Infernal Affairs Trilogy Criterion Collection Review: Dearly Departed

I love to see all the Hong Kong cinema in the Criterion collection. I hope they do more Jackie Chan beyond Police Story and John Woo’s Bullet in the Head is just sitting there. I’d be happy for Royal Warriors (whole In the Line of Duty series maybe?) but for now, these three classic dramas that inspired The Departed are here. 

Revisting them I realize The Departed only took the concept of two moles, so there’s a double threat to the undercover cop story. But the American and Hong Kong films tell their own stories. 

The Blu-ray transfer looks beautiful. Opening in a temple, the golden statues shine. You see the film grain in the blue sky, and smokey interrogation rooms are atmospheric. 

The first Infernal Affairs has good, subtle surround sounds. The score punctuates in the rear and you hear distant bumps and clanks, but it’s not constant. 

It’s interesting they made the sequel a prequel about how both these moles got places and the rise of the criminal organization. Infernal Affairs II looks a tad more washed out. Maybe it’s filtered as a prequel, and again surround sounds are limited to effects like doors closing behind characters. 

Infernal Affairs III adds layers to the first story in flashbacks set during it, and deals with the aftermath. It seems to go back to the original aesthetic after the sequel. Surrounds still has doors opening and closing in the rears and chanting on the score. A phone ringing would make you check yours if we still had landlines. 

The first film has the most bonus features but each sequel has some, and a lot on the first disc cover the entire trilogy. But it’s always appreciated when series sets give some love to the sequels.

A new directors interview is 38 minutes and covers their career paths, the influence of Face/Off and the casting process through post. It’s interesting to hear the studio wanted more action because it’s not that kind of Kong Hong movie. They touch on The Departed at the end. 

A series of 2007 interviews is more reflective about the state of Hong Kong just five years prior. And they’re filmed on location so it’s nice to see Hong Kong in background. 

All three films have an EPK from the set, Confidential File which is B-roll, and outtakes or deleted scenes and bloopers. They used to include B roll on everything. The outtakes on the first film show you multiple takes of several scenes. Infernal Affairs II has 4 deleted scenes running 10 minutes. 

The commentaries are consistent, scene specific in parts and general in others if you want a really deep dive. Infernal Affairs III has interviews from 2004 with some of the cast.

Night of the Living Dead Criterion Collection 4K UHD Review: Black and White and Dead All Over

It was monumental when Criterion added Night of the Living Dead to the collection. It had been widely available on generic public domain releases before that Blu-ray. Now, it’s been bumped up to 4K UHD.

The Criterion 4K is immaculate black and white. You’ll see the grain of the original 1968 film, but no artifacts of multiple generations of copies. That farmhouse set creates a lot of shadows cast through the boarded up windows, now in high dynamic range of 4K. It’s really amazing how we get to keep rediscovering Night of the Living Dead more than 50 years later.

The recent Criterion Collection Blu-ray already gathered a wealth of bonus features, from new retrospective with modern masters reflecting on its legacy, to recordings of the filmmakers from 1994 reflecting on the film. 

Blow Out Criterion Collection 4K UHD Review – Sound It Out

The Criterion Collection has added Blow Out to their 4K lineup. Hopefully this is only the first of Brian De Palma’s thrillers to get the upgrade, though Paramount’s The Untouchables beat Criterion to it. 

4K serves De Palma’s noirish leanings well. In the opening stalker movie sequence, only the light inside the windows is visible. It’s pitch black outside, and again when Travolta goes out at night recording sound. 

You still see the grain of the film as intended. That trademark split diopter shot keeps Travolta and an owl equally sharp, or Travolta listening to headphones and a squaling tire on the other half of the frame. 

More heightened scenes like the pan around the sound booth exaggerates the strobe effect to an epic degree. The sights of 1981 Philadelphia are exquisite and climax in a colorful parade. The epilogue features a beautiful snowfall. 

Since Blow Out is all about sound, it certainly uses the surround sound subtly. You’ll hear the stalker sounds in the rear, thunder, conversations he captures with his long range mic, the frog, the owl, hospital bustle. But, the dialogue is a bit low in surround mode so standard stereo might be best. 

The bonus features on the Blu-ray disc include an hour-long De Palma interview by Noah Baumbach, Since they’re both filmmakers, they can get technical and artistic, along with sharing practical anecdotes. A recurring theme is De Palma using the camera intentionally, avoiding closeups and coverage. 

Nancy Allen talks for 25 minutes circa 2011. She has some anecdotes but it’s more about her impressions of De Palma, Travolta and Dennis Franz. Photos of the marketing shoot are fun and her take on the ending is worthwhile. 

Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown demonstrates his equipment, then discusses shooting the fake horror movie opening. 

De Palma’s black and white student film Murder a La Mod looks great on Blu-ray HD.

Double Indemnity Criterion Collection 4K Review: Film Noir Fred Approves

The Criterion Collection upgrades this classic to 4K and it is a nostalgic black and white tour of LA in the 40s. The print is immaculately clean, except for occasional scratches in an exterior shot or the beer and bowling montage.

While a bit softer than black and white 4Ks like Schindler’s List or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (it’s also older by decades so on less advanced film stock), the shadows work and get more intense the deeper Neff (Fred MacMurray) gets in the scheme. The train station scene has a lot of examples of emerging from the shadows.

New bonus features show there’s no end to the new perspectives one could offer on Double Indemnity. Noah Isenberg shares the Wilder family history and how Billy emigrated from Poland/Austria. Family still in the Holocaust weighed on Double Indemnity.

Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith focus on genre while addressing adapting the book and toning down screenwriter Raymond Chandler for the production code, explain subtle digs at the studio brass, and alternate endings. 

Among the historical extras of note are two editions of a Double Indemnity radio play starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. At 30 or 56 minutes, both adaptations include dialogue verbatim from the film, and the original radio ads.

Miller’s Crossing Criterion Collection Review: Still Crossing

When I requested a review copy of Miller’s Crossing I didn’t know it was a new director’s cut. While I believe the original cut should also be included, it’s been long enough since I’ve seen Miller’s Crossing I honestly can’t tell the difference in two minutes removed.

Miller’s Crossing is still one of the finest gangster movies ever. It boats finely crafted period detail and exquisitely drawn characters so the shifting allegiances are compelling, and of course the violence executed with Coen Brothers panache.

A 28 minute Coen Brothers interview focuses on literary inspirations and touches on some noir film adaptations. Along the way, they address making some specific scenes and casting. They also describe a scene they never shot. 

A Gabriel Byrne/John Turturro interview runs 32 minutes, while Carter Burwell discusses his third Coen Brothers movie and 8th film in his career. Barry Sonnenfeld gets technical but easy to understand. Archival cast interviews from 1990 shows they were thinking of the same things back when they made the film as they discuss in the new retrospective interviews. 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Criterion Collection Blu-Ray Review

I saw Hedwig and the Angry Inch when it first came out, and remembered songs like “Wig In A Box” and “Angry Inch.” Over the years it became a Broadway phenomenon, and I wish I’d seen NPH or Darren Criss perform it. Criterion putting out a new Blu-ray was a great excuse to revisit it, and of course now I have all the songs stuck in my head all over again.

“Wig In A Box” is still the signature song for me. I’m sure the chord progression is what keeps me coming back to it, but I also relate to it. It’s where Hedwig dreams of the woman he could be, and the bittersweet feeling of waking up as himself again. We’ve all woken up from dreams that we wished were real. Many of us are lucky enough to be living our true selves, but imagine if you could only be your true self in your subconscious. It’s heartbreaking what John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask’s song tapped into.

“Angry Inch” is such filled with such rage, you can’t deny it’s power. It’s an anthem to everyone who’s been forced to deal with circumstances beyond their control, but I’d hate to compare any of my problems to Hedwig’s. Hansel underwent a sex change operation to escape East Berlin, it was botched, he was abandoned, then the Wall came down anyway. It’s drama’s job to present the extreme version of our daily struggles, so Hansel’s journey to become Hedwig is universal in the way that everybody figures out who they want to be, and anyone who doesn’t accept you be damned. Still, I’m a cis white male. I’ve never had to be as brave as Hedwig, but I admire her.

“Midnight Radio” is an empowering rock ballad, an ode to other trailblazing artists too. “Wicked Little Town” walks the line of sadness feeling out of place, but accepting you’re still you there. “Tear Me Down” is such a classic rock song I could have sworn it was a cover, although I have heard Meat Loaf cover it since. “Origin of Love” builds to that crescendo with poetic lyrics.

I focus on the music, because if it’s a musical I want the music to be good, just like if it’s a comedy I want to laugh and if it’s an action movie I want to see cool stuff. The plot is also timeless in its tale of showbiz betrayal and people just letting you down. Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt) not only uses Hedwig’s material to become a star, but all he needs to do to be a good person is stay and talk about her complicated situation. Whether or not Tommy can ultimately accept her, he didn’t even try.

The colors on this transfer from 4K are bright, with saturated grainy film dancing to the beat. The costumes, the wigs, the dive bars (and salad bar), the glitter, those closeups of the eyes in striking detail all bring out the flash and aching heart of Hedwig. New bonus features go deep with nearly 20 years’ worth of retrospective.

The Hedwig reunion runs 56 minutes at the Jane Street Theater, with some footage of the early performances, the 2007 concert and even a Korean performance. They also discuss the LGBTQ climate circa Clinton and Giuliani leading to the reconstruction of binary constraints. Their name dropping of celebrity fans is fun. Now we know who was cool enough to get Hedwig before it was even a movie. John Cameron Mitchell had interest from A list directors but held strong to direct himself. Production designer, the late Therese DePrez is well represented in the discussion, and in behind the scenes photos.

David Fricke interviews Stephen Trask for 29 minutes. They talk in very deep music theory terms which is interesting to hear applied to Hedwig songs, along with some more history of the show and footage of early performances.

My favorite new bonus features though are Mitchell, costume designer Arianne Phillips and hair and makeup artist Mike Potter showing off their collections. These end up being the most personal as each artifact represents a story and/or milestone either the show achieved, or they achieved in their careers or personal lives.

All the previous DVD extras are included too. I always remember the 90 minute documentary because it begins with the press junket, which I didn’t cover because I wasn’t yet smart enough to know how cool Hedwig was going to be. But I know a lot of the reporters in it so it was fun to see them again too. It is also reassuring how much better discussion of LGBTQ themes has gotten since the unnuanced press junket of 2001.

Police Story and Police Story 2 Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Police Story 2 deserves more love.

Police Story has two of Jackie Chan’s signature scenes: When he hangs from the double decker bus and the fight in the mall. Police Story 2 sort of gets buried between Police Story and Supercop but it’s got good stuff too like the fight on the playground and in the fireworks factory.

I got to see both Police Story films in a theater with their 4K restorations. They looked great on the big screen but even better on Blu-Ray. Maybe that’s because I can crank up the brightness more than the theater or maybe because I’m closer to the screen but it’s an even clearer restoration of ‘80s Hong Kong.

The bonus features include over an hour of Chan’s My Stunts documentary. That’s more than an excerpt of this great documentary, behind the scenes on all his films up to Who Am I. That’s more than an excerpt. I don’t know what they cut but the full doc is 90 minutes.

Clips of Project A in the Edgar Wright feature look great. I hope Criterion does all the Jackie Chan movies. Hopefully they can get Supercop and release the undubbed version without the rap soundtrack.

Wright gives a good perspective of a film lover discovering Chan, slightly different than mine because he was in the U.K. I think Chan’s ‘80s output was a little more available to Wright but we both have Rumble in the Bronx as our first theatrical Jackie Chan movie.

In his podcast interview with Chan, anyone who’s been as obsessed with Jackie Chan as I am knows all his stories, at least the ones he tells in English. Wright got a few new ones, to me at least, out of him.

Grady Hendrix is a knowledgeable Hong Kong Cinema expert to discuss Chan’s persona, and the escalation of Chan’s action and persona. He wears a fabulous red suit in the latter one. I’m almost as jealous of Hendrix’s fashion as I am his expansive knowledge of Hong Kong cinema. 

The full stunt team tribute is genuinely touching and includes a lot of personal tidbits that never make the clips I saw online when Chan received the award.

Even Criterion doesn’t know when the Jackie Chan interview was recorded. I’m guessing mid ‘00s because he complains about shakycam covering up actors who can’t fight. He goes back to Wing On Plaza!

They’ve got the full episode of Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show that Wright mentioned. Jonathan Ross  visits the set of Miracles, little knowing that would be his best film. Ross also views the Armor of God accident footage on a flatbed machine. Chan is much more cavalier back then. To think, he hasn’t even made Supercop or Drunken Master II yet! Ross also interviews Maggie Cheng about her Police Story 2 accident. Ric Myers appears with a neatly trimmed beard.

The Hong Kong release version of Police Story 2 runs about 15 minutes shorter and has a much dirtier print but it’s still sharp and clear. It’s a nice preservation of 35mm film with the optical subtitles. It’s funny, the scratches get worst during the fight scenes because they were probably run through the projector extra times. I bet the pace benefits from cutting out some extraneous plot.

Benny Lai has some good insights on training, choreography and acting. He discusses the firecracker stunts too.

A 1964 French TV segment on the Peking opera shows incredible performance and training of the kind Chan practiced. At 12 minutes it’s only a fraction of his 24/7 training for 10 years. Still great to see it while it existed.

The stunt reel is hardly indicative of Chan’s accomplishments or mishaps. You can do better watching the end credits from each movie, but it looks like this montage already existed so why not include it?

The four minute Police Story 2 trailer shows as much behind the scenes as footage from the film. It remind me of the Last Crusade teaser trailer. The movie itself is almost secondary to the story of making the film.

Criterion did a historic job with Jackie Chan’s historic films. Again, I truly hope they add more of his films to the collection. I almost regret that they’d probably do Drunken Master or Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow first because those are historic. There are great Blu-rays of those classics already, though light on extras. I’m most interested in his ‘80s and ‘90s output, so Project A, Armor of God, Dragons Forever, Drunken Master II and possibly a study of his crossover Rumble in the Bronx would make fascinating Criterion Collections. Oh, a proper uncut First Strike with the English language audio would be my Holy Grail.

I Wanna Hold Your Hand Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Close Your Eyes And I’ll Zemekis You

I Wanna Hold Your Hand was the last Robert Zemeckis movie I hadn’t seen. Thanks to the Criterion Collection I’ve now completed his directorial filmography. It’s really fun to see him work in comedy, with no visual effects. This and Used Cars are really his only straight comedies. 

Tt really captures the energy of Beatlemania to a comic extreme. I Wanna Hold Your Hand is full of fun teen shenanigans with kids getting in over their heads, but they’re ultimately harmless. And lot’s of practical stunts with Beatles fans mobbing the car and the girls ducking under a real live horse, bellmen tripping over luggage, Eddie Deezen and Dick Miller do some stunts together. 

The girls split up with different strategies for getting close to the Beatles. It keeps a fast pace bouncing between the four girls’ stories, passing the baton in clever scene transitions too. They pair off in fun combinations like Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperper) and superfan Ringo Klaus, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman) and a kid defying his father, Pam (Nancy Allen) making out with the band’s instruments.

“Get your god damn hands off her” is a line in I Wanna Hold Your Hand. I prefer the revised “Hey you, get your damn hands off her” line they used in Back to the Future but I suspect it originated here. The soundtrack ain’t bad either. 

The Blu-ray presents the 1964 New York outside the Ed Sullivan Theater they created on the studio backlot in clear, bright glory. It’s the brightest Criterion I’ve seen with all the ‘60s colors, the yellow cabs, the fancy Plaza hotel (inside it’s actually the Biltmore which hasn’t changed much in 40 years). I guess most of the Criterions I watch are serious movies with less flamboyant designs. 

There’s a new 42 minute conversation between Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis and Bob Gale. Spielberg corrects the legend that he offered to step in if Zemeckis fell through. As producer he couldn’t have done that according to DGA rules so it was a bluff to get the studio to hire Zemeckis. Gale remembers the most including all the objections by the legal department to Beatles references in the script. Zemeckis remembers good stories about AD Newt Arnold too. 

Nancy Allen and Marc McClure go 22 minutes remembering their scenes. The Lift and A Field of Honor are actually the two last Zemeckis films for me to watch, his early shorts. Even the great directors made basic student films at school. A Field of Honor has some impressive vehicular action and stunts for a student film. 

The Princess Bride Criterion Collection Blu-ray

It’s always special to me when a movie I grew up with is in the Criterion Collection. Growing up, I always saw The Criterion Collection as that special prestige for movies before my time. Then films like Robocop, Silence of the Lambs and The Rock began being added. The Princess Bride was part of Criterion way back in the Laserdisc days, but the new Blu-ray release has updated the film and bonus features.

It probably depends on your TV, but on my Panasonic plasma, this new 4K restoration is a tiny step down from the 20th Century Fox Blu-ray release. Neither are perfect but the Fox one looks clearer on my set. If this is your first Princess Bride Blu-ray, the Criterion transfer certainly embodies HD, but digital noise is a little more prominent.

There’ve been no shortage of Princess Bride DVDs and Blu-rays since the Criterion laserdisc, so all of those bonus features have been preserved. At this point you can compare archival materials, DVD era retrospectives and 20-25th anniversary pieces.

New stuff includes a 17 minute feature dissecting the screenplay and the ways in which William Goldman adhered to and broke traditional structure. Another six minute piece is on a tapestry Goldman owns depicting scenes from the movie. You can see the detail of the weaving in HD.

2012 is still relatively new for Rob Reiner, Cary Elwes and Robin Wright’s 25th anniversary look back at the film. They happen to be shooting in producer Dawn Steel’s old office, and to think about the versions of The Princess Bride that almost got made with other screen legends is fascinating.

Dragon Inn Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The Beginning of Martial Arts Movies

When I fell in love with Hong Kong cinema in the ‘90s, I saw the Dragon Inn remake with Donnie Yen. Now thanks to the Criterion Collection I can dig deeper into Chinese cinema with the Taiwanese original, and only my second King Hu film after Come Drink With Me.

They were already starting to improvise in choreography, Xiao (Shih Chun) throwing utensils and benches in the dining hall. This was early martial arts on film and there were still massive fights between roomfulls of people, long takes with lots of moves, and a badass female warrior (Shangkuan Ling-Fun).

I have never seen a Chinese film look this beautiful. I got used to watching bad VHS copies, but even DVD revealed they just didn’t take good care of their film. Even high profile John Woo movies looked faded and dirty. Only Shaw Brothers really preserves their films and those Blu-rays have been extraordinary. There’s also a great new restoration of Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle Shadow. I suppose oscar winning Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon looks better than most but still just like an average modern movie.

So when I say Dragon Inn looks even better, I mean this doesn’t just look good for an old foreign movie. I mean it looks great compared to Lawrence of Arabia. The epic widescreen frame of historical soldiers crossing the land is so bright, so sharp, so detailed, it could have been shot this year.

Criterion has a new interview with Shangkuan. She still had her self-confidence and it’s amusing. She also discusses how learning multiple martial arts developed her style in subsequent movies. From two years ago, Shih Chun remembers more about King Hu specifically and the choreography on set. He even know about film sensitivity and lighting needs.

Also from this year, Grady Hendrix is an authority on Hong Kong movies. I’ve gotten to see him present Hong Kong movies in person, and here he puts Dragon Inn in context of modern martial arts movies audiences may know more, even American ones like The Matrix and Kill Bill. The cinematography and editing we now take for granted originated here, especially when editing creates impossible movement.

Then a 1967 newsreel takes us to the premiere in Taipei! That really hits the old movie theater nerd in me with images of Chinese theaters 50 years ago. That black and white newsreel looks damn good in HD too.