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Featured Blu-ray Review: Filmmakers Signature Series

October 10th, 2012

The French Connection - Buy from Amazon
Wall Street - Buy from Amazon
The War of the Roses - Buy from Amazon

A few weeks ago, there a number of films were released on Blu-ray as part of the Filmmakers Signature Series, including Hoffa on Blu-ray. I received The French Connection, Wall Street, and The War of the Roses, the first of which I previously reviewed. Are any of the three worth picking up?

The French Connection - Buy from Amazon

I previously reviewed this film, so there's little need to go into the plot or the quality of the film. Suffice to say, it is a classic and if you like police films or Neo Noir films, it is a must have.

The Extras

There are two audio commentary tracks, the first by the director, William Friedkin, and the other with the two stars, Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider. There is also a trivia track and a track with an isolated score. Up next are 12 minutes of deleted scenes, with an introduction and an audio commentary track with the director. There's a 20-minute making of featurette on the very famous car chase in the movie. Gene Hackman sits down for an 11-minute interview on the movie. Friedkin is joined by the real life Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo and they talk about the real case. Scene of the Crime is a five-minute making of featurette on how they shot a famous traffic jam scene in the movie. Cop Jazz is a 10-minute featurette on the music in the movie. Rogue Cop is a 14-minute look at the new style of cop films that this film helped create, in part by borrowing from the past. Finally, there's Making the Connection, a nearly hour long featurette from the original real stories to the making of the movie and the film's legacy. The Blu-ray also comes with a booklet with essays and images.

The original 2009 Blu-ray release was not well received, as there were some digital manipulation going on, specifically color timing. This transfer is better in every way. The level of details is stronger, although it is looking its age and there is grain, especially in the shadows. The colors are more natural, the contrast is sharper, etc. The film was originally shot in mono, so don't expect a lot of activity in the surround sound speakers. Also, a lot of the times, the effects and other noises overpower the dialogue, but this is mostly intentional.

The new version costs $20, which is a little much for a catalogue title, but if you held back buying before, it is a good deal.

Wall Street - Buy from Amazon

Charlie Sheen plays Bud Fox, a junior trader that is struggling to make a name for himself. So far he hasn't had much luck; in fact, at the beginning of the film, one of his clients screws him over and he loses seven grand. After work he talks with his dad, Carl, who is clearly worried that Bud's line of work wasn't the best choice. He's making good money, $50,000 a year, but he's falling deeper in debt. At least Carl's having better luck. The airline he works for and is a big guy with the union had an accident, but the FAA is going to rule it was a manufacturer's error, not maintenance. This will let the airline off the work and will mean more jobs.

Bud Fox finally gets the big break he was hoping for the next day, which happens to be Gordon Gekko's birthday. Gordon Gekko is a legend on Wall Street and if Bud can impress him and get to work with him, he's got it made. He gets a meeting by bringing expensive Cuban cigars; however Gekko is less than impressed by his stock tips. That is until Bud uses insider information he got from his father to give Gekko some insider information. When the deal turns out to be a huge moneymaker, he gets an in with Gekko, and $1 million to invest with.

Despite putting in a lot of effort in researching stocks, Bud suffers some early losses. Gordon Gekko pressures him to get more insider information. At first he resists, but not wanting to mess up his big chance to strike it rich, he does what Gekko tells him to do. This turns out to be a very lucrative decision. But as his mentor, Lou Mannheim, says there are no short cuts to success and scam artists come and go. Will Bud go for the fast success? Or will he fall like Lou warns him.

Wall Street is Machiavellian, literally. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote a story called The Prince, which he saw as a warning for the masses about what the people in power will do to build and maintain power. Some of the people in power saw it as an instructional manual. Wall Street is a warning about the destructive power of greed. However, a lot of people saw it as an instructional manual for modern capitalism. Greed is not good. When a con man looks for a mark, the first thing they look for is not gullibility, but greed. Greed will make a smart person do dumb things, something we've seen happen time and time again. So this is a very important film. It is also a very well made film, for the most part.

Granted, Wall Street is a little heavy-handed at times and there were a couple of supporting cast members that were perhaps miscast. The film also follows a very familiar arc for the main character, but those are really the only complaints I have about the film.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary track with Oliver Stone. There is also a nearly hour-long making of featurette. Next up are 23 minutes of deleted scenes that can be watched with or without audio commentary track. There's a second making of featurette, this one 48 minutes long. Finally, there's a 12-minute Fox Movie Channel Presents look at the film. There is also a booklet with essays and pictures.

The video and audio are not so great. The film is 25 years old and it is starting to show its age. Sometimes there's not a lot of fine detail and there is quite a bit of grain or the image is a little soft. Other times it's fine. The colors are a little muted and the blacks tend to be a little gray rather than deep black. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. It is very much a front-and-center track. Then again, this is acceptable for this type of film.

The War of the Roses - Buy from Amazon

The film begins with Danny DeVito playing Gavin D'Amato, a divorce lawyer. He's speaking with a prospective client who wants a divorce and Gavin knows it will be a difficult one and he wants to give the man some free advice first, by telling him the story of the most difficult divorce he'd every dealt with. So he tells him the story of Barbara and Oliver Rose.

The pair met at an auction in Nantucket when they bid on the same item. Oliver offers to walk Barbara to the ferry, but when she misses the last off the island, they spend the night together and it is true love. They quickly get married, have kids, etc. At first it is tough, because they don't have a lot of money, but they truly love each other. However, the more successful Oliver becomes in his law firm, the further the loving couple drift apart. He cuts off her stories, he dismisses her dreams of starting a business, etc. When the kids move out, she throws herself at renovating the mansion they bought, but the love in the marriage is gone.

When Oliver suffers what he and Barbara think is a fatal heart attack, Barbara realizes that when she thought Oliver was dying, she was happy for the first time in a long time. The pair realize it is best to get a divorce and move on with their lives. However, when Barbara decides she wants the house and everything in it, Oliver won't let her. She thinks the house should be hers, because she put all of the work into renovating and the interior design. He thinks the house should be his, because he put all the money into it. What starts out as a bad divorce soon becomes something that is much, much worse.

The War of the Roses is a black comedy, which is a notoriously difficult genre to get right. It is hard to balance the darker aspects with the comedy. That said, the filmmakers nailed it here. This is a mean movie. The two Roses do some horrible things to each other, but thanks to great writing, directing, and especially acting, there's still a lot of humor here. The film, under the direction of Danny DeVito goes as far as possible into the dark areas without crossing over a line and quite frankly, I'm surprised he didn't get more recognition for the film. On the other hand, I'm not surprised Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas both earned Golden Globe nominations for their performances.

The Extras

Extras begin with an introduction by Danny DeVito to the Blu-ray itself. It's short, but it is fun. He also sits down for a commentary track. There is a nearly half an hour making of featurette / retrospective with Danny DeVito and James L. Brooks, the producer. Danny DeVito then sits down for a nine-minute featurette with David Newman, the composer. David Newman did the music for Critters? I love that movie. Next up is a 23-minute montage of deleted scenes hosted by Danny DeVito. There are also trailers, TV spots, production stills, and the script. The two featurettes are new to the Blu-ray edition of the film. Like the other Blu-rays, this one comes with a booklet with images and essays.

The video quality is good, but not great, mostly due to aesthetic choices. The film is often shot with a softer focus while it is also quite often darker. Because of these, there are many scenes that don't have the fine details you would like to see on high definition. However, this transfer is still a step up from the DVD and given the source material, it is very good. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. The dialogue is sharp, but there's not a lot of activity in the surround sound speakers. That said, for this type of film, the dialogue is by far the most important part of the audio.

The Blu-ray costs $20, which is good for a catalogue title with exclusive extras. It is not a bargain, but it is also worth picking up.

The Verdict

The original The French Connection Blu-ray had issues, but the Filmmakers Signature Series Blu-ray clears those up, so it is worth grabbing. Wall Street is a great film and absolutely worth owning, but the Filmmakers Signature Series Blu-ray is currently not available on, so you will have to hunt for that elsewhere. Finally, The War of the Roses is making its Blu-ray debut with the Filmmakers Signature Series and not only is the movie great, but there are Blu-ray exclusive extras on the disc. All three are worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, The War of the Roses, Wall Street, The French Connection, Gene Hackman, James L. Brooks, Dan Castellaneta, Danny De Vito, Michael Douglas, William Friedkin, Hal Holbrook, Roy Scheider, Charlie Sheen, Martin Sheen, Oliver Stone, Kathleen Turner, David Newman