TAMPOPO blu-ray review

Germany Region B blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.85:1

Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (original)

German Dolby Digital 2.0 (dub)

Subtitles: English, German









The perfect movie aka Tampopo has finally been released on English-subtitled Blu-ray! If you have a Blu-ray player that can play Region B Blu-rays, I recommend buying this cult classic from Germany right away before it becomes out of print. If I had to list my top favorite five movies of all time, Tampopo certainly makes the cut. Not only extremely rewatchable, Tampopo is the best Japanese film ever made.  Many people may think that Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is the best Japanese movie ever? I don’t know about that. I think those are the same people who say that Citizen Kane is the best American film ever made. Both films are great but just a bit overrated. Tampopo is on the opposite spectrum of being the most underrated Japanese masterpiece ever made. Either way, do not miss out on Juzo Itami’s Tampopo!

Tampopo is a film about people who love food. The main story follows two truck drivers, Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) who come across an unpopular ramen noodle shop in the outskirts of Tokyo. The shop is run by Tampopo, a sweet 40-year old widowed mother who doesn’t realize that her business has been failing because she has been serving poor-quality ramen to her customers this whole time. After the two truck drivers save Tampopo’s teenage son from bullies, they are rewarded with a bowl of crummy noodle soup. Feeling pity for Tampopo, Goro tells Tampopo the awful truth about her cooking and takes it upon himself to improve Tampopo’s cooking skills. As Goro and Tampopo team up and figure out methods to create the perfect ramen noodle soup, the couple falls in love. This touching story is also sprinkled with hilarious vignettes of people’s interaction with food: a yakuza and his mistress perform erotic acts with food, a homeless man turns out to be master chef, an old lady sneaks around in a supermarket just to feel the food, a class learns the proper way to eat spaghetti in a restaurant, and many more. Scenes suddenly shift to these vignettes and back to the main story with perfect editing and transitions.

The German Region B Blu-ray is a huge upgrade from any of the previous English-subtitled videos. You can throw out the awful-quality letterboxed USA DVD version. The only other good English-subtitled DVD was the Japanese anamorphic version which you can throw away as well. While this German Blu-ray did not receive a massive restoration, the 1080p 1.85:1 video quality is a revelation. The video has its problems but this is not an upscaled DVD – this movie has finally received the HD treatment and looks beautiful. With increased resolution, there is detail in almost every shot and brings real depth to the image. Flesh tones sometimes lean to the red but look good enough. The image is also very clean and crisp. Bright or day shots look the most amazing. The main negative with the video quality are the blacks – night shots or dark scenes tend to sacrifice shadow detail – there are a few scenes where you will be practically watching a black screen. All things considered this is a pretty great presentation of a catalog film that will most likely not get released on Blu-ray outside of Japan and Germany. The Japanese 2.0 does the job and is totally serviceable. While the audio didn’t get spiffed up, the dialogue is clear and isn’t problematic whatsoever. The English subtitles are excellent. Please note that English subtitles are not advertised on the back cover or in the Blu-ray menu. The English subtitles option only appears when you press the subtitles button during the movie which gives you options of German subs, English subs, or no subs. The only extras are an hour and a half “making of” (in Japanese only with no English subtitles or German subtitles for some strange reason) and trailer. The German Blu-ray comes with a reversible Blu-ray cover with better artwork as shown above.

I really don’t have too many favorite films that I could watch once a week, but Juzo Itami’s Tampopo is one of those rare films that I could watch all the time. I guarantee that you will be hungry while watching this food porn film.


MARTHA blu-ray review

Denmark Region B blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 1.66:1

Danish: DTS-HD 2.0, Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian








Depressing, gloomy, serious, dark, and disturbing are the usual words that cross my mind when I think of movies from Denmark. Thanks to filmmakers such as Lars Von Trier (The Kingdom, The Idiots), Nicolas Winding Refn (Valhalla Rising, Pusher), Susanne Bier (In a Better World, Brothers), and Christoffer Boe (Reconstruction, Allegro), I have had this stereotype about Danish films for many years now. Even my memories of Babette’s Feast – the first Danish movie that I saw when I was eleven years old – remind me more of repulsive and dismal scenes rather than scenes of delicious-looking food.

There has to be some uplifting Danish films that have existed over the years, but for now, I was fortunate to find Erik Balling’s Martha – a 45-year old film that is the most cheerful and funny Danish film that I have ever seen.

Martha is considered to be one of Denmark’s most popular cult-comedy films, especially popular among Danish sailors.  The movie is about a very old freight steamer named “Martha” that is practically falling apart and barely floating on water. Forgotten by the Danish shipping companies and laughed at by competing Norwegian ships, the lazy crew takes advantage of their ship’s weakness. They sit around all day drinking alcohol, spend most of their budget on extravagant fancy meals on board, make stops on shore to drink and party at local pubs, and even try to hook up the youngest crew member with a prostitute. Old habits change when the ship’s strict owner, his wife, and their beautiful daughter surprise the crew with intentions of spending some time on board.

I was skeptical about being entertained by a bunch of drunk slobs for 93 minutes, but the characters in Martha are so funny and entertaining, I was hooked immediately. I was also skeptical that the movie wouldn’t be funny for non-Danes, but I was also wrong since Martha is an example of a perfect old school European comedy that anyone can enjoy, and the characters and storyline are universally understood. The cinematography is also wonderful – with great shots of the sea, the ship, and port towns. The whole movie felt like it was filmed out at sea. I don’t know if they filmed any scenes on a set because even the indoor shots felt like they were at sea. Martha’s impressive direction by Erik Balling makes me want to seek out more movies from this director.

The Danish Region B Blu-ray from Nordisk Film Distribution is nearly reference quality for a film from 1967. Martha was my first Danish Blu-ray so I really didn’t know what to expect, but after viewing this Blu-ray, I reminded myself that Scandinavia is, after all, known for producing quality products! I’m happy to report that this cult-comedy classic has received full respect regarding the Blu-ray video and audio quality. The 1080p 1.66:1 image looks amazing! With a slight touch of grain, the print is spotlessly clean and its sun-baked scenes of the ship out to sea excel with an impressive level of crisp detail. Color saturation and blacks look great too. The Danish DTS-HD 2.0 sounds as wonderful as this type of mix can sound. Dialogue is absolutely clear and the realistic ship sounds and catchy music never overwhelm the dialogue. Even with a front-heavy 2.0 mix, the audio still felt immersive and I felt like a passenger on the ship. The English subtitles were perfectly translated and a Danish DD 2.0 audio choice, as well as Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian subtitles are also included. No extras are on this Blu-ray.

Martha is a great Danish comedy and makes one want to go sailing on any kind of ship – a cruise ship or even a beat-up rusty one. Even though this film would make a nice double feature with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Martha feels so much more special than Wes Anderson’s film. Released on an impressive quality Blu-ray, I highly recommend you all to check out Denmark’s Martha!

99 FRANCS dvd review

Canada NTSC Region 1 dvd

Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1

French: Dolby Digital 5.1, DD 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles: English








For anyone that wants to see if Jean Dujardin is the real deal after winning the Best Actor award for The Artist, check out Jan Kounen’s 99 Francs – one of the best French films from 2007. Based on the cult-classic French book by Frederic Beigbeder, 99 Francs is the perfect film to be double-featured with David Fincher’s Fight Club. The coincidences between the two movies are absolutely eerie. Both novels by Beigbeder and Chuck Palahniuk are cult classics that criticize society’s obsession with consumerism and advertising. Jan Kounen is the French version of David Fincher – their creative style of filmmaking is basically the same. And both films star leading men – Pitt, Norton, and Dujardin – who create extraordinary performances that most leading men actors could not pull off so well.

99 Francs is about Octave (Jean Dujardin), an obnoxious advertising executive who works for a famous advertising company. Octave is so successful at his job that he’s the type of person that could create advertisements for plain pieces of paper and make millions. He is rich, successful, loves cocaine, and loves his job. But once he finds out that his girlfriend Sophie (Vahina Giocante) is pregnant, his lifestyle and perception of the world around him changes. Unable to deal with the reality of pregnancy, his life goes from one extreme to another. His job becomes a joke to him, realizing that advertising just seems totally ridiculous, especially challenged when he’s in charge of creating an advertising campaign for a new yogurt called “Madone” (which is obviously parodying “Danone”). Just like in Fight Club, 99 Francs is a visually creative and intense movie filled with unique special effects and camera tricks that builds up to an unpredictable explosive climax.

I’m very thankful for Canadian DVDs to consistently release French movies with English subtitles when their French DVD counterparts do not have English subs. This Canadian DVD of 99 Francs is currently the only English-subtitled version of 99 Francs out there. I wish I could say that the DVD has awesome quality for such a visually spectacular film, but it’s not so. The video quality does suffer more than the audio. The anamorphic 2.35:1 image is not going to be impressive on big HDTVs. While the rich colors are reproduced perfectly, the image is plagued by a somewhat blurry transfer. While not at as distracting or annoying as an interlaced DVD, the video quality should have been much better, especially for this type of film. The good news is that we are not alone – I thought that non-French speakers were being screwed, but actually, everyone got screwed – I read online that the non-subtitled DVD/Blu-ray versions from France also have poor video quality. With that in mind, the DVD is totally acceptable. Even if Dujardin’s Oscar win improves the chance of an English-subtitled Blu-ray from North America, UK, or Australia, I won’t be surprised if the transfer will be pulled from the French Blu-ray master. Instead of waiting ages for a better hypothetical Blu-ray version of this film, this Canadian DVD is worth the money. 99 Francs is such a good film, you’ll forget about the faults of the video quality as you watch this film.

The French Dolby Digital 5.1 is fortunately better than the video quality. The audio is a perfect mix, mainly focusing on front speakers with absolute clarity and depth. Surround speakers are mainly used for atmosphere. Subwoofer is generously used throughout the film as well. 99 Francs is the type of film that would have benefited from a DTS track, but overall, the DD 5.1 is quite good.

English subtitles are perfectly translated.

Non-French speakers will unfortunately miss out on the two commentaries and documentary because they don’t have English subtitles.

For anyone that is disgusted with advertising nowadays, 99 Francs is the movie that breaks down the absurdity of it all. Fans of Jean Dujardin and Fight Club must check out this movie, but I recommend 99 Francs to everyone!

VIVA MARIA! blu-ray review

Australia Region B blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2:35.1

French: Dolby Digital 2.0

Subtitles: English (non-removable)








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!

DIK TROM blu-ray review

Holland Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.35:1

Dutch: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English









Dik Trom is not about dicks or anything sexual, which is unexpected for a Dutch film. Quite the opposite, Dik Trom is a charming PG-rated family film that is entertaining for children as well as adults. Based on children’s books by Cornelis Johannes Kieviet released in the early 1900s, this 2010 movie marks the eighth movie adaptation of Dik Trom. The director tries to get the message across that it’s okay to be fat if you are physically active and it’s okay to be a thin health-obsessed person if you eat junky food once in a while. The message is nothing new, but the movie is delivered in quite an entertaining visual spectacle! Imagine a mish-mash of George Miller’s Babe movies, Lass Hallstrom’s Chocolat, Tim Burton and Dr. Seuss – that’s Dik Trom!

Dik Trom, translated to Chubby Drums, is the name of the cherubic boy who’s the star of the movie. Dik is a pretty happy kid with two plump parents who love him dearly and feed him tasty food nonstop. Dik’s father is a very popular street food vendor (famous for selling hot dogs) in the town of Fatville. At a local sports competition, restaurant bigwigs offer Dik’s father a chance to show off his talent in an empty restaurant in the town of Thinville. The only catch is that if his restaurant doesn’t succeed after a month, he’ll have to close shop and go back to being a street food vendor. The Trom family packs their bags and head to Thinville which is like a town populated with families straight out of Michael Bay’s The Island. All dressed in very light shades, the townsfolk of Thinville constantly exercise to an extreme. Everyone is jogging in the street, using their treadmills on their porches, elementary school students sit at stationary bike desks, etc. At this point, we have entered Dr. Seuss land! The Trom family thinks that they can run a successful restaurant with ease until they realize that townsfolk are not only exercise fanatics but they are also health food freaks. Supermarkets are carb-free and meatless with aisles and aisles of fruit, vegetables, and water! The Trom family not only have a hard time figuring out how to get people into their restaurant, but they also have to deal with the town’s workout guru Sonja Slager who inspired the whole town to follow this health-obsessed madness as well as personal trainer Dolf who runs a popular gym next to the restaurant. Both Sonja and Dolf want the Trom’s restaurant to fail but they have a tougher time than they thought to rid the town of the Troms!

The Dutch Region-free Blu-ray is quite impressive. The 2.35:1 1080p is reference quality. The video is absolutely spotless. Colors are vivid and bright with no smearing whatsoever. The video is totally sharp and well contrasted. This is one of those movies where you feel like you have to wear sunglasses because the video is so three-dimensional and bright (but bright as in the director’s style of filming, not as a fault of the Blu-ray). The Dutch DTS-HD 5.1 is also excellent. Not quite reference quality as the video, but still very impressive. Dialogue is mixed slightly lower than sound effects and music, so there were times where I had to reach for the remote to monitor the volume. This mix makes pretty good use of all speakers and subwoofer. The English subtitles are perfect and the non-subtitled extras are a Making of, Casting of the child actors, a Flash mob dance promoting the film in a Holland mall, and a trailer to the movie.

Dik Trom is a visually spectacular family film worth seeing. I’ve been pretty disappointed with recent European films that are marketed only for their native country, but Dik Trom is the type of film that could be successful if it was marketed outside of the Netherlands. If you check out this excellent Blu-ray, I guarantee that you will be hungry while watching this cute film!

RA.ONE blu-ray review

India Region-free blu-ray

1080p Widescreen 2.39:1

Hindi: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD 5.1 (original)

Tamil Dolby Digital 5.1, Telugu Dolby Digital 5.1 (dubs)

Subtitles: English, Arabic









Ra.One is currently the most expensive Bollywood ever made costing around 35 million dollars. This sci-fi film is about a video game developer played by Shah Rukh Khan who is perceived to be a loser by his 8-year old son. In order to impress his son, he develops a virtual-reality fighting game which features a super villain named Ra.One with characteristics of the ten most destructive historical bad guys. Khan also adds a superhero character into the game to fight against Ra.One, which looks just like the father, named G.One. The creation of the villain Ra.One gets out of hand, pulls a Tron, escapes the video game world and enters the real world, kills the father, and chases the son around London and Mumbai. In order to protect the boy and stop Ra.One from creating mayhem, one of the other video game developers figures out how to free G.One into the real world too. When G.One is not fighting Ra.One, the son and wife (played by Kareena Kapoor) teach G.One how to be more human in his spare time. Think of this movie as a cross between Tron and Terminator 2. The movie is entertaining but this is just another Bollywood movie that should be called Revenge of the Nerds 34. Almost every other commercial-made, Masala, non-arthouse Indian film is plagued by nerdissism or dorkeritus.

For 35 million bucks, the special effects are fine with some standout action scenes but not as many as I expected for the money that was spent. There are some creative slo-mo punching and intense train scenes, but the rest of the action is pretty forgettable. The problem with this movie is not the story nor the acting, but mainly due to India not hiring the professionals who specialize in wire work and screenwriting. What’s the point of spending so much money on a movie when they don’t put the money where it counts?

First, the fight choreography was actually pretty good in this movie, but it was ruined by poor wire work. If you are going to use wire work, make it smooth. The producers decided to not hire any Hong Kong action choreographers. In turn, actors look like they are just flung around like rag dolls – what a great way to ruin potentially cool-looking action scenes. Slo-motion wire-work flips are scenes that can actually bring people to the theaters. There’s a reason that people want to see Kate Beckinsale do those slo-mo flip kicks in the Underworld movies – she looks hot and she looks natural doing it because the wire-work is perfect. Sloppy wire work makes actors look bad and goofy! Once again, hire Hong Kong action choreographers!

Second, the screenplay written by supposedly rising star Kanika Dhillon is plagued by nerdissism or dorkeritus. She may be young and hot, but she’s no different from any other Indian screenwriter. Indian screenwriters must be the biggest nerds or dorks in the whole wide world because they are obsessed with adding their own insecurities into their screenplays. Could they make it more obvious that they are embarrassed with their own nation? You are embarrassing your country. You are creating a goofy and nerdy stereotype for your country! Here’s a list of no-no’s for you Bollywood screenwriters:

1. Stop trying to have characters that are trying to be cool or hip. Stop saying the word “cool” and “dude” in movies. Stop having dorky characters transform into cool characters because the supposedly cool characters are as dorky and embarrassing as their original nerd characters.

2. Stop throwing in fancy English words into movie dialogue to prove that you are a master of the English language as you are with Hindi. Yes, I understand that you are proud that India knows English as well as Hindi, but it never shows in Bollywood films. You are making India look bad. The more you bring awareness that you are using fancy words, the more forced, awkward, and embarrassing it seems. Bollywood movies would be better if they hired American, British, or Australian screenwriters for the English dialogue at least.

3. Stop perverting the idea of Masala. We all know it’s possible to mix action, drama, romance, music, and comedy into a film in a positive and charming way. Are you really proud of bringing it to the next level by including gory violence, sexism, racism, and homophobia for the children? Such great films for the whole family. Way to go!

The best part of Ra.One is when the movie includes an inside joke cameo of South India’s superstar Rajnikanth playing his character from the other big Indian sci-fi movie Robot (Enthiran). If you’ve seen Robot, you’ll know this was a special moment. It’s like the equivalent of Batman making a cameo in a Superman movie. The best line is also during this scene. Kareena Kapoor tells G.One that “this is India’s number 1 superhero” which is true. Robot is 100 times better than this movie. If you want to see a perfect sci-fi musical with amazing and creative action, watch Robot instead and skip Ra.One. This movie is still entertaining and worth a look to see what all the fuss is about, but my advise is to just buy the Telugu Blu-ray of Robot if you want to see money well spent on an awesome Indian sci-fi musical.

The Eros region-free Blu-ray is pretty good. The video quality is actually excellent with some faults here and there. I don’t know what anyone is talking about when people complain about the video quality of this blu-ray. Sometimes during dark scenes, the video seems to be covered by a light brown filter, but all other scenes look beautiful – clear, crisp, damage-free. There is great depth in faces. No DNR. The video isn’t three-dimensional but overall this is a perfect way to watch this movie. Most picky people will not notice any problems other than the ones I mentioned on this blu-ray. There aren’t any watermarks that pop up during the movie as well, which is a huge plus.

The audio isn’t as impressive as the video quality. It’s a solid audio mix, but there are times where dialogue sounds muffled. There is also a vast difference when dialogue shifts to action. I had to reach for the remote control to lower the volume many times throughout the film. Surrounds and subwoofer are very active on this Blu-ray. For a new action movie, there is no excuse for the audio to have these types of problems. Overall, the DTS-HD 5.1 Hindi is still a positive experience to watch this film. The English subtitles were very good, perfectly translating the dorky dialogue to the non-Hindi speakers.

No extras on this Blu-ray. There are English and Arabic subtitles, as well as Hindi, Telugu, and Tamil DD 5.1 audio tracks.

There is nothing really that wrong with the acting or the storyline in Ra.One and I’m happy that this movie has special effects that are equal to the ones in a Hollywood movie, but it’s a shame that the movie  is ruined by poor wire-work and awkward dialogue. The movie is worth watching, moves along very quickly, and was exciting from beginning to end. Out of the six or seven songs in the movie, there are two very catchy ones. Overall, Ra.One is a nice attempt by Bollywood and worth a look, but definitely check out Shankar’s Robot (Enthiran) instead if you want to see a much more amazing film. For some perspective, Ra.One is at least better than some Hollywood movies such as Iron Man 2 or Spy Kids 4.

JAZZMEN blu-ray review

Russia Region-free blu-ray

1080p 1.37:1 Full Screen

Russian DTS-HD 5.1, DD 5.1

Subtitles: English









Russia sure knows how to make even an upbeat and energetic film seem depressing – Russia’s JAZZMEN is about a jazz band of four men that struggle to find gigs in Russia during the 1920s. All they want to do is play jazz for the people, but they get resistance everywhere they go. If they are performing for the rich, they are supporting the bourgeois and get put in jail. If they are performing for the poor, they have to censor themselves. Music experts don’t like them. Regular citizens think their music is not traditional. They can’t even find a singer for their band – they try out a female Cuban singer (who’s just a Russian actress in black face). They even want to try out a hot Russian female singer who thinks their band is a joke. And no matter where they go, everyone thinks that they are supporting capitalist America. This movie is basically about a bunch of hard-luck musicians fighting an ignorant society. The depressing aspect of the film is that the only way that this band can gain recognition and have jazz become respectful in Russia is if a top-ranked military officer endorses them. And sadly, that’s how Russia really works even today. It’s a military-obsessed state where it’s the type of place to prefer an endorsement of a general, policeman, or politician rather than someone in the entertainment business.

JAZZMEN is full of catchy tunes so the film does satisfy for the musical lovers. It’s a bit funny that all the actors aren’t really playing their instruments though. They are trying real hard to be in synch with the jazz music (I’m guessing that the director, Karen Shakhnazarov, just dug up some snazzy jazz records and told his actors to pretend to play those songs). The acting is decent. You’ll get a kick out of the leader of the band, the piano player, who looks like a cross between Matt Damon and Mark Hamill. The guitarist has an amazing mustache. The saxophone player is overwhelmingly jolly. And the drummer reminded me of the blond goofball from Trainspotting.

The Russian Region-free blu-ray is not only a solid home video for English speakers but it’s your only choice because the Russian DVD never had English subtitles. If you want to see this movie with English subtitles, voila! The 1080p 1.37:1 is quite solid. The video is crisp, clear, and clean. It’s neither three-dimensional nor is it soft. It’s just an all-around satisfying video experience. I have a feeling that this blu-ray probably looks better than the way it was projected in Russian theaters back in 1984. The DTS-HD 5.1 is very good. Even though the movie was originally recorded in mono, the audio felt very natural and not artificial – dialogue was clear, speaker separation was present in a good way, no hissing was anywhere, and the music in this movie reminded me that I was in fact watching a blu-ray – music enveloped the room in a very satisfying listening experience. The English subtitles were just good too – there were a few grammar mistakes, but overall the translators created respectable English subtitles, especially since this blu-ray sure isn’t marketed outside Russia. There are no extras on this blu-ray.

This bromantic Russian musical is an entertaining watch, but it’s nothing great nor nothing bad – basically a pretty fair flick actually. I have seen many Russian “classics” of the 1970s and 1980s and I just want to remind everyone that Russian classics are usually only classics to Russians, besides Tarkovsky. It’s tough growing up in Russia though, so let them enjoy their fair classics!