Monday, July 4, 2022

MARTYRS LANE (2021) (Acorn Media International DVD Review)


Label: Acorn Media International
Region Code: 1,2 
Rating: Cert. 15 
Duration: 97 Minutes
Audio: English Dolby Digital with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen
Director: Ruth Platt
Cast: Denise Gough, Kiera Thompson, Steven Cree, Hannah Rae, Sienna Sayer

In the Shudder Original Martyrs Lane (2021) depressed and lonely 10-year old Leah (Kiera Thompson) lives in a creaky old Victorian vicarage with her depressingly distant mother Sarah (Denise Gough), her vicar father Thomas (Steven Cree) who is seemingly always busy with his parish, and rebellious teen sister Bex (Hannah Rae, Carmilla), who is both watchful and somewhat abusive towards her younger sibling. From the start things seem off in the home, Leah is seen sneaking and tip-toeing around the house, avoiding her mother while also snooping through her things, and spending most of her days in isolation, keeping mostly to herself without a friend. At night she suffers nightmares a locket worn by her mother, it's clear that something heavy is looming over this family, some sort of shared trauma, but what exactly that might be is only hinted in the early on, with the film feeding us only fragmented pieces of the puzzle. 

While taking a shortcut through a strange patch of woods, which her sister tells her is haunted, Leah encounters a m mysterious young girl (Sienna Sayer) roughly her own age. Later the young girl visits Leah in her room and they begin to bond over a game called "two truths, one lie". The nightly visits continue and they play their game, with the young girl telling Leah where to find some trinkets, a series of lettered charm beads, that Leah had previously lost, which seem to hold personal meaning for her. As these games progress the mysterious new friend, who no one else in the house has seen, develops a bit of subtle menace about her. Her appearance begins to change in alarming ways; she's very pale, her skin is mottled, and her nose bleeds, which made me wonder what exactly was happening; is she is an imaginary friend conjured by the troubled girls, a ghost, a vampire, something demonic, or perhaps even a guardian angel as she herself tells Leah?    

At it's core this a well-acted family drama about a shared personal trauma that hangs heavily over a deeply depressed family, with Platt adding the trappings of a ghostly fairy-tale to it. Child actors Thompson and Sayer are particularly good, imbuing the film with much of it's melancholy and sadness it traffics in so well, but it's a messy and muddled affair as well, the blending of psychological trauma, loss, grief and the supernatural don't mesh together in a truly satisfying way. That said, I thought it it was quite well directed and handsomely shot film, but on a script level it failed to pull me in. I began to feel impatient with it early on, it starts off slow and at a certain point I got ahead of it, and we never quite met up again. It's not a bad film by any means, but not one I would feel the need to revisit anytime soon either. 

The DVD release does offer a few extras by way of a of 5-min behind-the-scenes featurette, a 5-min interview with the director, and a still gallery. The Acorn Media DVD is advertised as region 2 but played just fine on my region 1 player, so it might be region-free. 

Special Features:
- Behind-the-Scenes (5 min)
- Behind-the-Scenes - Photo Gallery
- Interview with Writer/Director Ruth Platt (5 min) 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1962) (Warner Archive Blu-ray Review)

Deluxe 2-Disc Special Edition 

Label: Warner Archive 

Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: G
Duration: 140 Minutes 
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.85:1) 
Director: George Pal & Henry Lavine
Cast: Buddy Hackett, Beulah Bondi, Laurence Harvey, Karl Boehm, Yvette Mimieux, Claire Bloom, Jim Backus, Russ Tamblyn, Walter Slezak, Terry-Thomas, Oskar Homolka, Barbara Eden

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) was the first narrative film to be shot in the premium curved widescreen Cinerama format, co-directed by George Pal (War of the Worlds) and Henry Levin (Journey to the Center of the Earth) the Technicolor fantasy tale tells the fictionalized story of the titular Brothers Grimm. Daydreamer Wilhelm (Laurence Harvey, The Deep) and his more serious-minded sibling Jacob (Karl Boehm, Peeping Tom) have been employed by a Bavarian duke (Oscar Homolka, Mr. Sardonicus) who gives them free room and board in exchange for chronically his family history. Issues arise when the Duke discovers that Wilhelm, who finds writing the Duke's family history quite boring, has been spending his time on the Duke's dime writing fairytales that he has collected from local folklore and storytellers who inhabit the area, in hopes of publishing a children's book, but the local bookseller Stossel (Walter Slezak, Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion) doubts there's any money to be made in fairytales for children. As the movie unfolds the brothers find themselves in danger of being evicted from their rent-free abodes by the Duke and being sent to debtor's prison, unless Wilhelm can turn his fairytale craft into a lucrative career. As the wraparound, directed by Levin, unfolds we are treated to a trio of fairytales sequences, directed by George Pal, that are gorgeous, wonderful and quite dazzling with eye-popping Technicolor and ultra widescreen Cinerama. 

The trio of fairytales are "The Dancing Princess", "The Cobbler and the Elves" and "The Singing Bone". The Dancing Princess stars Yvette Mimieux (The Black Hole) and Russ Tamblyn (Dr. Jacoby from Twin Peaks) as a Princess and the woodsman who attempts to earn her favor after her father the King (Jim Backus, Gilligan's Island) tasks the woodsman with a quest. This one involves a gorgeous, almost psychedelic, woodland dance, an invisible cloak, and a wild stagecoach ride through the forest. Up next is "The Cobbler and the Elves" of a Cobbler (Lawrence Harvey again) who receives a Christmas miracle by way of some Puppatoon stop-motion animated Elves that spring to life to help him finish up an important shoe order. The Elves are sort of creepy looking but cool, and Harvey makes a great Geppetto-esque shoe cobbler. The final fantasy sequence is the best in my opinion, “The Singing Bone” tells the tale of a dim-witted and cowardly knight named Sir Ludwig (Terry-Thomas, Munster, Go Home!) and his chubby but resourceful squire Hans (Buddy Hackett, Scrooged), as they attempt to slay a dragon in a cave and reap the rewards. This one has some terrific stop-motion dragon effects and wonderfully antiquated dragon's fire animation. Hackett and Terry-Thomas are quite fun together with lots of slapstick humor and a cool-looking gem-stone encrusted dragon. 

The wraparound story stuff directed by Levin dragged a bit for me, there's perhaps a bit too much of it involving a would-be love interest for the dull brother, but we do get some excitement with Wilhelm, as he goes to great lengths to documents tales being told by a woman (Martita Hunt, The Brides of Dracula) who lives in the woods. His quest for stories continues to land him and his brother in hot water, and while later trying to rectify the situation falls into some icy waters, giving him pneumonia which threatens to kill him, causing him to hallucinate  all of his future creations who implore him to hang-on so that they may live as well. While I think it's a tad long in the tooth I can say that every scene frame of this film is a marvel, the ultra-wide three panel Cinerama process combined with the natural beauty of the European locations and medieval castles, cobblestone street villages and deep forests help sell the fairytale aspects of it. If anything I only wish we hade two more fairytale sequences and a bit less of the wraparound story, regardless, the positives far outweigh any of minor issues I might have - this is a must-own fantasy film.   

Audio/Video: The Wonderful World of The Brothers Grimm arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Warner Archive in the original 2.89:1 Cinerama aspect ratio from restored 1080p HD masters from 6K composite scan of original Cinerama 3-panel camera negatives. This is simply one of the best looking restorations I have seen in quite a while, with a lush technicolors that light up the screen and impressive fine detail throughout, it's nothing short of a film restoration miracle. There's a crispness to the image and impressive clarity and depth that sort of boggles the mind, this is just wonderful stuff. We get two options for viewing, we have a letterbox version on disc one and a Smilebox version that replicates the enveloping 3-panel curve of the Cinerama experience. At first I thought I was leaning towards the letterbox version, but the more I watched the Smilebox version the more I preferred it. I highly recommend watching the restoration doc on disc 2 that is finely detailed in it's depiction of what a lavish restoration this was, painstakingly removing mold, dirt, water damage and the Cinerama join lines. There were a few moments I could see faint joint lines but they were few and far between, this is outstanding work. See a comparison of the Letterbox vs Smilebox framing below and over a hundred Smilebox screenshots at the bottom of the review. Audio comes by way of uncompressed English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround with optional English subtitles. This is a restoration of the original Cinerama 7-channel audio, and like the visuals it's a dazzling piece of work with wonderful depth and clarity, the fidelity is terrific and the dynamic score by Leigh Harline (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) with instantly hummable songs by songwriter Bob Merrill, who penned the pop tune "(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window?".

Smilebox vs Letterbox Version: 
Top: Smilebox Version
Bottom: Letterbox Version

Special Features: 
Disc 1 (Letterbox Version) 
- Brothers Grimm Cinerama Announcement Trailer (5 min) HD 
 -Brothers Grimm Theatrical Letterbox Trailer (3 min) HD 
- Brothers Grimm Radio Interview with Russ Tamblyn (5 min) HD  
- Brothers Grimm Radio Interview with Yvette Mimiuex (6 min) HD 
- Epic Art for the Brothers Grimm (7 min) HD 
- The Wonderful Career of George Pal (9 min) HD 

Disc 2  (Smilebox Version)
- Brothers Grimm Cinerama Announcement Trailer (5 miN) HD 
- Brothers Grimm Theatrical Smilebox Trailer (2 min) HD 
- Rescuing a Fantasy Classic (40 min) HD
- Rothenberg, German Location Commemorative Plaque (1 min) HD 
 -A Salute to William R. Forman (2 min) HD  
- Brothers Grimm Slideshow (12 min) HD 
- 8-page Collector's Booklet that is a partial replica of the original souvenir program sold in theaters during the film’s original theatrical roadshow engagements

Screenshots from the Warner Archive Blu-ray 
(Smilebox Version):