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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits

Blow Out (Blu-ray Disc)

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Blow Out
1981 (2011) - MGM (Criterion)
Released on Blu-ray on April 26th, 2011 (Spine #562)
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: A+
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A-

While out recording ambient sounds for a B movie, sound effects engineer Jack Terry witnesses a car accident and accidentally records it with his sound equipment. He dives into the water to help and eventually finds himself caught up in a plot of political conspiracy and possibly murder.

Brian De Palma's Blow Out is one of cinema's great paranoia thrillers - one that didn't do so well on its initial release but garnered respect from critics and filmmakers over the years - thanks to film revivals and home video. The plot could almost be seen as a cliché in form by today's standards, but in actual fact, it's vastly superior. It utilizes the techniques of filmmaking and integrates them into the main plot of the film. For instance, when John Travolta cuts pictures of the car accident seen in the film out of a magazine, makes a stop-motion film with them and syncs it with the audio he recorded, it's a really fun and geeky moment for film fans. The main cast really shines: John Travolta, Nancy Allen and John Lithgow all turn in top notch performances, but it's ultimately De Palma who wonderfully composes what is considered by many to be his greatest and most important work.

Criterion's brand-spanking new Blu-ray release features an extremely clean transfer: very sharp with high contrast and chock full of visual detail. The grain level of the print is textured and even, giving the transfer's final look a very film-like appearance. The flashback scene during the car ride involving the guy who's been wired by Jack is the only scene where the grain is extremely prevalent and literally brightens the film up. Being such a darkly lit scene it's not hard to understand why, but it detracts a bit from the overall presentation. All in all, it's a bright and solid transfer with an enormous amount of visual personality. To my eyes, the film has never looked better, and there should be very little to complain about. The featured audio is a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio surround track. In this particular film, enveloping sound is absolutely crucial, and this soundtrack has that, and then some. The booms are huge, the dialogue is clear and even, the music is beautifully integrated, and the more subtle sound effects are amplified appropriately, and to great effect. It's an impressive track, to say the least.

The extras that have been included aren't an enormous amount, but there are some genuine treasures to be found. They start with three great interviews: one with Brian De Palma by fellow filmmaker Noah Baumbach, another with Nancy Allen, and perhaps the most interesting of them all, an interview with Steadicam operator Garrett Brown. It's also worth noting that these interviews were all newly recorded just for this release. Another great treasure is an early film by De Palma from 1967: Murder à la Mod. Next is a set of on-set photos taken by the late Louis Goldman, the film's original theatrical trailer, and a 32-page booklet, which features an essay by critic Michael Sragow, Pauline Kael's review of the film as originally seen in the New Yorker, and a reproduction of the car accident photos as seen in Jack Terry's magazine in the film.

Taking elements from Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up, Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation, and of course, just about anything from Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma reached a creative apex with Blow Out. It truly consummates everything about the form perfectly and delivers a rewarding movie-going experience. With a fantastic-looking transfer, an equally-fantastic soundtrack, and some great supplemental material, Criterion's release of this modern film classic is not to be over-looked.

Tim Salmons

Taxi Driver (Blu-ray Disc)

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Taxi Driver
1976 (2011) - Columbia Pictures (Sony Pictures)
Released on Blu-ray on April 5th, 2011
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD Master Audio

Film Rating: A+
Video (1-20): 20
Audio (1-20): 20
Extras: A+

"Loneliness has followed me my whole life... everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores.. .everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man."

Martin Scorsese: a name synonymous with so many incredible films... existing without comparison. Nobody has ever executed a film project quite like Scorsese, and in my opinion, no one ever will. For many cinephiles, Taxi Driver is the breadth of that execution. Arguably his most personal and immersive film experience, it draws its power from the outsider in all of us. Looking in at the bad things with disdain and without remorse is a character trait that anyone with an expanded field of vision can relate to at one time or another. We're never 100% sure why we root for Travis Bickle, but what we do know is that we'll follow him into anything. An early critical outcry for Scorsese's use of violence, Taxi Driver is also one of cinema's great water cooler debate films. With the combination of writer (Paul Schrader), director (Scorsese), and actor (Robert De Niro), Taxi Driver contains a perfect creative mixture, one that helped craft one of cinema's most enduring and important documents.

Supervised by Sony's Grover Grisp (interviewed by Bill here), as well as cinematographer Michael Chapman and Scorsese himself, the film has been painstakingly restored, remastered, and transferred at 4K digital quality, emulating the original 35mm print. The results are, in a word, spectacular. Image grain is textured and barely noticeable, colors are deep and rich with detail, and the contrast and brightness are just pitch-perfect. Improperly framed for years on DVD, this release also amends that by presenting the film in its proper aspect ratio: 1.85:1. The overall image contains a yellowish 1970's film print look to it. Even the muted color palette during Bickle's confrontation with Sport remains intact. Some might argue that these things lessen the visual impact of the film, or that they degrade the presentation and it would be a wasted effort to not fix them, but they would be missing the point. These specifications were the director's intention in 1976 and great care has been taken to replicate that by the restoration team. If you want modern perfection, may the force be with you. The bottom line here is that this is, heads and tails, the best this film has ever looked, and one of the most satisfying viewing experiences in recent memory.

In the audio portion of things, there is a richness to be discovered, as well. Bernard Herrman's breath-taking score leaps out of the speakers and lays down the tone of the film so spectacularly in the newly-created mix. Dialogue and effects are also even and perfectly audible. I found myself more enriched with this film than ever before and can't praise the soundtrack highly enough. Needless to say, it does the film justice, and more. Here you get four different options: English, French, and Portuguese 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, as well as Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Being a region-free release, you're also given a multitude of subtitle options: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

Fans of the extras from previous releases will not be disappointed either, as they have all been carried over, but the most fantastic extra has got to be the 1986 audio commentary recorded for the laserdisc release by Criterion and featuring Scorsese and Schrader. Hardly one to let their material be used by other companies, it's a revelation to get this as an extra. Two additional commentaries are also included: one with Professor Robert Kolker and another with Schrader. An Interactive Script-to-Screen option has been included (a BD exclusive), along with Movie IQ and BD-Live options. Following all that are featurettes and documentaries abound, including: Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver, Producing Taxi Driver, God's Lonely Man, Influence and Appreciation: A Martin Scorsese Tribute, Taxi Driver Stories, Making Taxi Driver, Travis' New York, and Travis' New York Locations. There are also storyboards with an introduction by Scorsese, galleries, and previews for other movies. Other than deleted or alternate footage, you couldn't ask for much more with the supplements.

In conclusion, Taxi Driver is most likely one of the finest, if not THE finest, Blu-ray release of the year, and will certainly win some awards when the time comes. Not only do we get the classic film that most of us have been constantly re-watching over the years, but we get it with the most superior presentation you could ask for. And to make things even more incredible, as of this writing, you can get it for a mere $13!!! I just can't say enough about this release, other than it receives our ultimate recommendation and should be essential viewing if you consider yourself a film fan at all.

Tim Salmons

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