FANTASTICA Review Round-Up: Arrow Video’s UK Blu Slate!Movies/TV,News,Reviews Ken W. Hanley
Whether it’s blaxploitation revenge flicks, scathing satire, sci-fi madness or spaghetti westerns, Arrow’s recent Region B Blu-ray slate has it all for fans of ’70s and ’60s cinematic fare. Offering top-tier special features, excellent video transfers and their trademark original mono soundtracks, Arrow is bringing cutting edge and cult classic cinema to high definition, and FANTASTICA recently had the chance to go through ’em all!
COFFY (1973), dir. Jack Hill
While blaxploitation fans mostly know the prolific Pam Grier as the titular character from FOXY BROWN, those of us who appreciate the darker, more violent blaxploitation fare gravitate towards Jack Hill’s COFFY. A revenge fantasy painted across an urban landscape of sex, drugs and corruption, COFFY has Grier at top form, cutting her way through the mafia that crippled her former lover and hooked her sister on drugs. And aside from being both sexy and dangerous in the role, Grier also offers a vulnerable, empathetic side to Coffy, authentically personifying Hill’s street smart character. Horror fans should also keep an eye out for genre stalwart Sid Haig in a small role as a doomed henchman with eyes for Coffy.
As for the presentation itself, Arrow has given COFFY the star treatment, offering one of the finest looking transfers for an exploitation film of its era. The high definition transfer offers a crisp, clear picture quality, with limited grain detraction and a sharp eye for details. The audio transfer is also superb, offering the original uncompressed mono track to create the most genuine intended experience for the film. And an informative and fascinating audio commentary from Jack Hill is extremely complimentary, especially for those interested in the ’70s style of independent filmmaking.
Arrow has also provided COFFY with a wealth of great features, including two brand new interviews with Jack Hill and Pam Grier, respectively. While Hill’s interview, A TASTE OF COFFY, shares much in common with the commentary, it’s much more in-depth, and Hill’s history on the film is still compelling. However, Grier’s interview is as great as it is humble, with the former blaxploitation star revealing her motivations behind the role and how she looks back on the character. And the third major featurette, a video essay entitled “Blaxploitation!”, is incredibly informative, if somewhat monotonous and overlong; perfect for die-hard blaxploitation fans while perhaps a bit overlong for casual fans.
ROLLERBALL (1975), dir. Norman Jewison
While my generation may (or hopefully, may not) be familiar with the lifeless 2002 remake from John McTiernan, the original, 1975 version of ROLLERBALL is legitimate science fiction. Featuring a Corman-esque level of violence but with the social commentary akin to a Rod Serling production, ROLLERBALL is as hard-hitting on-screen as it is off. Featuring James Caan in a simple (yet surprisingly involved) performance, ROLLERBALL is definitely not just for the action crowd, using its long running time to carefully establish the world and metaphorical ideas behind it. But for those who enjoy a thinking man’s sci-fi flick as well as a beat-’em-up barnburner, ROLLERBALL scores, and Arrow gives it the respect it deserves with a fantastic Blu-ray set.
Of course, the film has never looked or sounded better, with a high definition transfer overseen by original studio MGM. With an uncompressed PCM audio and an isolated soundtrack, ROLLERBALL certainly sounds as authentic as it did upon original release. And with two separate commentaries by writer William Harrison (who wrote the original short story as well as the screenplay) and director Norman Jewison, Arrow provides fans with an interesting and oft-engaging counterpoint to the action in the film.
However, those commentaries are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Arrow’s Region B blu-ray set. A brand new interview with James Caan, entitled “Blood Sports”, shows the actor fondly recalling the film and responding to the era-appropriate criticism the film faced upon release. “The Fourth City” and “Return to the Arena” both show the complex behind the scenes process of creating the practical world of ROLLERBALL, while the anecdote-driven “The Bike Work” offers respected stuntman/director Craig R. Baxley’s unique perspective of the production. The set also comes with the original EPK, trailers and a collectible booklet featuring new writing on the film.
NETWORK (1976), dir. Sidney Lumet
One of this writer’s all-time favorite films, the verbally brutal and darkly humorous NETWORK takes provocative satire to another level, delivering a brilliant dissection of the increasingly corporatized television industry 0f the ’70s. With an incredible script from Paddy Chayefsky, director Sidney Lumet plays to not only his strengths but the strengths of his incredible ensemble, both in comedy and drama. A critical and commercial juggernaut, NETWORK remains as effective (and relevant) today as it did nearly 40 years ago and Arrow does its Blu-ray disc due diligence.
Of course, the highlight of the disc comes from Arrow’s top notch audio and video transfer. As per usual, NETWORK’s original uncompressed PCM audio is front and center, providing a dynamic audio mix without resorting to a bombastic multi-channel mix. The film also sports a 1080p video transfer, with the film’s lush color and visual composition never having looked better.
Unfortunately, NETWORK doesn’t sport as many features as Arrow’s scheduled contemporaries. At the top of the features sits the feature-length THE DIRECTORS documentary on Lumet, meticulously going from project-to-project starting with Lumet’s pre-film work all the way to Lumet’s GLORIA remake, and is superbly constructed, unafraid to tackle on Lumet’s misses as much as his hits. The disc also features a video essay on the film, which is much more wordy and cerebral in its take on NETWORK, even though the biographical elements are still quite compelling.
DAY OF ANGER (1967), dir. Tonino Valerii
An intense and beautiful, if sometimes silly, spaghetti western, Tonino Valerii’s DAY OF ANGER is a beloved flick starring one of the subgenre’s most beloved actors. Containing an incredible score by CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST composer Riz Ortolano, DAY OF ANGER has the look and feel of a heightened western, complete with psychedelic title sequences, odd side characters and practical set pieces. And with a dual Region release, both US/UK audiences will be able to enjoy an amazing disc that guaranteed to please fans and newcomers alike.
Anchored by a brand new restoration from the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative, the 1080p high definition video transfer is beyond gorgeous, which can be applied to both the Italian and International cuts featured on the disc. Furthermore, DAY OF ANGER features the original uncompressed audio on three different soundtracks: the English and Italian soundtracks for the Italian cut and the English soundtrack on the International cut. Additionally, Arrow has also provided newly translated subtitles for the English language track on the Italian cut, which will definitely appeal to the long-time fans.
Beyond even the spectacular transfer, DAY OF ANGER also sports some incredible special features, many of which were custom made for this disc. There are two brand new interviews, one with Ernesto Gastaldi and one with Roberto Curti, with the latter being the highlight of the two and featuring impressive production value. There’s also a fascinating unreleased 2008 interview with Valerii, as well as a rare deleted scene, which has also been given a high definition transfer.
All together, these Arrow releases are worth purchase the price for the content alone, let alone the myriad features throughout the sets. While COFFY and NETWORK are somewhat light on additional content, DAY OF ANGER and ROLLERBALL are both jam packed with new and amazing extras guaranteed to make new fans out of any film fan willing to find them. So for those across the pond, or for those with multi-region players, you’d be a fool to miss these fantastic releases if any of their various genres are your bag.