so unique insights and bits of backstory, but this is more of just a casual chat, with Dafoe often lapsing into abject silence, leaving Kinnear to carry most of the weight on his own.  Finally, the third, by the two producers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, as well as original screenwriter Michael Gerbosi, is only an hour long (apparently they were told any longer would've maxed out the available space on the DVD disc).  But they do a great job of telling different stories and explaining things about the project before Schrader got on board, and therefore not to be found in the other extras.  The relationship between them, particularly the pair of Karaszewski and Gerbosi, is also so clearly contentious (not least because Schrader was allowed to make drastic changes to Gerbosi's material) that it's also a fascinating listen just to hear all the drama bubbling up between the lines.  I think it would've come to literal blows had they been allowed that second hour.

And that's not all.  There are several deleted scenes, which also have optional commentary by Schrader.  And there's a lengthy, almost hour long documentary about the real case, which interviews police who investigated the crime, the DA, Crane's children and Carpenter's widow.  It's quite thorough and will probably answer every question Auto Focus might've raised for you apart from who, definitively did it (although both films clearly share a very strong opinion).  Finally, there's your standard promotional featurette and two trailers.
So it's another compromised situation leaving us all with a decision we shouldn't have to make.  For myself, the benefits of the HD image outweigh the very brief instances of visual censorship.  But I can't deny those moments are distracting when they appear.  A nice European blu would solve this problem nicely, but as things stand, I can live with the Twilight Time release.

Crime Week, Day 3: Wonderland and Boogie Nights

Today, we have two very different films about the same crime.  James Cox's 2003 Wonderland tells the story of 70s porn star John Holmes, particularly the murders he was involved with.  And 1997's Boogie Nights is about a fictional group of porn stars, and while Mark Wahlberg's character is largely based on Holmes, this film doesn't pretend to be a non-fiction biography of Holmes or anyone else, instead taking moments and inspiration from all of writer/ director P.T. Anderson's memories of porn from that era.  It does, however, roughly depict its own version of the Wonderland murders, with Alfred Molina's character clearly based on the real Eddie Nash, who was played by Eric Bogosian in Wonderland.
But despite covering some of the same ground, these two films easily stand on their own.  If you ever felt "I've already seen Boogie Nights, so why do I need to bother with Wonderland?"  You're missing out.  These films have completely different goals, tones, styles...  They're completely unique artistic expressions, which both happen to have amazing, jam-packed casts.  Wonderland fits in very much with the two previous crime films we've looked at, grim excavations of humanity at its less admirable points.  On the other hand, Boogie Nights is an expansive ensemble piece, attempting to tell the story of the porn industry as it passed through the 70s into the 80s, with Holmes' story being just one (major) portion.  It transitions from an upbeat comedy to a bleak tragedy.  It's also the only film of the two with a musical number.
Lions Gate released Wonderland as a new release DVD in early 2004.  Copies with a sticker on the shrink denoting that it was a "limited edition" came with a second bonus disc.  The 2-disc version was released as a non-limited version in 2007.  And in 2010, they released it on blu-ray with, yes, all the content from both discs.
1) 2004 Lions Gate DVD; 2) 2010 Lions Gate BD.
Both releases present Wonderland in 1.78:1 (the first set of shots has some letterboxing, but that's unique for that particular split-screen shot in the film), even though I would guess - and IMDB agrees, for whatever that's worth - that this should be in 1.85.  This is clearly the same master being used for both, with identical framing, color-timing, etc.  But there's a considerable boost in clarity on the blu.  The DVD looks smooth enough that I suspect they applied a little DNR to combat the grain, so there's more room for the BD to grow.  Look how the grain on Ted Levine's forehead have been seemingly wiped away on the DVD.  Like Monster, this is an old blu so the grain is barely captured; it looks more like digital noise.  On the other hand, this movie has clearly gone through a lot of creative filtering and processing as part of its post-production, so it's hard to say how much better this film could look with a new master even if it got one.  Maybe a new blu could blow this one away, or maybe it is what it is.  At any rate, it's a satisfying jump forward from the DVD.

For the DVD's audio, we get a choice between Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 surround mixes, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The blu-ray drops the 2.0 mix and bumps the 5.1 up to DTS-HD, which is all good news in my book.  It also adds an English SDH subtitle track in addition to the standard English and Spanish ones.
Wonderland has a pretty satisfying bonus package.  Cox provides a smart and informative audio commentary along with co-writer Captain Mauzner.  There's a small collection of deleted scenes, some of which are pretty interesting, and a brief Court TV segment about the real story.  There are also some very (1-2 minutes each) with several of the cast members, which are basically just EPK soundbites, but better than nothing.  The DVD has the trailer, which the BD surprisingly dropped in favor of some annoying commercials for Lions Gate blu-rays in general.  And the most surprising extra is the almost 25-minute complete and unedited real police tape of the gruesome crime scene - is this supposed to be viewable by the public?  😳
1) 2004 Lions Gate DVD; 2) 2010 Lions Gate BD.
The sole feature on disc 2 is the feature-length documentary Wadd: The Life & Times of John C. Holmes, from 1998.  And the blu-ray includes the same fullscreen (1.31:1), interlaced SD transfer.  I'm not too mad at that, though, since the film seems to have been shot on video with all its faults baked in.  One little disappointment, though, is that the DVD included optional English and Spanish subtitles for the doc, while the blu leaves them off.  It's worth noting that this version of Wadd, on both the DVD and blu, briefly censors some hardcore footage of Holmes' real porn.  A separate DVD release of the doc from VCA Interactive is uncut and also includes unique special features (for the doc) including deleted scenes and director's commentary.  So if you're seriously interested in this film, you'll need to track that down.  But just as an excellent special feature that illuminates the fact behind Wonderland's dramatization, the version on either the Wonderland DVD or BD is beyond sufficient.
Boogie Nights debuted on DVD back in 1998 as a single disc edition from New Line.  It was an anamorphic widescreen edition with a healthy collection of special features, but that didn't stop them from issuing a 2-disc double-dip set in under two years.  That 2-disc set became the definitive edition, though, until it was time for an HD replacement; and in 2009, New Line released the first and only US blu-ray release in conjunction with Warner Bros.
1) 1998 New Line DVD; 2) 2000 New Line DVD; 3) 2009 Warners BD.
I left the negative space around the first set of shots to clarify a distinction between the two DVD transfers, specifically that the first disc is slightly windowboxed, while the other two versions are letterboxed.  The aspect ratio shifts from 2.35:1 to 2.39:1.  You'll notice the colors are different, too, going from flat and chromatic to more subdued and natural.  The brights are also flared out on the old disc, which interestingly, is labeled as a "film to tape transfer" on the back of the case.  So the 2000 2-disc set wasn't just a re-release with all new extras; it was an all new and improved picture.  The BD keeps the colors and brightness of the remastered DVD, though it widens the image out a pinch to 2.40:1.  It has the enhanced clarity and sharpness you'd expect from the boost to HD, and while the grain is soft, it's more naturally captured and rendered than we saw with Wonderland and Monster.  It's an old blu, too, but it holds up better, perhaps thanks to Warner Bros' higher standards.

Anyway, Boogie's original DVD came with English and French 5.1 mixes, with English, French and Spanish subtitles.  The 2-disc set added an additional stereo track the preexisting options.  The blu-ray drops the alternate tracks and just pares things down to the one 5.1 mix, now in TrueHD.  And the subtitle options have shifted to English, German, Latin and Castilian.
Boogie Nights got its start in the Criterion Collection, back in the laserdisc era.  But despite originally being advertised as included, the DVD dropped the vintage documentary Exhausted: John C. Holmes, the Real Story, which also had an audio commentary by Anderson.  It also replaced the audio commentary that teamed Anderson up with many of the film's leads, replacing it with a new solo commentary.  The deleted scenes with optional commentaries and a music video Anderson directed are the only extras the original DVD kept.

The 2-disc set and the BD went back and rescued the original Criterion commentary (in addition to, not in stead of, the new one), but Exhausted remains MIA.  They've also added some extended outtakes and improvisations with John C Reilly.  The blu-ray also adds the trailer, which had been conspicuously absent from the DVDs.
Wonderland wasn't a widely received film, so this blu is probably the best we'll get.  Luckily, it'll do.  Boogie Nights was a huge hit, though, so I have higher hopes for that one.  If there's ever an update (i.e. a 4k UHD, hint hint), I hope Exhausted finds its way back to the special features corner.  I also wouldn't mind seeing his original short film from 1988, The Dirk Diggler Story, on there.

Crime Week, Day 2: Monster

We move on from Snowtown to something slightly less bleak.  I mean, it's still about a string of real life grisly murders that basically illustrates our inherent unkindness to each other, showing how true love and rising above our status in life are basically impossible, naive endeavors.  But it's still got an upbeat sweetness to it the previous film lacked.  I'm talking about 2003's Monster, and it's pretty fantastic.  Unfortunately, however, that's more than I can say for the film's fate on home video.  Though, hey, it could be worse.
This film is best known for the complete (and Oscar-winning) transformation the stunning Charlize Theron underwent to become the haggard lead character, and it is remarkably impressive.  But once you get past the novelty of that, there's a real heart breaking film here that's powerful enough to contain it.  Written and directed by Patty Jenkins, this is shockingly the only feature she was able to get made for fifteen years, when she came back to conquer the box office with Wonder Woman.  So it's obvious the major studios were fools not to hire her more often; but I trust I won't be surprising anybody over the age of 15 when I say that this is the far more substantive and enriching of the two.
Monster tells the story of Aileen Wuornos, arguably the world's first female serial killer.  Showing her from a teen build and rebuild her self esteem from one crushing cycle of abuse to the next, only to get beaten down and try again, it walks an intriguing line of making you empathize with the killer, coming close, though ultimately crucially short of justification.  It certainly doesn't ask us to condone the murders, especially as they drift further and further from an initial act of self defense towards selfish collateral of robberies as the film continues.  There's a great scene mid-film where we really see how horribly wrong Wuornos has turned through her girlfriend's eyes.  But we definitely see someone acting as a result of lifelong trauma and mental illness rather than the abject sadism depicted in Snowtown.  Theron definitely delivers the critical performance and throws Wuornos's naked humanity into our laps, but the entire supporting cast is pretty great, from her hopeless love interest Christina Ricci, the unfailing Bruce Dern, The Walking Dead's Scott Wilson and yes, that is Jason himself, Kane Hodder, in that top shot.  Music's a big part of the picture, too, with a mix of well chosen pop songs and a creative score by BT.
Monster came out as a new release DVD from Columbia Tri-Star in 2004 here in the US, and it was quickly re-released as a special edition in 2005.  It was kind of a cheeky double-dip move, but I didn't fall for it, because there were already even better, more loaded special editions in other regions.  There was an intriguing German 3-disc set that included both of Nick Broomfield's documentaries on Wuornos.  But those were both already available separately, so for my money, the 2004 2-disc Metrodome DVD in the UK was the definitive choice, with the most extras actually about the film Monster.  In fact, in 2006, Metrodome reissued it as a 3-disc set, with the two Broomfield docs on the third disc, but by then I'd already committed.  Either way, Metrodome was the disc of choice until the blu-ray era, when new editions started popping up around the world, all with the same, somewhat grungy HD master and none of those expanded special edition extras.
1) 2004 US Columbia Tri-Star DVD; 2) 2004 UK Metrodome DVD;
3) 2009 US First Look BD.
So clearly a new HD master was not struck between the DVDs and BD.  The aspect ratio minimally shifts from 1.84:1 to 1.86:1 and finally the proper 1.85:1, but it's an almost invisible distinction involving very minor stretching.  Apart from that, the only difference between the two DVDs is that the Metrodome, naturally, plays at PAL speed.  The blu-ray?  Well, it's a genuine upgrade to HD, so it gets rid of all that murky softness around every edge.  Edges are clearer and the overall image is sharper and clearer.  You don't really see grain so much as squares alternatively smooth and pixelated patches (yes, this film was shot on 35mm, not digital).  It's not an image you want to zoom in on, that's for sure, and it suggests even more image detail could be restored with a fresh scan.  But what do want from a 2009 blu-ray?  You still wouldn't want to go back to a DVD.

Audio-wise, the US DVD gives you a choice between 5.1 Dolby Digital and 5.1 DTS mixes with optional Spanish subtitles.  Metrodome keeps both 5.1 mixes but also adds a 2.0 Dolby stereo mix and changes the subs to English.  The blu-ray gives us a TrueHD 5.1 mix and that stereo mix, the latter of which is still lossy, so I'm not sure why anybody would bother with that.  I've read reviews saying the sound is out of sync, but I don't know if that's just an issue screwy screener discs they were sent or what, because my copy doesn't seem to have that issue.  Really scrutinizing the sync, maybe I've spotted a couple moments that were probably ADR'd or something, but never anything like "a full second behind the lip movements on the screen."  So that's a relief, anyway.  Oh, and the blu has both the optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Now, even the non-special editions did have some extras.  Both the original US DVD and the eventual blu-ray had the exact same little special features package.  The main things are two featurettes.  One is your standard, promo-featurette with a little B-roll and interview snippets mostly filmed on location.  It runs under fifteen minutes, but it's a little better than average since it also covers the real story behind the film and even includes a few words from Aileen's best friend from high school, who has some unique insight into her back story.  And the other is about the soundtrack, and features interviews with Jenkins and BT.  Besides that, there's a little "film mixing demo" which allows you to watch a select scene from the film and flip between it in different stages of audio mixing: dialogue only, isolated music track, etc.  It's like a very brief little film school lesson.  Then there's a couple trailers, an ad for the soundtrack and that's it.
The Making Of a Monster UK exclusive
But the UK DVD has so much more.  First of all, for the record, it has pretty much everything from those other discs, including the soundtrack featurette and the mixing demo.  The only thing it doesn't have, exactly, is the promo-featurette.  But that's because, instead, it has a longer 'making of' featurette, that includes all of the footage from it plus an additional eleven minutes of footage, going further in depth.  So it's the same thing but decidedly better.  Then there's another new featurette on the real story, this time interviewing Jenkins, Theron and notably Nick Broomfield about his experience with the documentaries and how they compare and contrast with the footage.  Even better, there's a collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, including a very interesting dream sequence, and those have optional audio commentary by the director.  And that leads us to probably the biggest extra the US releases are missing: a full audio commentary by Jenkins, Theron(!) and producer Clark Peterson.  Now, the US special edition DVD from 2005 also had this commentary (but only some of the other stuff), so it seems crazy that they'd take it off again for the blu-ray.  But there it is.
So yeah, this is another one of those "build your own special edition" scenarios, where the thing to do is get the movie on blu-ray for the actual presentation of the film, and then one of the special edition DVDs for the important supplements.  I'd recommend importing the Metrodome, but the US one at least comes close.  Even then, though, the blu-ray presentation could be better, which makes this whole scenario a little frustrating.  It may not be as bad as it's made out to be - it certainly seems to be in sync - but it's definitely an old BD calling out for an upgrade.  I'll be surprised if it gets one, though.