BARFI! blu-ray review

barficover

India Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

Hindi DTS-HD 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 9.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 9

AUDIO QUALITY: 9.5

EXTRAS: 7.5

The big emotional moment in Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill comes in the final climactic courtroom speech when Matthew McConaughey is talking about the black girl who gets beat up and raped, “Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.” Don’t worry, this film is totally unrelated to Barfi! but I would like you all to participate in McConaughey’s lawyer approach for a moment:

Barfi! is an Italian-French dramedy set in the 1970s about three people who are seeking love and acceptance. Jumping between Verona, Italy and Brittany, France, Barfi (played by Roberto Benigni) is a deaf-mute who unintentionally gets into trouble with a chubby police inspector (played by Michel Blanc) always on his tail. Barfi falls in love with gorgeous Shruti (played by Monica Bellucci) but she’s already engaged and pressured to marry a man she doesn’t love. Even as she eventually falls in love with Barfi, Shruti gives in to pressure from her mother, chooses to live a typical life with the man she does not love, and moves away. Heart-broken and dealing with his father’s job loss and health problems, he tries to rob a bank to pay for an operation his father needs. When his bank robbery plan fails, Barfi decides to kidnap and hold for ransom the daughter of his father’s ex-boss – a sweet autistic woman named Jhilmil (played by Nicoletta Braschi). This plan fails as well, and no matter how many times Barfi tries to free Jhilmil, she becomes emotionally attached to Barfi the likable clown. He gives up trying to get rid of her and lets Jhilmil tag along with him as they both run from the law. Some years later, Barfi runs into an unhappily married Shruti and all three end up developing a unique friendship. There begins a love triangle – who ends up with who? Barfi! is a heartwarming film with Chaplin-esque comedy, tear-dripping drama, perfect direction, powerful performances, and a unique story. While the film may be too commercial to be Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign film (as it was the film that India submitted to the Oscar’s Best Foreign Film but wasn’t selected), Barfi! is my favorite foreign movie of the year.

“Now imagine all the characters are Indian and the movie takes place in India!”

I had heard many positive things about this Indian film but I was a bit cautious. After all, the title of the movie sounds like “The Man Who Liked to Vomit” to me. I am also very skeptical about any new movies that tackle the mentally handicapped genre because they end up looking like a parody. As quoted in Tropic Thunder, “You went full retard, man. Never go full retard.” Right now in India, they love making movies about mentally-challenged characters just as Hollywood did in the 1980s and 1990s but the genre was eventually killed off by the painful-to-watch Jack, Patch Adams, Radio, The Other Sister, and I Am Sam. But Anurag Basu’s Barfi! managed to pull it off as another great entry into the respectable “mentally-challenged” film list that includes Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Being There, Awakenings, and Temple Grandin. Wisely, the performance from former-Miss World Priyanka Chopra playing autistic Jhilmil goes for the “less is more” style of acting mentally-challenged. While many popular Bollywood actresses such as Aishwarya Rai and Kareena Kapoor typically act the way a glamorous star should act, Priyanka Chopra has been surprising everyone with her skillful acting chops to a point where this “Charlize Theron of India” has turned into one of the best actresses in India – she has been choosing all kinds of roles in her last bunch of films – I would have never guessed that she would become such a good character actor with diverse roles. Usually in Bollywood films, the actress is just there to support the main actor who is basically the cocky superstar athlete on a basketball team. In Barfi!, the two leads support each other equally. While we aren’t talking Daniel Day-Lewis and Meryl Streep here, it’s pretty close – Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra give outstanding performances and work together perfectly as two superstars on the same team. Ranbir Kapoor’s Barfi is pretty damn amazing. Inspired by Charlie Chaplin, his performance as a likeable baffoon is quite special to watch. When most Bollywood movies are plagued with infinite filler and awful dialogue that bloats the running time to over three hours, Barfi! has accomplished something never before in a commercial Indian film – the two main leads rarely talk. When Barfi speaks, he only says his name. When Jhilmil speaks, she only says his name. All the communication is visual as if the audience is watching a silent film starring Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard. Never did I feel bored watching this 151-minute film that featured plenty of scenes with no dialogue. The only thing that made the movie seem longer than usual are the many musical montages of the characters getting to know each other. But if there weren’t those musical montages, then Barfi! would have trouble showing time passing for the characters. So actually, I don’t even think that trimming the montages would have made the film better. Yes, the movie is long but no scene is wasted.

The most impressive aspect of Barfi! is the greatest direction I have ever seen for an Indian film. If you have ever seen films from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) and Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Miral), you will be very pleased with the direction by Anurag Basu. I’m not just talking about the beautiful cinematography of Calcutta, Darjeeling and other landscapes – the way he frames each scene is a total work of art. I’ve been intrigued with Basu’s past films as he has been one of India’s controversial directors. In 2004, he directed a remake of Adrian Lyne’s Unfaithful called Murder. I checked it out because it included infamous kissing scenes (naughty for Bollywood). In 2006, he directed a crime film called Gangster that was very popular in India. And in 2010, he directed Kites which had an interracial romance of an Indian dude falling in love with a Mexican girl, and it took place in America. All three films were worth checking out, but nothing really memorable. I thought Basu was a controversial director – nothing more. But after watching Barfi!, I would have never guessed what a talented director he is. After Barfi!, Hollywood will be contacting him!

The Region-free Blu-ray from UTV/Reliance Home Video is as good as it can get for a Blu-ray from India – excellent 2.35:1 1080p video quality, engrossing Hindi DTS-HD 5.1 that highlights the film’s catchy music and Amelie-esque accordian score. The English subtitles are perfectly translated, the Blu-ray menu is pretty to look at, and there a couple of extras such as a 50-minute making-of, a short featurette, and some deleted scenes. This is a perfect package that comes with a Blu-ray slipcover as well. I would like to note that there are just a few minor distractions with the video. First, there’s a “cigarette cancer” warning that pops up in the corner when any character smokes. Second, there are two very quick instances of macroblocking during two separate scenes. Both last a second, but they are there and should have been caught by quality control.

So what are you waiting for? Check out the best “European” film of the year!

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MIAMI CONNECTION blu-ray review

miami

USA Region A blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

IMDB

MOVIE: 9

VIDEO QUALITY: 8.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 8

EXTRAS: 8.5

There have been films that have been critically bashed when initially released in theaters – sometimes they need to age over time to be appreciated and even be considered masterpieces. Historically, a negative reviewed B-movie or box office failure can evolve into a respectable art-house film over time. There have been films that changed the typical pattern of what audiences expect to see when they come to the theater such as with the French New Wave style that popped up in the 1960s. They too have been labeled as art-house films. Pretentious films always have the advantage of getting graded as art-house much quicker than a B-movie that eventually gets respect. Why should a film with beautiful cinematography, pretty actors, meaningless dialogue (or even lack of dialogue), and an unconventional storyline that does not follow a traditional three-act setup get more respect than a B-movie that evolves into an art-house film over time? For example, art-house film fans love directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, and Wong Kar Wai. Their films are obviously respected and loved in the art-house world. But they are an acquired taste – try watching Pierrot le Fou, Last Year at Marienbad, and In the Mood for Love and you’ll know that they are the prototype films to be appreciated by art-house film lovers due to them being pretentious, pretty looking with polished cinematography, and/or many people just naturally connecting to these films. I really wish I could connect to these New Wave films but I can’t. I’ve tried to force myself to watch them over the years and at different ages, but I still can’t get into them and can’t connect with them to really see how special they are to others. In the opposite spectrum, I connect more to the critically-bashed B-movie that evolves into a respectable art-house film over time. These films may get their own special label such as “pulp, exploitation, cult, or camp” which still is basically another way of saying “these are special films but they are still inferior to traditional art-house films respected by most famous critics.” A pretentious art-house film loved by many should have equal respect as a campy B-movie that ages well, turns into an admirable film, and is also loved by many. Call it what you want, Y.K. Kim’s Miami Connection is actually a work of art.

After reading reviews online before watching Miami Connection, there seems to be general consensus on the internet that you can just automatically accept it as bad film or you can choose to watch it as a “so-bad-it’s-good” film – the type you watch in the theater or at home with a bunch of friends and laugh at it because everyone else is laughing – the “contagious laughter” factor. I expected Miami Connection to fall into the “so-bad-it’s-good” category, but actually I ended up watching this film quite seriously even as it had a bunch of those unintentional laugh-out-loud moments. I was mainly mesmerized by what a unique 1980s film this is, which is why I consider Y.K. Kim’s creation a very special art-house film.

If you have read up about this film, you should expect to see a wacky film about an ass-kicking rock band that beats up drug-running ninjas and gangs on the streets of Orlando, Florida. The negative characteristics in Miami Connection, such as the bad acting, cheesy dialogue, funny line delivery, and hilarious bloody action, all work just fine because the dedication that all the actors put into this film seems totally genuine. While the acting may seem amateurish at first, I quickly forgot about this negative trait once you see how all the actors have chemistry with each other. The big laughs in the movie mainly come from the token black actor who has the honor of delivering most of the unintentional funny lines.

For a film that had mainly non-actors and a crew that never wrote or directed a film before, I was surprised to think about directors Walter Hill, John Carpenter, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Robert Altman as I watched Miami Connection. Plenty of famous directors have made cult-type films as their first movies. For a person who never filmed anything before, Y.K. Kim’s direction is actually quite good. All of his shots are visually pleasing and the editing was fine too. There are some funny slo-mo shots and awkward cuts, but his direction was much more professional than I expected. The martial arts scenes are generally choreographed very nicely too especially since 1980s Hollywood is infamous for cheesy martial arts scenes. Fight scenes are exciting and usually funny due to the hilarious reactions of the non-actor goons who get their butts kicked, as well as Y.K. Kim doing a funny-as-hell impersonation of Bruce Lee during his fight scenes. How unfortunate that Kim did not make any more movies since Miami Connection is his only film.

The main attraction of Miami Connection is its generous portion of pure 1980s magic. We have actors that look 40 years old playing kids, an absolutely awesome soundtrack with catchy tunes, hairy gang members, ninjas, cheesy action, memorable dialogue, breasts, and so much more! The 1980s was a bizarre time period and has been a challenging era to copy in contemporary movies such as The Wedding Singer or American Psycho. Filmmakers try but cannot match that dreamlike weirdness of the 1980s, which is why many 1980s films are now aging well.

The Region A Blu-ray from Drafthouse/Image is quite impressive. Restored to 1080p 1.85:1, the video quality looks very good with some scratches in the beginning and grainy night scenes. Still, the video is very pleasing with crisp detail in most scenes. This Blu-ray is definitely HD-quality! I’m sure most fans used to watching the VHS will be extremely happy once they see this Blu-ray. Audio is decent. Music rocks and dialogue is clear but make sure to ignore the DTS-HD 2.0 listing on the back cover because the only audio mix offered on this Blu-ray is Dolby Digital 2.0. I would have loved to hear this movie in DTS-HD 5.1 with the plentiful action and memorable music, but the DD 2.0 is perfectly fine. After all, Drafthouse got lucky with finding a decent print to restore onto Blu-ray. English SDH subtitles are an option – especially if you want to remember the great songs in this film. Drafthouse has also provided an extremely generous amount of extras: a booklet about the film (similar to what Criterion does), an audio commentary with the director and writer, deleted scenes, making of, a reunion concert with the band, a featurette on Y.K. Kim, movie trailers (for Miami Connection and other Drafthouse film releases) and an extremely funny 30-minute infomercial. Also offered is a reversible cover as pictured to the right, but I’m perfectly happy with the regular beautiful-looking cover art by artist François Simard.

Art-house film or cult film, Miami Connection is totally entertaining and transports the viewer into the magical and dreamlike world of the 1980s. It’s too bad this film didn’t get turned into a cartoon series. The Blu-ray is a definite blind buy if you are curious to see a truly unique action film from the 1980s!