The Legend of Billie Jean, ‘Fair is fair’ edition [Blu-ray review]

Not only has the phrase “Fair is fair” become synonymous with the cult classic teen drama The Legend of Billie Jean, it also is the edition name of the newly remastered Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.  If you aren’t familiar with this movie, you need to see it.  From executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber (Batman [1989], Rain Man, The Color Purple), The Legend of Billie Jean has become one of cinema’s best teen movies.  I don’t mean in the John Hughes sense of teen drama, but a film dealing with real and difficult issues.  At the same time, it also adds a sense of the surreal.  Let me explain.

©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
© 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

You see, in 1984, while making The Legend of Billie Jean, Helen Slater’s first film, Supergirl, had just opened across the country.  Remember, this was at a time when women were not portrayed as strong, heroic characters.  Now working on her second feature, Helen Slater was to play Billie Jean Davy, a small town girl who won’t let anyone, or anything, stand in her way to seek justice.  The plot seems simple enough at first.  An altercation at the local drive-in between Billie Jean’s brother Binx (Christian Slater in his first feature role) and local bully Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb) sets off a chain of events that drives the teens to breaking point.  After Binx’s Honda Elite scooter is stolen and trashed by Hubie, big sister Billie Jean goes to Hubie’s father to make him pay $608 for the cost of the repairs.  Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford), being a snake in the grass, tries to take advantage of Billie Jean.  As Billie Jean tries to leave his store, Binx shows up and finds a gun in the cash register.  When Mr. Pyatt confronts him, Binx fires accidentally, striking Mr. Pyatt.  This sets into motion the hunt for the outlaw teens, as they try to set the record straight.

Toss into the mix the comic relief of Billie Jean’s friends Putter (Yeardley Smith – the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons) and Ophelia (Martha Gehman), a determined cop (Peter Coyote) who doesn’t believe Mr. Pyatt’s accusations, a rich kid with too much time on his hands (Keith Gordon), and a cameo by Dean Stockwell, and you have a surreal crime/thriller/teen/comedy/drama that could only have been pulled off in the ‘80s.

The film’s moral issues come to a climax when Billie Jean catches a scene from Saint Joan (1957) on a television.  The image of the steadfast Joan of Arc burning into her memory (and later in a more cinematic way).  Suddenly, Billie Jean is no longer a teenager on the run, but a young woman who will not be stopped.  She crops her golden locks and the teens then devise a plan to expose Mr. Pyatt, get the money they are owed, and be vindicated.  Fair is fair.

Christian Slater and Helen Slater in The Legend of Billie Jean ©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
Christian Slater and Helen Slater in “The Legend of Billie Jean” © 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

The plot seems a bit far fetched, but as with many ‘80s films, it works.  Upon seeing Billie Jean’s plea for justice, teens across the region cut off their hair in a show of support.  Billie Jean finally confronts Mr. Pyatt in a fiery [literally] showdown.  The film closes with another staple of ‘80s films – a rock anthem.  This time it’s the powerful sound of Pat Benatar’s triumphant theme song Invincible.

The film itself looks great on Blu-ray, with only minimal grain visible in some shots.  My only complaint is that there is only one extra on the disc.  It’s a commentary track featuring Helen Slater and Yeardley Smith.  By the way, Helen Slater and Christian Slater are not related, as most people thought when the film premiered.  As I said before, The Legend of Billie Jean is more a cult film than a mainstream film.  It certainly won’t please everyone, but if you were a teenager in the 1980s, it will take you back in time, and I hope younger audiences will give this movie a shot.  The message of teen empowerment remains the same today, even if styles have changed.

© 1985, 95 minutes, Rated PG-13

 

A Look Inside The Criterion Collection’s ‘Vengeance is Mine’ Blu-ray

Specs:

  • Japan
  • 1979
  • 140 minutes
  • Color
  • 1:66:1
  • Japanese
  • Spine # #384

Cast:

  • Iwao Enokizu Ken Ogata
  • Haru Asano Mayumi Ogawa
  • Kazuko Enokizu Mitsuko Baisho
  • Captain Kawai Frankie Sakai
  • Shigemi Ideike Kazuo Kitamura
  • Kayo Enokizu Chocho Miyako
  • Hisano Asano Nijiko Kiyokawa
  • Shizuo Enokizu Rentaro Mikuni

Credits:

  • Director Shohei Imamura
  • Producer Kazuo Inoue
  • Based on the novel by Ryuzo Saki
  • Screenplay Masaru Baba
  • Photography Shinsaku Himeda
  • Music Shinichiro Ikebe

Synopsis:

A thief, a murderer, and a charming lady-killer, Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata) is on the run from the police. Director Shohei Imamura turns this fact-based story—about the seventy-eight-day killing spree of a remorseless man from a devoutly Catholic family—into a cold, perverse, and at times diabolically funny examination of the primitive coexisting with the modern. More than just a true-crime tale, Vengeance Is Mine bares humanity’s snarling id.

Disc Features:

  • Restored high-definition digital film transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary from 2005 featuring critic Tony Rayns
  • Excerpts from a 1999 interview with director Shohei Imamura, produced by the Directors Guild of Japan
  • Trailer and teaser
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Atkinson, a 1994 interview with Imamura by filmmaker Toichi Nakata, and writings by Imamura on Vengeance Is Mine and his approach to directing
  • New cover by Eric Skillman

The Making of ‘Oculus’ – An Interview with Filmmakers Mike Flanagan and Jason Blum, Part 2

© 2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites star in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Here’s part two of the Los Angeles press conference interview with Oculus director (and editor) Mike Flanagan, and producer Jason Blume. (If you’ve yet to read Part 1, click here.)

Oculus is now available on Blu-ray and DVD, so do check it out.

[divider]

JOURNALIST: Mike, being both the director and the editor, what do you feel you were able to bring to the process, particularly with Oculus’ multiple, interweaving character timelines?

FLANAGAN: And then the other lesson from the short [film] that I think was the most important was we had wanted it to play like an old camping story. One of the things about having a sterile, brightly lit environment without any decorations or anything else was that it forced us to focus on the words, and the stories of the mirror that Tim, in the short, was telling. The beauty about a campfire is you’ve just got the fire. Everything else melts away into nothing, so you focus. You sit and you create the story in your own head.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The history of the mirror section in the short film made it to the feature almost untouched. And that was something that, you know, when you look at it, and script is 13 pages of exposition, and people are saying, “I don’t think this is going to work. I don’t think this is going to hold the attention of viewers if they’re just sitting there telling stories.” We could point out that short [film] and say, “It [worked] in the short.”

It took a lot of really intense coverage and editing in order to keep the pace up, to keep it interesting. And it takes an actor who can really deliver that kind of intensity again and again and again, to sell it. That was was a really important thing to have, because when the feature was getting out there, that scene was one of the more controversial, and one of the ones that people would say, “Well, that’s going to get cut way back. People aren’t going to sit through that. People are going to want to.” And so it was really rewarding as we put it together that when we test [screened] the film, it showed up consistently in the top three favorite scenes of the movie. If we hadn’t had the dry run with the short [film] to kind of convince ourselves and other people,that an audience could hang on that kind of storytelling for an extended period of time, I don’t think we could’ve ever made an argument to [include] it in the feature.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Karen Gillian stars in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: The construct [of the narrative], the blending of the generations, make that so compelling and suspenseful. But having said that, considering fans of the horror genre – which is one of the few where audiences and the diehard fans are not afraid to express their distaste or point out plot holes; and I could picture people trying to say, “This didn’t work. That didn’t work”, but – did you intensely go over the script even more so knowing that fans of the genre would pick it apart?

FLANAGAN: Oh yeah! You know you’re talking to some of the most enthusiastic fans out there, and you’re right. As one of them it’s like … we analyze and dissect and take it so seriously.

You know, fans are so eager to protect the genre from itself in a lot of ways that it’s like there’s going to be this intense additional scrutiny because you’re putting something out there into a marketplace that’s got this fan-base that’s so rabid. And as one of those fans, that makes me really happy. As a writer, that was really tough. On every draft [of the screenplay] I was asking myself, “What are the questions that are going to be asked? Where is somebody going to throw up their hands? And more importantly, where in the movie can we give voice to those fans? Where in the movie can the person who sits in the theater and crosses their arms say, “Why don’t you break [the mirror].” You know? Where is the character in the movie that says the same thing, so the [audience member] can say, “Oh! My perspective is being represented actually by a character in the film.” And then … is our answer going to be good enough?

So all of that was really difficult, because we didn’t want to ever have it be our fault that we would leave a hole in the script, you know? It was like going back in and making sure that the characters in the movie would react and act the way an intelligent viewer would. That was very important.

It’s tough because, you know, luckily we lived with this thing for so long – after the short [film] it was like seven years before we got into the preproduction on the feature – that there was plenty of time to ask all these questions and to try to answer and anticipate them. That’s one of the things where that kind of long gulf between the short film and the feature help a lot, because there was just tons of time to just think about it.

Yeah, it’s one of those things where knowing that fan-base and being an enthusiastic member of it, you know, certainly helps because you want them to come out and feel like their intelligence has been respected by the story and that they’re not going to sit there and have to suspend common sense. Suspending disbelief in a movie one thing, and we all do it. And every genré requires. But suspending common sense is a different thing, and I don’t think people enjoy that. I don’t think people respond to movies where characters are behaving in a way that an audience member never would. So I think that’s something to be very aware of, but it certainly isn’t always easy.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Garrett Ryan (left) and Annalise Basso (right) star in Relativity Media’s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: Jason, you have a lot of experience [producding and marketing films] in the genré. How do you deal with addressing the concerns of the fans?

BLUM: I think it’s very important. I mean, in terms of logistics stuff, we do exactly what you described on all our movies. We screen them.  We screen them a lot of times for fans.

I think one thing that’s fun about the horror community, because we are in a lot of ways, kind of outcasts in Hollywood, where horror is kind of looked down upon – so what it does is it keeps the people who love horror and make horror [films] … it keeps us all together.  So when we make our movies … actually, every movie we do, we have a bunch of directors who come and watch and talk to each other. So I think it feels much more like a family. It’s exactly like what Mike’s talking about. It’s like protecting the genré and making sure the movies make sense and that people are reacting to scary things in the way that they think they should be.

A Look Inside ‘The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season’ Blu-ray

[divider]

Bonus Features

Extended Episodes (BLU-RAY ONLY):

  • Episodes 9 (“After”)
  • Episode 14 (“The Grove”)

Featurettes:

  • Inside THE WALKING DEAD
  • The Making of THE WALKING DEAD
  • Drawing Inspiration
  • Hershel
  • The Governor Is Back
  • Society, Science & Survival
  • Inside KNB EFX
  • A Journey Back to Brutality
  • 7 Deleted Scenes (“30 Days Without An Accident” deleted scene/”Live Bait” deleted scene/”Dead Weight” deleted scene/”Too Far Gone” deleted scene/”Still” deleted scene/”The Grove” deleted scene/”Us” deleted scene/”A” deleted scene)

Commentaries:

  • Episode 1 (“30 Days Without An Accident”): Audio Commentary with Executive Producer and Showrunner Scott M. Gimple, Executive Producer/Unit Production Manager Tom Luse and Executive Producer/Special Effects Make-Up Supervisor/Director Greg Nicotero
  • Episode 5 (“Internment”): Audio Commentary with Executive Producer and Showrunner Scott M. Gimple and Actor Scott Wilson (Hershel)
  • [BLU-RAY ONLY] Episode 9 (“After”): Audio Commentary with Executive Producer/Special Effects Make-Up Supervisor /Director Greg Nicotero, Co-Executive Producer Denise Huth and Actor Danai Gurira (Michonne)
  • Episode 12 (“Still”): Audio Commentary with Director Julius Ramsay and Actor Emily Kinney (Beth); Audio Commentary with Writer/Producer Angela Kang and Actor Norman Reedus (Daryl)
  • [BLU-RAY ONLY] Episode 14 (“The Grove”): Audio Commentary with Executive Producer and Showrunner Scott M. Gimple, Executive Producer Denise Huth and Actor Andrew Lincoln (Note: Exclusive to the DVD set is an Episode 14 Audio Commentary with Director Michael E. Satrazemis and Actors Chad L. Coleman (Tyreese) and Melissa McBride (Carol))

[divider]

Tech Specs:

  • Color
  • 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio – Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
  • Not Rated
  • 696 Minutes (Note: This is 8 minutes longer than the DVD)
  • [BLU-RAY ONLY] English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1
  • French: Dolby Surround 2.0
  • English Subtitles for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired
  • Spanish Subtitles

Full details on ‘The Vincent Price Collection Collection II’ Blu-ray

The Vincent Price Collection Collection II Blu-ray set hits retail shelves on October 24, 2014. The set includes the first-ever Blu-ray presentation of The House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Return of the Fly (1959), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), The Raven (1963), The Last Man on Earth (1964) and Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972). Its special features are detailed below.

[divider]

vincentpriceII
©Shout Factory

[via Scream Factory] On October 21, 2014, collectors, classic film aficionados and horror enthusiasts will relish the 4-Disc Blu-ray™ release of Scream Factory’s THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Volume II, perfectly timed for Halloween and this year’s holiday gifting season.  This extraordinary collector’s set is an essential movie collection for every home entertainment library and brings together SEVEN Vincent Price masterpiece classics, featuring the first-ever Blu-ray movie presentation of  THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959), THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963), THE RAVEN (1963), THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964), THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964) and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972). Brimming with a bevy of chilling bonus content including audio commentaries with producer/director Roger Corman, actor Brett Halsey, film historians, original theatrical trailers, rare photos and archival materials, this highly-anticipated Blu-ray collection also includes a 32-page collector’s book, featuring an essay by author and film historian David Del Valle.

SPECIAL OFFER: Order this directly from ShoutFactory.com and receive an exclusive 18″x24″ poster featuring our newly commissioned artwork! Available while supplies last. Also receive FREE standard U.S. shipping ONE MONTH EARLY on 9/30.

THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION Volume II Bonus Content

THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with author/historian Steve Haberman
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery
  • Vincent Price: Renaissance Man
  • The Art of Fear
  • Working with Vincent Price
  • Introductory Price

THE RETURN OF THE FLY Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with actor Brett Halsey and film historian David Del Valle
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spot
  • Still Gallery

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS Special Features:

  • Introduction and parting words by Vincent Price
  • Richard Matheson Storyteller: THE COMEDY OF TERRORS
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

THE RAVEN  Special Features:

  • Introduction and parting words by Vincent Price
  • NEW Audio Commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman
  • Richard Matheson Storyteller: THE RAVEN
  • Corman’s Comedy of Poe
  • Promotional Record
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH Special Features:

  • NEW Audio Commentary with film historian David Del Valle and author Derek Botelho
  • Richard Matheson Storyteller: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH
  • Still Gallery

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA Special Features:

  • Introduction and parting words by Vincent Price
  • Audio Commentary by producer/director Roger Corman
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Elizabeth Shepherd, moderated by Roy Frumkes
  • NEW Audio Commentary with film historian Constantine Nasr
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN Special Features:

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Still Gallery

 Film Details

THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)/DTS Master Audio Mono/1959/Black & White/Not Rated/74 minutes

THE RETURN OF THE FLY (1959)

Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)/DTS Master Audio Mono/1959/Black & White/Not Rated/86 minutes

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)

Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)/DTS Master Audio Mono/1963/Color/Not Rated/83 minutes

THE RAVEN (1963)

Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)/DTS Master Audio Mono/1963/Color/Not Rated/86 minutes

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964)

Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)/DTS Master Audio Mono/1964/Black & White/Not Rated/87 minutes

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964)

Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)/DTS Master Audio Mono/1964/Color/Not Rated/82 minutes

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)/DTS Master Audio Mono/1972/Color/PG/89 minutes

‘Last Action Hero’ Still Kickin’ Ass [Blu-ray Review]

lastactionhero2
©Columbia Pictures ©Mill Creek Ent.

There’s a difference between an opinion, a bias and a fact. An opinion is a value judgment based upon personal experience. A bias is an emotional position based on someone else’s experiences and thus is open for often-flawed positions of evaluation. A fact is a result, conclusion or observation of a state of a thing that is measurable and demonstrable regardless of approach used.

Last Action Hero is an awesome film. This is a fact. It was also a huge box office flop because of bias. To understand that, let’s go back and look at what was going on in the entertainment world when it was released.

1991 was a time when the studios had been heartened by such previous box office smashes as the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series, Total Recall, Predator, the Rambo series and especially, Terminator 2. Hollywood had been steadily ramping up their investment in blockbusters since the early 1980s, crowing with pride at every E.T. and ignoring every Heaven’s Gate. As the 80s rolled on, the dollars spent—and the body counts of failure—continued to increase. But hey, this was the Reagan 80s when thrift was ignored and corpulent extravagance was the norm, so as the 80s rolled into the 90s and the state of the film industry became more corporatized and less about the “should we be making this film because it’s worthwhile” and more about “can we repeat the formula of X and profit with Y and Z”, the industry’s playing field became a landscape of dizzying mountains (Terminator 2, Aliens) and darkened abysses (Hudson Hawk, Bonfire of the Vanities). For every hit there was an Ishtar or Cotton Club being kicked out of a club somewhere.

2318_4
©Columbia Pictures

Originally written by Zak Penn and Adam Leff, two unknown screenwriters trying to break into the biz, the script (then titled Extremely Violent) was sold to Columbia. Hoping to turn it into a family-friendlier property, the script eventually was worked over by no less than eight writers, including William Goldman and Shane Black (original writers Penn and Leff received a “Story By” credit in the final film). Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as the lead and a bevy of acknowledged and bankable talent was used to fill in the background gaps in what was intended to be a monster satire of the action film genre.

Now none of this is particularly unusual for a film in development (and compared to the tortuous development many films go through Last Action Hero’s development is actually quite tame). So what went wrong? By my count two things killed this film before it was really given a chance. First, a backlash at empty cash-fuelled “blockbusters” was starting to turn off some movie goers and many of the press. Second, Mark Canton, then-head of Columbia Pictures and who had made Last Action Hero his pet project, was so eager to show off how the film was shaping up, that he had Columbia hold a very premature test screening in Lakewood, California on May 1, 1993.

As Jack Slater would say, big mistake. Simply put, the film just wasn’t ready to be seen. Director John McTiernan was aware that the mix of satire and drama needed to make the film work was a delicate one that needed much refining and massaging during editing. The 138 minute cut that was shown to the 1000 audience members was very rough, prompting Schwarzenegger himself to later note “I would say the movie was shown in the roughest form I’ve ever seen a movie screened.” The screening went so badly that Canton had Columbia gather all the audience test cards and shred them allowing no one—not even the director and the star—to see them. When the media called to get the results, Columbia hemmed and hawed and stated that the film had generated no test results.

last_action_hero
©Columbia Pictures

The press wasn’t buying it. And with 1000 witnesses to the debacle, the word eventually got out that the film was a huge disaster. To keep an interesting and convoluted story short, the negative press spiraled out of control and the film became the trendy movie to hate by the press. Add into the mix that it opened a week after Jurassic Park and you can hear the iceberg striking the prow on any hope Last Action Hero might have had for success.

And all the bad press and bias’ are flat out wrong. Last Action Hero is a wonderful film that nicely strikes a balance between lapsing into an exercise of Airplane-esque self-satire on one side and completely grounded real world comedy on the other. The action scenes play nicely and are funny (I especially love the shot at the conclusion of one of the film’s chases when a minivan tries to follow Schwarzenegger’s car out of the L.A. river basin and fails spectacularly in the background) and the film’s thumb-nosing at the clichéd action movie tropes are fast and furious. Mixing elements reminiscent of Purple Rose of Cairo, Play It Again Sam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, all the elements of the “reality character meets fantasy character” buddy film are there and are played out from both sides: first, when the character of Danny Madigan enters Jack Slater’s film world and then in reverse when Slater enters the real world. If anything, the film was just too damn subtle for many viewers and critics to appreciate and suffered the same viewer confusion that killed another brilliant satire, Falling Down, also released in 1993. When I saw Falling Down I understood right away that it was a comedy, a razor-sharp and tightly executed satire. I was working at a movie theatre that summer and over the course of Falling Down’s run, most of the audience left the film feeling terribly confused…they just had no reference point with which to classify what they had just experienced.

last-action-hero-1993-03-g
©Columbia Pictures

Let’s face it, most filmgoers expect to be spoon-fed a product that exists within very narrow, pre-defined parameters. They don’t really want to think, they don’t really want to process cause and effect and newly defined visual symbology. They want to know that black is black, up is up and there’s a clear beginning, middle and end (the Robin Williams film Toys, another favorite of mine, suffered the same audience confusion the previous year). To these filmgoers, films like Last Action Hero, Falling Down and Toys are pitcher plants, celluloid bait-and-switches that advertise a no-brainer two hours then hit them with a demand that they play more flexibly with the film than they expected or prepared to, doing so surreptitiously, never really revealing what’s expected of the audience but only giving clues for the audience to grasp on their own. Sadly, that’s a feat the average filmgoer will never accomplish.

The only criticism I have for the film is that Canton played it poorly by forcing the project to be ready for its June 18th release date. A film with as many complex elements as this one really needed more time to fine tune and nowhere is this more evident in the film’s optical effects. Color values in these shots are badly balanced with off-color values and soft, highly contrasting details. Matte lines are often too sharp around the various elements and make the composition look almost like a bad Terry Gilliam cut-and-paste animation. While these flaws were evident on the DVD release, they’re even more so on the Blu-Ray.

Which brings us to the disc itself. While the source material has flaws, the presentation on disc does not. Image detail and color in the MPEG-4 AVC picture (2.40:1) are superb with sharp lines and a pleasing film grain. The look of the real world is appropriately balanced and neutral and contrasts well with the colors in Jack Slater’s world that pop nicely but never hit oversaturation. The blacks are deep and the highlights never blow out. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless audio track rumbles, booms and explodes exactly as it should, filling the room and keeping pace with the onscreen visuals.

There are no extras on the disc to speak of which is another example of how little respect this film continues to receive. It’s eleven years later and the film continues to outperform new titles that are given lavish (and typically unnecessary) disc releases and it’s about damn time that a proper special edition of this film gets released. Before Jack Slater gets pissed enough to come out here to our world and do it his damn self.

And that’s a fact.

Last Action Hero 2
©Columbia Pictures

‘Pieces of Talent’, A Grisly Display of Love Fueling Insanity [DVD Review]

Charlotte-3

Horror films are starting to get a bit cliche these days, but Pieces of Talent is pleasantly different. Joe Stauffer directs this creepy tale of a man in love with a woman. The film however, is not your normal romantic love story. When the guy in love is a psychotic madman with sinister methods things tend to get a little bloody. Aside from the story, the cinematography alone will have your eyes unable to look away. Every shot is captivating and blends beauty with the horror being shot refreshingly. Pieces of Talent is an independently financed and distributed film that is sure to deliver everything you need out of a good horror film.

Pieces-Of-Talent-DVD-SingleEvil comes in the form of David Long (played by himself). He is as menacing and weird as they come. David is making a film that he describes as capturing beautiful moments. The story centers around Charlotte (Kristi Ray) trying to get an acting career off the ground. Her character is a little dry at first, but the more and more you get to know her you see the side of her that is just struggling to survive. Charlotte and David’s paths eventually cross outside of the club where she works. He is getting beaten up and robbed of his camera. This is the beginning of a very strange romance. David is a very scary individual and he doesn’t hide it, but Charlotte for some reason doesn’t see that and thinks of him as a sweet guy. This is the only thing in the film that doesn’t seem plausible because no one should ever trust a guy that has “killer” written all over them. As things progress David’s life at home becomes very busy with multiple captives. The gruesome nature of David’s “beautiful moments” is rotten to the core.

Gore is a huge factor in this film and is done wonderfully. All of the death scenes are unique but still hold the realism needed to send chills to the audience. Pieces-Of-Talent-DVDBetween the actors and the special effects make-up everything looks and feels as if it is really happening. Even the torture mechanisms were perfect. They looked as if they were truly crafted by some freaky guy on a farm. The thought process alone going into creating a machine like that is scary. One of my favorite moments of the film is the shotgun death. This shot is so well done that it will have you wondering if it just happened for real. Blood splattering on the camera lens could not be pulled off with more precision than in this moment. I don’t want to reveal too much because you have to just see it for yourself.

With all of the horrific things that happen in this film they still come across with a sense of beauty. Stauffer is an artist of his craft. He captures the raw nature of each moment as it passes. The first person shots are chilling and put you right in the middle of the chaos as it is unfolding. A lot of horror films try to pull this effect off, but none deliver like this. It is clear that Stauffer put his heart into this film because each shot is given so much care and attention. True imagination is reflected onto the screen.

David-2

The DVD for Pieces of Talent is packed full of extra features. It is cleverly set up and includes hidden features. Included is a hilarious music video for “The David Long Song” that is featured at the end of the film. The video is very comedic but stays true to David Long’s character. Also featured on the disc are outtakes, a kickstarter video, a commentary with some of the filmmakers, and other eerie videos featuring David Long during his normal routines. The short film that the film is based on is also something available to watch. It is intriguing to see how the simple short film grew into Pieces of Talent. When done with watching all of the extra features if you look hard you can find hidden videos that are not part of the normal list on the menu.

David-3

“Beautiful Moments” was a recurring theme in the film and that is what Pieces of Talent conveyed. Compelling cinematography, twisted deaths, and the wonderfully different David Long all came together to create a horrific piece of art. It is not every day you see blood come across as beauty. It is definitely worth picking a copy of this film up. Between the amazing independent film produced and the loads of extra features it is a great buy. Since it is being independently released you can only get a copy on piecesoftalent.com. Don’t miss out on this unusual love story that drags you into the darkness of David Long’s mind.

BOFCA Podcast #15 – ‘The Andromeda Strain,’ ‘Sorcerer,’ ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and More!

On this episode of the Boston Online Film Critics Association podcast, critics Bob Chipman and Evan Crean discuss films playing at Boston area repertory theaters this month.

Just click on the video player above or the media player below and enjoy the show!

Play

The Making of ‘Oculus’ – An Interview with Filmmakers Mike Flanagan and Jason Blum, Part 1

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Garrett Ryan (left) and Annalise Basso (right) star in Relativity Media´s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

If you didn’t get the chance to see Oculus when it was in theaters a couple of months ago, now’s your chance. The film hit Blu-ray and DVD this week and it’s certainly worth picking up. The darn thing is simply creepy.

What we have for you today is part one of an interview with director and editor Mike Flanagan and producer Jason Blum. The interview was conducted in Los Angeles a few weeks prior to Oculus‘ theatrical release.

We hope you enjoy it! Check back soon for part two!

[divider]

JOURNALIST: Jason, I have to ask, working with a director who’s also being the film’s editor must have helped incredibly with the construction of this dual timeline that intercuts, because that’s key to the ingeniousness of the story.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
©20th Century Fox/2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JASON BLUM: Well, actually I think you’ve got to answer that question by starting with how he writes. Because one of the interesting things about working with Mike – you have to forgive me for talking about you as if you’re not in the room – is when we developed the script, when it was in the early drafts, it was a bit hard to tell, and we ended up doing something very simple which was [we put] all the past time-line was in italics and all the present time-line wasn’t.  So on the paper, on the page you could ultimately see the difference.

But at the time [Mike] was writing, and he and his writing partner Jeff Howard were planning the editorial transitions, what was interesting about that was … pretty much everything you see – all the key transitions that blur the lines of reality in the second and third acts – were all planned in advance.

The other thing about working with an editor as a director, which honestly I hadn’t done before, is it’s an independent film, it’s a small budget, and you never have enough time or enough money. But what was really fun on set was Mike was able to come up with a lot of creative solutions that happened as a practical matter.

You know, 12 hours into your 12-hour day, you can’t afford more than an hour of overtime, you have more shots left, and you can’t find it … so, you know, when Mike and I would huddle about that, it was always like, “Okay, I can cut this, and I’m going to cut that so the coverage will work. I’m going cut from here and here but then I don’t need this and I can transition this to here.” He knew exactly what he was doing and we were able to make choices as a result that allowed us to make the movie look a lot bigger than it was. It’s just about committing creatively to that path on the day.

JOURNALIST: Mike, did you want to talk about that story structure?

FLANAGAN: Yes, I braided the timeline structure. It was something that existed in the very first outline for the feature treatment and that we always knew was going to be really, really difficult to pull off.

I’d been working as an editor [in Los Angeles] at that point for a little more than a decade, and so kind of going into it was like you never know with a movie if it’s going to be your last, especially if it’s your first. So, kind of coming at it like, well, if everything goes away and this doesn’t work out, how can I make the coolest movie that I’d want to watch if this ends up being like, my only shot? So for me it was like, how can I set this up in a way that’ll be kind of my own Everest of editing.

And you know, we really kind of lean on all of that sensibility from the script point of view so the idea was always there that we can take these two stories and parallel them in a way that the transitions are getting tighter and tighter and tighter and we’re bouncing back more frequently. Hopefully to the point that the two stories bleed together in a way that we can’t tell the difference any longer, and the characters can’t tell the difference any longer.

Because when you’re dealing with a monster that’s an inanimate object, the only way you can kind of sustain tension over a long period of time – which is a big concern coming off the short, because I felt like we had kind of pushed the limit at that point where it was interesting for a half hour, and how are we going to triple that – was to create a sense of distortion and disorientation that would be similar for the viewer as it was for [characters] in the room. That could only work, I thought, by making the narrative as disorienting as possible; which of course means you’re creating a nightmare from a continuity perspective, making it much more difficult for actors to maintain continuity within the performances. But because that was clearly going to be the challenge of it, that was something we leaned into. It was like, okay we’re going to go with the most difficult road and just really hope that comes together.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Star Karen Gillian and Director Mike Flanagan set up a scene in Relativity Media´s OCULUS. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: Jason, I remember asking you about Oculus back in October. You seemed particularly excited about it. Of the many projects you had in development, this one … I could see your eyes kind of light up.  What was it about the short [film] and the story? Is there anything inherent in that short or that story that grabbed you and spoke to you?

JASON BLUM: Well, I actually got involved with the movie after these guys had made it; kind of like we did on Paranormal Activity. It screened in Toronto and I loved it and the distribution was kind of a question as to how was going to happen. So if there was a way to try and lend our name and marketing and a lot of the stuff we did on Paranormal Activity to this movie, I was psyched to do it and help out. So we got involved at that point.

And the reason my eyes lit up when we talked about it in October is because of exactly what we’re talking about. I think that this story, I mean, the studio would never make this movie, it would never get made on a traditional $30 million studio-type format. Like a studio-produced horror movie as opposed to a studio-distributed movie, so I love that. I thought that was really original and that’s why my eyes lit up.

JOURNALIST: Mike, how many mirrors did you look at before finding the one. It’s the same one in the short, right?

FLANAGAN: Close, it’s very close. Looking for the mirrors for the short film was challenging mostly because we couldn’t afford any, and so it was like trying to find something that would have character and be Gothic but also beautiful, because I didn’t want it to be like, Who the hell would hang this up in their house? That was really tricky.

So, we found this mirror. It’s plastic.  It was a bathroom mirror, I think, from the Howard Eliot collection. And got in touch, and we were able to get the mirror in. And when it came time for the filming, it was like, Okay, we want to design our own thing, taking some DNA from that original mirror but kind of trying to come up with something that was going to be even more impactful, more organic and kind of have more living qualities to it.

There’s something really awesome that [the production] did with the mirror. When you get really close to it, the frame itself is comprised of these writhing humanoid forms, that are all interlocked and you can’t really see it from a few feet away, you have to get right up against it to really pick up that detail, which I loved about that. We had crew walking right up and leaning in their face right up against it and so they could see it. It was like only as you really examined it did more elements become obvious. I thought that was so cool for the movie. It’s hard to show it. There’s only one shot I think in the film where Karen reaches up and touches it in the auction basement, where you can see that design work.

I liked having the idea that this was an organic creature that was digesting souls of the people it would come in contact with. We had an idea early on to that we could say that the frame had actually been growing subtly over the years, and it kind of kept feeding. By kind of looking at it as a living thing, it’s really important to the design. So I think the one they come up with is a really interesting riff on some of the elements that the actual mirror sort of had, which is actually the mirror that’s still hanging in my son’s room [he laughs]. It was Russell Barnes and an artist in Alabama named Bruce Larson who kind of came together and created that frame for it. I really love that frame. And I really want one of those for son’s room as well.

©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
The mirror. The monster. ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

JOURNALIST: How did the experience of directing the short prepare you for directing the feature? How did you prepare?

FLANAGAN: The short was a fantastic exercise because we didn’t have any resources. And in order to create tension and kind of satisfy the genre elements that we wanted to hit, without any of the tools you’d expect to have, was a great exercise for us. With the short we didn’t have money for lights, so we just had to wash the whole thing with white colors. The short [film] was low light and high contrast and things like that. It’s a bright white room. I mean, there’s kind of no shadow to hide in. If we can make that scary, then we can get away with almost anything.

So the other things that it was really useful for was we learned really fast that you can only put a camera in a room with a mirror in only one of three places before you’d see it reflected back at you. Shooting a small space with a large reflective surface is actually a terrible idea. So it was really good to kind of work all that out early when we got into dealing with the feature. The questions came up very quickly, How are we going to make this visually interesting if we have to shoot with a reflective surface? How are you going to not see the crew? How are you going to make it aesthetically pleasing with variations in shots? How are you going to get to move the camera through the space without giving everything away? Things like this we learned from doing the short, which was not only dealing with the reflective surface of the mirror but with these live monitors that were hooked-up to the cameras – the crew would get caught in that too. So it was like we already had to learn the hard lessons of that.

The beauty of the feature was with the one room we built on the stage … we could have wild walls. We could give ourselves just a couple of feet of extra room so that we could keep the camera moving and have a wide variety in our coverage without bumping into problems with the glass, so that was a big lesson that carried over.

[divider]

Click here for Part 2.