Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Blu Ray)

I have grown up a student of film from a very young age. I have been collecting for almost 15 years now. It is an art form that I could study forever, and probably will. I had a very influential high school film teacher who exposed me to some of the early classics I had never seen before. Although I had been fairly familiar with Hithchcock’s work at this point, viewing his work in this class shed a new light on my love for film. We talked in depth as a class about the different elements of film, and why a Director would make a certain choice to show the audience something the way they did. I do have to admit, the teacher and I did most of the talking. I was not shy to share my opinions on the movies we were watching, and felt like I had a lot to offer. But I learned the most by simply watching. Hitchcock has become one of my top five directors ever to film a movie.

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My big focus as a collector has really shifted quite a bit. I have really sought after collector’s sets that I feel have to be on my shelf. My range is not that wide in terms of sets that I am willing to put money down for. And to be honest, most of my collection is digital at this point. That being said, a couple months ago, Universal released a set I could not say no to. “Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection” comes packed with 15 of Hitchcock’s best films. “Psycho” (my personal favorite), “Rear Window”, and “The Birds” are among the most notable of the films you will find in this set, but it goes much further than that. The set boasts “Saboteur”, “Shadow of a Doubt”, “Rope”, “Rear Window”,  “The Trouble with Harry”,  “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “Vertigo”, “North by Northwest”, “Psycho”, “The Birds”, “Marnie”, “Torn Curtain”, “Topaz”, “Frenzy”, and “Family Plot” (Hitchcock’s final film).

This is a great collection, however, there are a few glaring mistakes here. I really feel like we should be seeing “Dial M for Murder”, “The 39 Steps” and “Strangers on a Train”. I’m not sure why these three hugely popular titles are missing. But nonetheless, we get a great collection of films from the Master of Suspense.

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The box set itself is very well put together. It is housed by a very sturdy cardboard box. But it has more of a build than cardboard. Inside we get a book insert, “The Master of Suspense”. It offers a great glimpse into the films and includes some memorable quotes. The Blu Ray discs can be found in a book format catalog. Each film has a full foldout that includes original poster art work of the film as well as a quote from the film, and a rundown of the special features that are included.

The discs also feature great artwork from the film. It should be mentioned that the discs are a little hard to take out of their sleeve. But on the upside, they are held in very well, so you won’t have discs flying out as you open the book.

I haven’t had a chance to view all of the films on Blu Ray, but from what I read, there is a varying range of quality of film transfers. I don’t doubt that Universal has done their due diligence with this set, but I will have to see for myself.

Overall, I am very impressed with this set. It should be on the shelf of any serious Hitchcock fan, even given the omission of some of the great Hitchcock films.

-David B. Harrington

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Lincoln

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Steven Spielberg’s resume extends for decades. He has given us some of the most memorable moments in film and movie making history. His latest film, “Lincoln” focuses on the political state of the 19th century at a time when the United States was at war with itself. President Abraham Lincoln was in office during this very trying time in history. The film is a lot more of a political focus than it is a focus on the actual Civil War. President Lincoln faces opposition in his effort to find peace within the county. He is set on abolishing slavery and has to gain support from the Democratic party to pass the 13th Amendment, which we now know of course, was passed.

This is a really touching, really human piece by Mr. Spielberg. He has that element in really every film he has done. A great deal of my movie watching memories are credited to Spielberg films. “E.T.” still draws emotion out of me every time, and this is because of the care he puts into character development. When a character is developed as well as in his films, the story is automatically enriched. Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of President Lincoln is nothing short of amazing. It is great to see the family man aside from the office he holds, although his family was far from perfect. His wife Mary, played by Sally Field was a troubled individual. The death of one of their sons had a tremendous impact on her. When their son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) prepares to go to war, she essentially tells her husband to put her in the crazy house, because she could not handle losing another one of her children. There is tension in their relationship because of traumatic things that have happened, and the stress of the Presidency. But there are some moments between the two that show the good of their relationship as well.

This film is not for everyone. It has a 150-minute run time, but it feels like a solid three hours. It is very long, and very dry, but it is a very good film, and one that should be watched in my opinion. This covers a time in the history of the United States when change was needed. The abolishing of slavery was one of the key moments in our history, and President Lincoln was key to the success of the 13th Amendment.

This is a beautifully shot film, and one of Spielberg’s best in recent memory. This is well worth 150 minutes of your time, especially if you have any kind of interest in history, and learning about the evolution of our wonderful country.

 

-David B. Harrington

Life of Pi

life-of-pi-1   The holiday season brings with it some great films. This year has some promising titles. Ang Lee, the acclaimed Director of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Brokeback Mountain” adds to the season with his latest film “Life of Pi“, a truly phenomenal story based off the book by Yann Martel. I have read the book, and therefore had a good amount of expectations when coming into the theater to see this. I have to say, this film delivers!

The story follows Pi Patel who lives with his family in India. His father owns a zoo, and so he is constantly exposed to animals. Pi is curious about religion and in discovering God in his life, so he explores many religions. His father warns him about being a part of more than one religion, and even religion in general, stating that science has shown humankind more than religion has. This is not good enough for Pi as he continues his exploration of religion. Later, his family comes across hard times and they are forced to sell their zoo. They bring the animals aboard a ship that they are taking to Canada, where they are moving. They are going to sell all the animals. Once on board the ship, a very large storm hits, and the ship sinks. Pi gets aboard a small boat off the side of the ship. The only problem is that there are animals on the boat with him, including an adult tiger. What ensues is a journey of self-discovery and a story that will “make you believe in God.” This film worked on so many levels for me. It is absolutely gorgeous to watch. Ang Lee has a true gift in the way that he visually presents his stories. This whole journey we go on with Pi is really brought to life by the images we see on the screen. The colors are very rich, and the whole film seems like a dream sequence, as there are some pretty fantastic moments. But that really is the basis of the story he tells, a story that is hard to believe. But I love that the film (and the book of course) don’t give any definite answers as to what really did or didn’t happen. It allows for the viewer (or the reader) to discover for themselves what really happened.

It is interesting to see the evolution of Pi’s character as he continues in his time of desperation to search for God. I really feel like he finds Him in his journey. The tiger whom he calls Richard Parker (it’s funny how that name came to be) allows for Pi to face his fears. He breaks down the fear that was built up through experience with what is seen as “dangerous”. Back at the zoo, Pi almost gets his arm ripped off by Richard Parker. His father teaches him a lesson by forcing his son to watch Richard Parker attack a goat. He tells his son that the tiger is not his friend. But the bond that they develop on the boat really does break down the walls of fear, and allows for discovery of friendship in the most unlikely of places and situations.

This film really caused me to take a step back again, just as I did when I read the book, and ask myself some pretty important questions, such as where my relationship is with God and how I “believe”. This film should not be missed.

 

-David B. Harrington

Killing Them Softly

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It has been quite a while since I can say that there is a Brad Pitt movie that I really enjoy. The streak continues with “Killing them Softly” which focuses on the mob scene. After a Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) robs his own mob-protected high-dollar card game, he is warned that if it should happen again, he will pay. Then, a couple of smart-guy rookies decide to perform a robbery on a card game Markie is hosting, because they think the mob will automatically blame him for it due to his recent past. So, the two rookies go in and collect all of the money, with dish washing gloves on their hands, nets over their heads, and a sawn off shotgun that is cut a little too short. They escape, but not for long. The mob brings in Jackie (Brad Pitt) to fix the situation. A couple of errand boys for the mob beat up Markie pretty bad, and then later, Jackie finishes the job. The two original robbers from the second hit on Markie’s place don’t get away for too long before Jackie catches up with them.

Some films work really well with a slower pace, but it was a really grueling task to be patient with this film as it had little to no pay off. I felt like the pace only slowed rather than picked up. It would spike in a few (very few) moments, and then go right back to tough-guy mob dialogue that really has more bark than bite. It is really tough listening to Frankie (Scoot McNairy) talk. He has this really whiny tone whenever he opens his mouth. But, on a another level, he does play the rookie robber really well, in fact, he comes off as a rookie actor as well. The other supporting cast including James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”) and Richard Jenkins (“Let Me In”) don’t offer much either.

I am no stranger to mob or gangster movies. I have seen my fair share. That being said, there are movies like this that come along, and I can’t help but feel that there are simply trying to be as “cool” as the others that have done really well. Don’t get me wrong, there are worse movies out there, but this is not going to find itself on any lists of must see-movies, even within its own genre.

This was a film I was looking forward to seeing, but unfortunately, I can’t make any recommendations here. I’m not even sure if this is worth the slide of a card at the local Red Box for movie night.

 

-David B. Harrington

Wreck-It Ralph

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Disney has produced some of the most beloved animated classics of all time. I remember growing up with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Rescuers”, “Beauty and the Beast”, and “The Lion King”, just to name a few. Some of my greatest movie-watching memories are credited to this great company. However, over the last decade or so, Disney has been more miss than hit (not to be confused with the Disney-Pixar films) with films like “Atlantis: The Lost Empire”, “Home on the Range”, “Chicken Little”, and “Meet the Robinsons”. That being said, there have been some bright spots with “Brother Bear”, “The Princess and the Frog”, “Tangled” and the beloved “Winnie the Pooh”. Now we come to the latest entry in the collection of animated films now stretching 75 years. “Wreck-It Ralph” brings a lot of fun for a wide range of ages. It does a really good job of pulling in the 8-bit generation with a lot of retro video game material.

Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is a character in the popular “Fix-It Felix Jr.” which features Fix-It Felix (John McBrayer) who is loved by all the characters in the game. As time goes by Wreck-It Ralph realizes that he doesn’t want to be a bad guy any longer, but would rather be good. He is told that he is a bad guy and can never be good. So, he goes on a journey for a medal (which he is told aren’t awarded to bad guys) and does so by entering the “Heroe’s Duty” game. He ends up finding his way to “Sugar Rush”, a racing game where he befriends Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) who is a glitch in her game, and therefore not accepted by those in her game. With this common ground, the two become good friends. What ensues is a journey of self-discovery and friendship, and that good old warm Disney feeling.

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I really enjoyed this movie. I went with my wife, dad, and my four boys who all enjoyed it. There were a lot of funny moments, and spots where you would laugh if you “got” the video game references, including cameos by a lot of memorable characters. Disney does a really good job of developing characters that we really care about. Wreck-It Ralph and Venellope are a good on-screen duo, and really do develop that genuine emotion with the viewer.

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I found the soundtrack to be another feature of this movie that really added a lot to the whole experience of what they were trying to communicate. It had a retro video feel as well as an instrumental mix that added to the quality of the film. I appreciate when styles are able to be mixed (i.e. mixing retro with modern) in a really effective way.

The holiday season comes complete with quality time spent with family. We always enjoying watching good movies together in my family. This is a film well worth spending a couple hours with the family to see. Point goes to Disney on this one.

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-David B. Harrigton