Media

Francis Ford Coppola

Just in time for the New Year celebration, I received a copy of a new Blu-ray collection from Lionsgate Studios of some of Coppola's best films. This set contains Apocalypse Now/ Apocalypse Now Redux (1979), The Conversation (1974), Tetro (2009) and One From the Heart (1982). True, it does not contain any of the Godfather saga material, but most cinephiles already own that collection. It also does not include Patton, Tucker or Cotton Club, because there are simply too many movies in his lifetime to include here. This collection should be enough of a sampler to whet your taste. I'm going to review these films in chronological order starting with the psychological thriller, The Conversation:

The Conversation

Starring: Gene Hackman, Cindy Williams, John Cazale and Allen Garfield

1974, Rated R, Color, Aspect 1.78:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 1 hr 53 min

Picture: 4 out of 5

Sound: 4 out of 5

Entertainment: 4.5 out of 5

This story revolves around a surveillance expert (Hackman) whose wire tapping job sends him into a nerve-wracking web of paranoia, secrecy and murder. Audiences mistakenly thought this film was tied into the Watergate break-in scandal with Nixon, but the movie script actually predated that event by several years. Though the equipment in this film is extremely dated, it does give you the creeps knowing that technology can be used by almost anyone to invade your privacy. The spy equipment used in this film was discovered through research and technical advisers of the time. This film has a great twist to the ending as well. What happens when we only hear snippets of conversations between people? Do we make assumptions? Do those assumptions have consequences? And who is watching those that watch you? Hackman is such a wonderful actor and he plays this role with understated deliberation. This film was enjoyable to watch, though a bit unsettling. Perhaps that is why I liked it so much?

Picture quality was a bit of a mixed bag. Close shots revealed good detail and color saturation, but some scenes had a bit too much grain. A few dark scenes exhibited some crushing of details, but overall, the print was pretty clean and blemish free. Sound, which plays an important part, especially for listening to taped conversations, was very clear and open. The surround mix added in street and crowd noises while helping to maintain distinct dialog. Not a lot of sub woofer in this film, but it does wake up a few times during the presentation. This is not an action film by any stretch, but one that will glue your eyes to the screen all the same.

Apocalypse Now Redux

Starring: Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, Laurence Fishburne

1979, Rated R, Color, Aspect 2.35:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Orig.: 2 hr 50 min/Redux: 3 hr 36 min

Picture 4.5 out of 5

Sound: 4.5 out of 5

Entertainment: 5 out of 5

The film production was so hindered and delayed that insiders called it "Apocalypse When". It was plagued by a slew of problems including typhoons, Harvey Keitel's firing, nervous breakdowns, Sheen's heart attack, Brando's weight (thus he is filmed in the shadows for most of his screen time), and half of the Philippine military extras getting called out to fight actual rebels during crucial filming of scenes. Add to all of this the general hazards of filming in a tropical location with heat and humidity and you can start to grasp the magnitude of this films undertaking. However, in spite of all of these "issues", this is perhaps the best Viet Nam experience ever set to celluloid. If all war is madness, this war was the maddest of them all. I watched the Redux version which adds another 49 minutes to an already long movie, but it is closest to the actual intent of the director and fleshes out the story better. The acting is astounding by all. Sheen (who looks so much like his son, Charlie) is a troubled captain sent on a secret mission to assassinate a rouge, insane army officer who is hiding in the "heart of darkness" in central Cambodia. 3/4 of the movie is just the trip to get to the renegade outpost, but what a trip it is! Coppola cameos briefly in this movie...see if you can spot him. This is required viewing for those that love war movies or like movies that provoke deep thought and conversation afterwards. The images will linger with you long after the movie ends. No wonder it was nominated for 8 Academy Awards.

The picture quality is superb throughout. Razor sharp details abound with wonderful contrast and color. Someone spent time making this film look this good and we are grateful. The sound is also a big plus for this film. Lots of sub and surrounds come into play during the battle scenes. Chopper fly-overs are smile inducing. And who can resist the opening title music, "The End" by The Doors...in full surround sound! This is the best looking film of this collection.

One From the Heart

Starring: Teri Garr, Frederic Forest, Raul Julia and Harry Dean Stanton

1982, Rated R, Color, Aspect 1.33:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 1 hr 40 min

Picture: 2.5 out of 5

Sound: 3 out of 5

Entertainment: 2.5 out of 5

Against a $26 million budget, this fantasy musical only grossed $600K domestically. Why include it in this collection? Coppola was pioneer. This movie was made using video-editing techniques that were unheard of in its day. Garr and Forrest star as a Las Vegas couple whose 4th of July break-up leads to a night on the strip in pursuit of their romantic fantasies. The entire movie was shot indoors at Zoetrope Studios, which Coppola owned and operated. It took him the rest of the decade to get out of debt with this movie, but the editing-on-the-fly technique would become the standardized process for Hollywood from this time on. Though not a bad film, it is definitely an 80's flick which looks and feels quite dated.

Picture quality jumps from good to poor, sometimes in the same scenes. Detailed one minute, fuzzy the next, the movie has an inconsistent quality to it. The lighting techniques are more theatrical than cinematic, and it takes a bit of getting used to. Color is used to express a range of emotions in each scene. Deep blacks can lack depth and can appear dark grey at times. Tom Waitts provides the songs and music, which sounds fine in surround, but the rest of the movie comes across as a bit flat sounding. Specks and scratches (even a large hair at 26 minutes in!) crop up upon occasion. This film did not get the treatment that the rest of the collection got. Other than its historical value, it is not a film that would demand repeated viewing.

Tetro

Starring: Vincent Gallo, Alden Ehrenreich, Carmen Maura and Klaus Maria Brandauer

2009, Rated R, B/W, 2.35:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2 hr 7 min

Picture: 5 out of 5

Sound: 4.5 out of 5

Entertainment: 4.5 out of 5

The newest film in the collection and the only one in black and white. Set in Argentina, two brothers reunite after years of separation. One brother is a poet called Tetro, the other younger brother is Bennie. What follows are rivalries born out of creative differences passed on by their father (Bandauer), a world famous conductor. As with all of Coppola's films, things are not always what they seem and the ending is unforeseen. The main theme is about family dynamics and the profound impact these relationships have between fathers and their sons. This movie is slow paced and character driven, but the pacing allows for great development and maintains your interest to the surprising conclusion. Not all good films require explosions and gun fire.

This film looks gorgeous in black and white. Beautiful details and contrasts can be seen throughout. The scenes that have color almost look "hyper real" after watching the B/W scenes. Where most film makers use black and white on dream or recall sequences, Tetro reverses that and has all the recall scenes in vivid color. I loved this film for the camera work and interesting play of light throughout. Sound was clear and expansive as well. Perhaps it looks good because it is newer than the rest of the films in the collection, but this is another example of how stunning a black and white film can look on Blu-ray.

In conclusion, my favorites in order would be: Apocalypse Now Redux, Tetro, The Conversation and finally One From the Heart. Each film has Coppola's unmistakable fingerprint on them, yet they are all so very different from each other. (Just to be clear, these films all contain some nudity and pervasive language, thus the R ratings). The included extras are a bit sparse, but enough to give some good insights into the productions of each film. I would have expected a booklet of some type, but alas, nothing was inside the case except the discs themselves. Still, this collection makes up a fine treat for Coppola fans, and for those budding cinephiles who want to explore this pioneering filmmakers oeuvre, this is a good place to start.