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Raymond J. Nyland "Styxx" (Armidale, NSW Australia)

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Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring [DVD] [2003]
Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ Oh Young-Su
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £9.68

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creating a Masterwork, 17 Sept. 2009
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In a floating pavilion in the middle of an isolated lake in modern day Korea lives an old Buddhist monk (Oh Yeong-su) and his young student. In the spring sequence, the novice torments a fish, a frog and a snake by weighing them down with stones. The master responds by tying a large stone to the novice, and instructing him to find the animals and release them, or else "he will carry a stone in his heart for the rest of his life". The novice frees the frog, but the fish and snake have died. In the summer sequence, over 10 years later, a mother and a sick girl (Ha Yeo-jin) come to the pavilion. The novice, now a young man (Kim Young-min), is tormented by lust until finally the girl responds. Afterwards she leaves, followed by the novice. In the autumn sequence, again set about 10 years later, the ex-novice returns to the lake closely followed by two detectives. He has apparently murdered his wife, but before he is arrested, in a scene involving a cat and Buddhist sutras, the master sets the ex-novice on a path of peace and self realisation. In the winter sequence, the ex-novice returns to the frozen lake. He is visited by a mysterious woman with a baby and when she is killed on the lake, the baby remains. In a beautifully shot and scored sequence, the monk pays a final penance for his crimes, carrying an image of the Buddha and pulling a millstone to the top of an adjoining ridge. This recollection of the stone image from the first sequence of the film seeming completes, in winter, the cycle began in spring. But in a final sequence, it is again spring and the ex-novice has now become the master and has the child as a novice, so the cycle continues.

The DVD includes a Korean DTS track, plus Dolby Digital Korean 5.1 & 2.0. This is a film of little dialogue, and no action, the surrounds supporting the score and occasional sounds, such as wind or rain. The music supports the moods of the film beautifully - it is especially slow and haunting in the summer and winter sections, using a combination of choral, orchestral and Asian percussion and wind instruments. In the winter section, which runs for over 19 minutes, there is absolutely no dialogue. The music builds the mood throughout the sequence and finally supports the penance of the monk with a melody evoking longing and loss.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring is presented in an enhanced widescreen print in a ratio of 1.85:1. This is a very clear and clean print and the colours are spectacular yet totally natural. Remember the lake in "Hero" which was so incredibly blue as to appear surreal (which was the point of course). In Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring the surreal quality is not created by artificial colour enhancement but by the natural beauty and natural colours of the setting. In this film the lake is not blue but natural shades of green, which reflect the surrounding forests and hills. In winter, when the lake freezes over, it is not a pristine white, but shades of gunmetal grey. The trees through the seasons are also natural - greens in summer, yellows and reds in autumn. These trees which surround the lake are characters in their own right and are often shot in the foreground, framing the pavilion or activity on the lake.

Extra features are variable. The Behind the Scenes is 17 minutes of raw footage with music, but no interviews. The Director Interview is 3 minutes of Kim Ki-duk answering questions on set; it has very poor sound but is subtitled; the Premier Footage (9 minutes) is the premier press conference. There is also a trailer and a synopsis that consists of scrolling text (in Korean with subtitles) that lasts just under 1 minute.

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring is a hauntingly beautiful, spiritually intelligent and very satisfying film. As writer as well as director, not to mention the actor who plays the novice as adult, Kim Ki-duk brings an economy and clear vision to the film. Although Kim Ki-duk is better known for showing the violent and cruel side of Korean life, as in films like Seom, Bad Guy and Samaria, in Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter . . . and Spring he has crafted a film that is thoughtful, quiet, never dull and stunning to look at. A masterpiece.

The Eagle Has Landed [Blu-ray]
The Eagle Has Landed [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Michael Caine
Price: £6.00

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A great film undersold again!, 24 Aug. 2009
The Eagle Has Landed is based on the Jack Higgins novel of the same name and concerns a plan by Himmler to parachute a group of German soldiers led by Colonel Steiner (Michael Caine) into eastern England to kidnap or assassinate Winston Churchill. That they failed is no surprise to anyone who knows WWII history; but the fun of the film is the detail of the plotting of the raid by Colonel Max Radl (Robert Duval) and it's execution by Steiner and IRA operative Liam Devlin (Donald Sutherland). This is old fashioned boys own adventure, rather more like a heist than a war film, but with a good cast, good production values and a good director in John Sturges, whose last film this was. While The Eagle Has Landed is not in the same class as Sturges' best films such as The Magnificent Seven or The Great Escape, it is still good entertainment and a ripping good yarn!

The Eagle Has Landed has suffered very bad releases in various regions with poor editions in Region 1, 2 and Region 4 (with only had a bare bones pan & scan release). The Blu-ray is hardly a great example of why one should upgrade to HD. The video is acceptable. There are no obvious blemishes and colours are clean enough if tending to paleness. Audio is only stereo but gets the job done. Dialogue is clear and sound effects adequate. More disappointingly, the Blu-ray includes none of the extras now available in the ITV DVD Special Edition. Not a single one! So there are better editions of this film available. However, if you must have a Blu-ray this is all you can get. The Eagle Has Landed is a good enough film to deserve better.

Before The Rain [DVD]
Before The Rain [DVD]
Dvd ~ Katrin Cartlidge
Price: £12.80

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Circle is Not Round, 7 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Before The Rain [DVD] (DVD)
Before the Rain is an ambitious, moving and ultimately satisfying film from director Milcho Manchevski that demands repeated viewings. The film is structured in three sections, the first and third set in Macedonia, the middle in London, although the structure is circular rather than linear, and the chronology (deliberately) does not make sense. In the first section, "Words", a Macedonian Christian monk (Gregoire Colin) offers sanctuary to a Moslem Albanian girl being sought for a crime she may, or may not, have committed. The section title itself has implications; the Monk, for example, has taken a vow of silence! In the second section, "Faces", a London picture editor Anne ((Katrin Cartlidge) must decide between her husband and a war weary photo journalist Alex (Rade Šerbezija). In the final section, "Pictures", the photo journalist returns to his village in Christian Macedonia after 16 years away and attempts to cope with the hatred and violence between his village and the village of neighbouring Moslem Albanians. While separate, each of these three sections builds on what goes before, gradually supplying more information, until the deadly climax reveals everything. Almost.
If anything the parts are uneven. "Words" is beautifully shot, sparse and compelling; "Pictures" longer and slower as the Alex tries to re-experience a childhood environment now blighted by bigotry and violence between former friends. No-one here is innocent, no-one blameless; only Alex with his "foreign" perspective seems capable of some degree of impartiality. "Faces" is more frenetic in pace, and does feel unbalanced in comparison to the Macedonian sections. At its core, however, this is sad film, bitter over the violence that humans inflict on each other, where bigotry is a stronger emotion than love or family, and all who desire something better find themselves at great risk.
The stunning visuals in the Macedonian sections and the music by Anastasia fully support the mood of the film, and enhance the viewing experience.

Unfortunately, this DVD does not really do the film justice. On start up, there is no chapter index, just play, and the presentation itself is patchy. There are frequent grain and dirt marks which, although present, are not too distracting while the picture lacks sharpness and detail. Sound is advertised as stereo, but came through the centre speaker. Having said that, this is a film of many silences where the score carries the story beautifully. Dialogue is clear, and the subtitles in the Macedonian sections are clear white text and don't contain obvious grammatical or spelling errors.

There are no extras. The Region 1 Criterion edition is reported to have an excellent transfer, a commentary by Manchevski and film scholar Annette Insdorf, a sixteen-minute interview with Rade Šerbedzija, a 15-minute featurette, five minutes of on-the-set footage, fifteen minutes of soundtrack selections, Manchevski's 1992 hip-hop music video "Tennessee", some photographs, a stills gallery, and trailers.
Before the Rain is an intelligent and moving film, here with an indifferent DVD presentation. If your system will allow it, the Criterion Region 1 edition seems the better choice.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 13, 2015 5:32 PM GMT

Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan [DVD] (2007)
Mongol: The Rise to Power of Genghis Khan [DVD] (2007)
Dvd ~ Tadanobu Asano
Price: £2.47

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mongol- Myth as History, 13 July 2009
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Mongol is Russian director Sergei Bodrov's take on the early life of Genghis Khan (born as Temudgin), one of the greatest, and most bloodthirsty, conquerors in history. At age 9 Temudgin selects the girl who will be his first wife, looses his father to poison and is exiled from the tribe. The film then follows his trials through exile, capture and slavery until he wins the final battle to unite the Mongol tribes and becomes the Great Khan.

Some have suggested that the film sticks relatively close to know facts, but that does not mean it is reliable history. Great conquerors frequently reinvent their early years (Alexander the Great being a prime example), and indeed the film runs better as myth than history. As history there are too many gaps, too many dots not joined; for example, one moment Temudgin is riding alone into the grass lands, the next he has a massive army. But as myth it works fine; his miraculous escapes from captivity, his deliverance from a fall through the ice, his communion with the thunder god Tengri. And myths are supposed to be epic, and here the film is totally successful.

The film throughout has an epic quality. It looks beautiful and sounds beautiful. From tiny riders on the distant grass lands, to autumn colours, deserts, snow covered hills or ice lakes the various landscapes of central Asia are stunning and the film is a continual feast for the eyes. The opening reveal of the town of Tangut sets the scene for realism that never drops throughout the two hour running time. The music supports the visuals well without being strident. Yet, at its heart, Mongol is an intimate story that concentrates on three people; Temudgin, his wife Borte, and his blood brother and later enemy Jamukha and it is this which gives the film its heart amid the grandeur of its visuals. As Temudgin, Japanese actor Asano Tadanobu is simply superb. He is dignified, calculating, determined and not above using friends to achieve his ends. Yet his constant love for Borte and devotion to her children mean that we see Temudgin as a man, not a conqueror. As the strong willed and loyal Borte, Khulan Chuluun has a luminescent beauty that supports the story although Sun Honglei as Jamukha, clean shaven and sporting a mohawk amid the long hair and beards of the rest of the cast, could be in an another film entirely.

Mongol is old fashioned filmmaking. It is a sweeping epic which mainly rejects CGI effects to concentrate on believable character and the landscapes of Central Asia. It may not be history, but as a myth it works beautifully.

The Blu-ray does not disappoint. It does the incredible landscapes full justice showing off the widescreen photography in clean and detailed visuals. Skin tones are accurate, blacks solid, the range of colours throughout the seasons realistic. The subtitles are clear and contain no obvious spelling or grammatical errors. They are in white text, except for snow scenes when they are shown within a black background. The audio is Mongolian DTS-HD 5.1 (with a stereo 2.0 option). It is an excellent audio track that enhances the viewing experience, encompassing and immersive with clear dialogue. Extras include a reasonably interesting "making of" that runs just over 25 minutes and includes interviews with Sergei Bodrov, Asano Tadanobu and Khulan Chuluun plus some trailers.

Mongol is apparently the first of three films about Genghis Khan. It was nominated for best foreign film at the 2007 Academy Awards but lost out to The Counterfeiters. But if you like old fashioned epic filmmaking, presented on an excellent Blu-ray, this comes highly recommended.

Warlords [Blu-ray] [2008] [Region Free]
Warlords [Blu-ray] [2008] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Jet Li
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £9.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Warlords, 3 Jun. 2009
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The Warlords is set during the time of the Taiping rebellion in China during which millions in southern China died from warfare, starvation and disease. It was a bleak period of Chinese history, and The Warlords reflects this in many of its aspects - including script, production design and colour palate. The film opens with a betrayal and a massacre, explores themes of brotherhood, idealism and loyalty, and ends with another betrayal. Despite the staring role of Jet Li, this is not a martial arts film, and it has no use for vibrant colours or characters floating in trees or across lakes; instead the battles are bloody, intense and brutal. It is not a time for heroes; it is a period when edged weapons and cannons meet, and trench and siege warfare occurred amid dirt and starvation. The colour palate is deliberately washed out, grainy and muted, fairly usual in historical epics these days. This is certainly not Hero, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; think more Braveheart in scope and execution.

As an epic the film works very well. The themes of love, brotherhood and betrayal are universal; the battles and set pieces stunning. The cast, including Jet Li as General Pang, Andy Lau and Takeshi Kaneshiro as his blood brothers, and Xu Jinglei as Lian are excellent. Each has their own, clearly defined journey in the film that reaches a logical and deadly resolution. So while the film is epic in scope and execution, it is grounded in recognisable individual human emotions and actions and we never lose sight of the perils, and causalities, of war.

The Blu-ray is a good representation of the film; the colour palate is effective, the blacks solid, the sound good. The extras, including the production journal, worth watching. Highly recommended.

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