VIVA MARIA! blu-ray review

Australia Region B blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2:35.1

French: Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English (non-removable)

IMDB

MOVIE: 8

VIDEO QUALITY: 8

AUDIO QUALITY: 7.5

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 1

 

Viva Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau – two of the hottest French actresses of the 1960s! Viva Maria! is an underrated film that I had only heard of after I watched Louis Malle’s wacky Zazie Dans Le Metro a couple of months ago. After watching Zazie, I was impressed with Malle’s successful style of pulling off a fun and crazy film.  I have always associated Louis Malle as being a serious director – known for dramas such as Au Revoir Les Enfants, My Dinner With Andre, Elevator to the Gallows, Vanya on 42nd Street, The Lovers, and Atlantic City. With the experimental Zazie fresh in my mind, I learned that Malle had made another exciting and zany film, but this time it was more of a mainstream popcorn film – Viva Maria! I read some mixed reviews and watched a trailer. I don’t know about others, but the following keywords add up to my kind of movie: Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau in Bandidas mode (the movie starring Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek), striptease, IRA, western, traveling circus, slapstick, sex, explosions, action, musical, Mexican revolution, crazy Mexican dictators, Gatlin gun, and a custom-made curved gun. I’m sold! After watching the trailer a couple of months ago, I thought to myself that this movie was made for Blu-ray, but there was only a DVD available. To my surprise, I just discovered last week that an Australian Blu-ray of Viva Maria! was released last week!

Viva Maria! is proof that Louis Malle could make a mainstream action film. Don’t look for depth and an amazing story in this film, which can be found in Malle’s other films. Viva Maria! is just an entertaining adventure of two sexy French ladies. Maria 1 (Bardot) grows up tough with an IRA extremist father blowing up British places as often as possible. By the time she’s a teenager, the British govt. has wanted posters of both her and her father posted all around England. With her weaponry and bomb-making skills, Maria 1 escapes England and hides with a traveling circus in Mexico. Maria 1 meets striptease performer Maria 2 (Moreau) and instantly become friends. Moreau teaches Bardot how to act, sing, dance, and love. Bardot teaches Moreau how to fight. Maria & Maria become a striptease duo sensation as they travel around Mexico. They only take a break from super stardom to help a village fight off some Mexican dictators. As silly as it sounds to see Bardot, Moreau, and their circus troupe fight a whole army with magic tricks, bombs and a Gatling gun, the movie’s wackiness works. With the right mixture of drama and humor, Viva Maria! comes across as a black comedy which could be remade by someone like Emir Kusturica (a director who loves to mix misfits and comedy into war situations).

I never had the DVD version of Viva Maria! but after looking at DVD screencaps online, this Australian Blu-ray is a big upgrade regarding video quality. This doesn’t mean that the video quality has no faults: the 1080p 2.35:1 image has scratches and dirt that show up here and there, the colors are a bit inconsistent at times, blacks aren’t handled that great (literally – in a quick scene with African soldiers, the detail of their faces are lost under the shadows of their hats and their faces become blurry shadows. This wouldn’t be a big deal if it was a night scene, but this was during a bright day scene), and long shots look sometimes like an upconverted DVD. With the negative out of the way, the majority of this Blu-ray still feels like a Blu-ray. Medium shots and close-ups look impressive with detail, clarity and sharpness. I don’t remember any shot of Bardot and Moreau being ruined by poor Blu-ray remastering. George Hamilton’s face looked plastic, but I’m not sure if that’s because he is plastic man or if there is a hint of DNR on this Blu-ray. The beginning of the movie has questionable video quality, but as the movie progresses, video quality improves. I was afraid that I had wasted money on an upconverted DVD as I watched the first scenes, but as the film ended, I was pretty satisfied with this Blu-ray. The disc has all the benefits of being a high-definition Blu-ray – sharp, crisp, and clear characteristics – but no one bothered to do a better job of cleaning up the dirt, scratches, and colors.

The French DD 2.0 is nothing special – just expect a decent old school audio track found on a DVD. Although the track isn’t some spiffed-up lossless audio track, the dialogue is pretty clear with no distortion, musical scenes sound very nice, and subwoofer and speakers fortunately show a little power during gunfire and explosions. The majority of the film is in French. When English is spoken, the English subtitles don’t pop up. And when Spanish is spoken, English subtitles pop up.

The only extra is a trailer and the non-removable English subtitles for the film are excellent. I only noticed one spelling mistake.

Louis Malle’s Viva Maria! is a highly rewatchable action film with funny and sexy performances by Bardot and Moreau. Although Bardot is known as the more traditional beauty, I think that Moreau is much more attractive with a similar face and body language to Italy’s Monica Bellucci. As beat-up as this Blu-ray may seem, watch the Blu-ray and then look at DVD screencaps online to see what a big difference this Blu-ray makes. I can’t imagine the UK or USA releasing this on Blu-ray anytime soon, so I definitely recommend this Blu-ray!

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VALLEY OF FLOWERS dvd review

Thai PAL dvd

Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

Hindi/Japanese DD 5.1 (original)

Thai DD 5.1 (dub)

Subtitles: English

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 8.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 8

AUDIO QUALITY: 8

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 2

 

Valley of Flowers is a pretty underrated gem which leaves you with unforgettable imagery in your mind for weeks after watching this film. Pan Nalin also directed another underrated film Samsara, so if you’ve seen that movie, expect Valley of Flowers to be slightly similar but more exciting. This film is literally a Buddhist western/love story (sort of like a cross between Seripham Falls and The Fountain)! This movie is full of eye candy – from the picturesque scenery to one of best-looking international actresses I’ve seen in a long time – Mylene Jampanoi (the main actress in the French horror film, Martyrs). Both of Nalin’s films are spiritual-related flicks with sprinkled with sex and violence. While Samsara is the deeper and slower movie, Valley of Flowers is the more intense, exciting adventure one. Nalin is a very skilled writer/director and is an expert at filming beauty. The acting is great as well. If you want to see a new kind of “robbery” movie, this is for you – they ain’t just robbing the bank here. They want “something” more than just the money. And now, I’ll say no more!

The Thai DVD is anamorphic widescreen and has the original Hindi/Japanese DD 5.1 audio (and Thai DD 5.1 dub). This is the type of movie that needs a blu-ray release. Unfortunately, there aren’t any current plans to release this film on blu-ray so your best best is this DVD or the more expensive Australian PAL DVD.  The DVD is just good – color and contrast are solid, and elements like fog are presented with very little artifacting. Night scenes are of course not as amazing as the day scenes, but overall the breathtaking visuals will distract you from any other anomalies that were barely present. The DD 5.1 soundtrack is very solid as well for this type of film. The sound is very dream-like with a lot of active directionality to the soundtrack. A DTS option would have been nice, but the DD 5.1 does the trick just fine. The English subtitles are perfect. The only extras are a trailer and photo gallery.

If you are interested in Buddhist/Tibeten/Karma mysticism, then Valley of Flowers is for you. If you end up liking this movie, then you should definitely check out Samsara on DVD as well.

THE VALLEY blu-ray review

UK Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

French: LPCM Mono

Subtitles: English

IMDB

MOVIE: 8.5

VIDEO QUALITY: 9.5

AUDIO QUALITY: 9

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 10

EXTRAS: 8

 

I love discovering these directors that started started as experimental, art-house film directors in the 1970s yet I had only really known them as mainstream film directors since I only watched their later films in the 1980s til now. I had always seen the newer films of directors like Nicholas Roeg (The Witches), Peter Weir (The Truman Show), and Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Kiss of Death), but only recently I had no idea that they started with more art-house, underground films (Walkabout, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Valley) until seeing their filmography online.

After reading many reviews online about The Valley, I was a bit discouraged from blind-buying it because this film has many mixed reviews. I had never seen it before but the trailer for this film looked very interesting. The involvement of Pink Floyd didn’t hurt as well. Knowing this film was from the 1970s, I expected a lot of psycho-babble (in the negative way). The only psycho-babble I’ve loved from an underground 1970s film is Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. Fortunately, The Valley unfolds as a very straight-forward road trip movie with not so much psycho-babble. The small amount of psycho-babble in this film isn’t even annoying or obnoxious. As drugged up as the characters may be, they don’t seem that out of it. The Valley is basically about a small group of fun-loving, open-minded hippies seeking out a paradise somewhere in a hard-to-reach valley in Papua New Guinea. A conservative gorgeous woman from the city, played by Bulle Ogier, tags along. She starts out as a b*tch, but as their adventure gets closer, she evolves into a very open-minded regular gal. Bulle Ogier is not only amazing looking in this film, she’s totally likable even when she’s playing unlikable. She is the audience. She is playing the role perfectly of how an outsider would be by just joining some quest in the middle of nowhere. As a viewer, I really connected to her sense of curiousity and fears that she experiences on the way to the valley. I had seen her only as a middle-aged woman in French films from the 1990s, so it was great to see her in her gorgeous-looking prime.

The movie is totally entertaining from beginning to end. I usually don’t like road trip movies, but I do love nature/tribe people movies…and The Valley does not disappoint. The cinematography by Néstor Almendros (Days of Heaven) is beautiful and for anyone that fantasizes to leave the real world to go live with nature, this movie is like a fantasy film. And the audience gets to learn a bit something from these Papua New Guinea tribe people from the movie and the three short documentaries that are extras on the blu-ray.

Pink Floyd fans are known to be disappointed with The Valley because the movie is not filled with tons of Pink Floyd music. They basically score one awesome sounding song that plays at the beginning and the end of the film and it is a pretty memorable tune. It sort of reminds me of the music from an early John Carpenter movie.

I also enjoyed the male lead in the film, Michael Gothard, who I had only known as one of the villains in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. He does a good job playing a guide, lover, and guardian angel to Bulle Ogier’s character.

BFI Video has released an excellent quality blu-ray. The video of this blu-ray shows off amazing colors, it’s clear, crisp and totally clean. And it’s got a nice amount of grain that would normally be removed and DNRed if this was an old Hollywood film. So BFI did as perfect job as they could do on the remastering of the video. The French PCM mono is excellent as well – dialogue clear, and the sounds of nature and Pink Floyd score sounds great on this. When watching this blu-ray, you feel like you are actually there in Papua New Guinea.

The extras are pretty decent as well – there are three short full screen documentaries about the tribe’s pork preparation, make-up preparation, and tribal ceremony. All are very interesting and informative and looked great on blu-ray as well. There are 3 more of Barbet’s trailers in HD (More, The Valley, and Maîtresse). And there is a very informative booklet that comes with the package.

Great underrated movie and an almost perfect blu-ray/DVD (Pal) package. Highly recommended!

VEERA blu-ray review

India Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

Telugu: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English

IMDB

 

MOVIE: 6

VIDEO QUALITY: 10

AUDIO QUALITY: 10

ENGLISH SUBTITLES: 7.5

EXTRAS: 7.5

 

Ravi Teja’s VEERA: If you are good, he’ll cuddle with you. If you are bad, he’ll chop off your legs.

I don’t know if anyone has ever experienced watching a movie in a dream. It happens to me all the time. In my dream, I go into a movie theater and walk into a film which makes no sense and has no order but is entertaining nonetheless. When I wake up, I try to remember really hard what I had watched in my dream, but all I can remember are entertaining bits of pieces. Watching Veera gave me that dream experience. I was afraid I was going to be bored silly watching this film after reading all the horrible reviews, but overall it’s like any other typical “time-pass” film from India but what amazed me with this film is that Veera is a very dream-like film.

Veera can be certainly classified as a chaotic mess with a story with no focus, but I thought it was pretty interesting how the director shuffled two films into one film. There’s one film with an interesting, exciting story about a tough officer protecting a family from two very scary charasmatic villains, with good acting by the leads – such as the character ACP Shyamsunder (I don’t know the actor’s name) who is a lookalike and similar to the good German actor Moritz Bleibtreu, as well as good acting from the villains. And then there’s another story that was shuffled into the good film – a non-funny slapsticky comedy film about an officer who has to deal with family members that he’s protecting. In this film, the acting is awful and the story is not interesting. This shuffle is really bizarre with highly emotional or violent moments jumping to some happy, cheerful song or scene – it’s quite funny actually (especially with the scene change to the final Veera theme song). I know that this is expected in a masala film, but in Veera, it does feel bizzare and out of place. If Veera’s director had learned about cutting a movie, it would have been wiser to have just cut out all the comedy filler scenes to make this movie a more serious action movie, which it almost was. There was a good base there. It could have been very similar to a movie like LEON or Korea’s THE MAN FROM NOWHERE had it focused on a bad-ass officer (Ravi Teja) protecting a child from two crazed villains. If the movie had been written well, the movie could have focused more on Ravi Teja’s relationship with the child, but instead we get Ravi Teja cuddling and goofing around with his fat non-funny friend most of the time. The two villains are actually awesome. We get a really creepy Indian Robert Davi-type criminal. And then later on in the film, we get a seriously bad-ass holy man villain, who also is bossed around by his Arundhati-nutcase of a wife.

There are some positives in this film though:

The first positive in this schizophrenic film is that the direction is pretty good, even with its quick-cut editing. If I had to compare, Ramesh Varma does seem to be inspired by the Hollywood director Tony Scott, which isn’t a bad thing. The action in the beginning, middle, and end is quite entertaining. The climax of the film is so violent and over-the-top, it’s actually worth the 150 minute running time. There are protagonists that get slaughtered which was very satisfying since they were so annoying in the comedy filler scenes. Unfortunately, the two most annoying actors in this film, Veera’s sister and Veera’s fat comic friend survive the slaughter. I was really hoping for Veera’s sister to get her head chopped off by the bad guys because she’s one of the most obnoxious female characters I have ever seen in an Indian film. The climax is very Shaw Brothers by the way – from the final action scene all the way to the ending.

The second positive is that the movie co-stars the beautiful and talented Kajal Agarwal. I was getting worried as I was watching this film because she doesn’t show up until half way through. But when she shows up, she steals every scene she’s in, because she is a real movie star. I think she’s the most likable and hot actress in Telugu cinema today, especially after becoming a fan of hers after seeing her in MAGADHEERA.

The third positive in the film are the songs. They are all catchy and highly entertaining. I have no understanding of the poor reviews I read about the laziness of these songs.

Is Ravi Teja the fourth positive in the film? I don’t know. He’s a likable guy, but I know this isn’t the movie to judge him. This is the first time I’ve watched him, so I just don’t know what to make of him yet. To me, he seems like a cross between a young Amitabh Bachchan and Borat. I like him. I just don’t love him. He’s certainly a hundred times better than Ashkay Kumar!

The 2-disk Blu-ray/DVD combo produced by Bhavani is pretty much perfect for an Indian blu-ray. Veera is a beautiful-looking film and the blu-ray transfer does it justice. It’s as attractive as its stars, bright, crytal-clear and with exceptional amounts of detail.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Telugu audio track is just as good, with obvious use of surrounds, and a crisp, clear soundstage that makes use of all five channels during the action and song scenes.
The film may not be that great, but this Bhavani blu-ray is certainly demo-worthy.
The extras on the DVD version were actually pretty impressive – it’s basically a good 90-minute home video of the process of shooting songs and other scenes. It’s quite interesting and a reminder of what a pain in the butt it is to make a film.

The only negatives of the blu-ray are:
1. The English subtitles are grammatically incorrect and full of awkward translations most of the times. Sure, we can understand the gist of the film, but the English subtitles should have been better.
2. The Bhavani logo pops up during songs. It’s not so distracting and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that watches Indian blu-rays and DVDs, but there is no need for logos popping up on blu-rays as we all know.

Overall, Veera could have been a really good exciting action drama, but an awful comedy has been randomly shuffled in with the good scenes. I don’t know if it’s worth watching, but it’s certainly an entertaining movie. The night before I just rented the Hollywood film Priest and fell asleep to it. Eventhough that film was polished and slick, the story in that film was so generic and boring, I fell asleep. As messy as Veera was, I had no urge to close my eyes and I was totally entertained! But make no mistake, Veera is not a good film!

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