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Blu-ray Review: ‘Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection’

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Although I would dispute Lionsgate’s claim of this being a “5-Film Collection” from Francis Ford Coppola because the 49 additional minutes incorporated to create Apocalypse Now Redux don’t seem worthy of being considered an additional film, this release, which includes previously released Blu-rays, is a fantastic set.  That’s not to say all the films included are great, but the discs all offer great experiences, particularly for those who enjoy learning how films are made.

Available on one disc through seamless branching, Palme d’Or winner Apocalypse Now (1979) and the Redux version (2001) were previously reviewed at Blogcritics.

The Oscar-winning work of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and the sound team of Walter Murch, Mark Berger, Richard Beggs, and Nathan Boxer is treated well in high definition.  The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4-encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.  Right from the opening, the colors reveal their vibrancy.  The green jungles are lush and turn bright orange with flames from explosions.  Saigon is colorful and bright.  Great texture and detail is on display throughout, and film grain is apparent.  Blacks are deep and contribute to strong shadow delineation.  The lights during the Playmates appearance for the troops bleed a bit, especially when the camera shoots straight into them.

The audio is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  Helicopter blades swirl around the surrounds and transition well into a ceiling fan.  The Doors’ “The End” sounds fantastic with the instruments heard distinctly from one another.  Passing vehicles cross channels.  The subwoofer gets a dramatic workout, most notably during the “Ride of the Valkyries” sequence.  And while the explosions mark the loud end of the dynamic range, quiet moments are given just as much care, such as the soft sounds of water splashing and Kurtz rubbing his hand across his bald head.  Regrettably, the only extra available is Coppola’s commentary, which is extremely informative and thoroughly engaging about the film and its creation.

Palme d’Or winner The Conversation (1974), which saw Coppola lose the Best Picture Oscar to his own The Godfather Part II, is a tale of surveillance and intrigue made timely by modern-day technology.  Henry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a well-known surveillance man, maybe the best in the business, currently working in San Francisco.  Because he knows the racket so well and for other reasons, he keeps people at a distance, equally in his personal life as well as his professional life.  For example, when Amy (Teri Garr), who he is sleeping with, asks questions to learn more about him, he doesn’t handle her curiosity well.  At work, Stan (John Cazale) doesn’t care for Henry’s secretive ways and freelances with competitors.

As the film opens, Harry and his team are working a tough assignment one afternoon as they attempt to record a couple, Ann and Mark (Cindy Williams and Frederic Forrest), in crowded Union Square.  As he pieces together their conversation, Henry grows concerned about his client when he hears Mark say, “He’d kill us if he got the chance.”  While Henry tells other what his clients do with his work is none of his business, he reveals a different sentiment when alone because a previous job led to dire consequences.  As a result, Harry blames himself and tries to keep a similar outcome from occurring.

Inspired by Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup, The Conversation is an engaging character study set within a mystery.  Gene Hackman delivers a fascinating portrayal made all the more impressive because Henry is such an introvert in contrast to Hackman’s other notable roles.  The film also gets high marks for delivering a plot that doesn’t always go where expected.

The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer is displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.  The film’s color palette uses a lot of earth tones and they come through in solid hues, as does the big splash of red that appears towards the end.  The image offers fine detail, but there is occasion where the shots look soft, likely a source issue.  During the dream sequence, the inclusion of fog or smoke intensifies the film grain’s appearance.  The audio is available as DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Mono.  The 5.1 track opens up the listening experience without coming across unnatural.  Dialogue is clear, unless intentionally distorted.  David Shire memorable melancholy score fills the surrounds nicely.

There are quite a few extras to learn about the making of the film.  Coppola delivers another standout commentary and editor/sound designer Walter Murch is featured on his own as well, providing different though no less valuable insight.  Close-Up on “The Conversation” (HD, 9 min) is a brief look during the shoot. During Cindy Williams Screen Test (HD, 5 min), she performs as Amy, and during Harrison Ford Screen Test (HD, 7 min), he, in the part Forrest got, and Williams run lines from the opening scene.  “No Cigar” (1080i, 2 min) finds Coppola narrating the very first film he made as a youngster.  It features his Uncle Clarence as a lonely character, a type that not only resurfaced in The Conversation but also Youth Without Youth.  Harry Caul’s San Francisco—Then And Now (HD, 4 min) offers a visual comparison of film locations, such as Union Square and One Embarcadero Center, in 1973 and 2011.  David Shire Interviewed by Francis Ford Coppola (HD, 11 min) is an informal interview between the friends.  Shire tells a funny story about a screening they had after they went out for a big meal with plenty of wine.  Archival Gene Hackman Interview (HD, 4 min) is an all-too-brief interview of the actor on the set.  Script Dictations from Francis Ford Coppola (HD, 49 min) are six excerpts from the screenplay, although not all portions were used or shot Coppola read into a tape recorder while sitting in a cafe, a year before the film was shot.  They are available individually or can be played all at once.  There’s also a Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3 min).

After those two Coppola classics from the ’70s, when the director was at the peak of his talents, this set also offers two box-office failures but with enough behind-the-scenes features to make the discs worth exploring.

Tetro (2009) is a story filled with family intrigue, and Coppola has a number of interesting directorial ideas.  The screenplay is first original one by Coppola since The Conversation, but the film ultimately falls apart in execution as too many scenes meander and repeat information.  Three days before his 18th birthday, Bennie (Alden Ehrenreich) shows up in Argentina on the doorstep of his older brother Angelo (Vincent Gallo), who now goes by the name Tetro.   Bennie has arrived to learn more about their family. They share a father, Carlo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) a well-known composer, but have different mothers.  Tetro moved away from New York many years ago to escape the family and has no interest in the past.

Bennie snoops around and finds Tetro’s writings hidden away, which Bennie can tell are obviously inspired by their family.  Tetro had been a talented writer, but has lost or hidden away that part of himself.  Bennie takes Tetro’s work and creates a play with an ending Bennie created.  Tetro is furious about the betrayal, but when the play gets recognized at a prestigious festival, he begrudgingly accepts what has happened.

Tetro has the feel of a small, independent film with both the good and bad connotations that brings with it.  The story offers interesting details about this family and a good twist, but it takes too long to reveal them.  The film’s pacing is sluggish and runtime should have been cut by at least 30 minutes.  Even though there was a good bit of rehearsal, some scenes drag on and others are not needed, like Bennie’s sexual experience and Abelardo’s play.  Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography looks great.  The modern world is shot in black and white.  In contrast, memories, which included scenes from Powell & Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffman, and writings brought to life, are shot in color and shown at a smaller aspect ratio.

The film is presented in a 1080p/AVC/MPEG-4 encoded transfer with a varying aspect ratio.  The black and white images come through with strong blacks and bright whites.  The colors appear in vivid hues, digitally augmented at times to intentionally create an unnatural appearance, like the brown of the woodfloor in a ballet scene, inspired by another Powell & Pressburger film, The Red Shoes.  Clarity in both formats reveals fine details and textures. The film is mostly dialogue, which is quite clear, so the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 doesn’t have a great deal to do until the performance sequences.  There is some mild ambiance in the surrounds but it’s mainly the score by Osvaldo Golijov that makes the most use of them.

Separate sessions with Coppola and Ehrenreich were edited together to create the commentary track.  All the video extras are in HD.  There’s a feature about The Ballet (8 min), which plays a role in the story, as well as others that look at the making of the film, putting the spotlight on Mihai Malaimare, Jr.: The Cinematography of Tetro (8 min); The Rehearsal Process (9 min), which Gallo was less than thrilled with as they run counter to the way he acts and directs; Osvaldo Golijov: Music Born from the Film (9 min); and La Colifata: Siempre Fui Loco (“I’ve Always Been Crazy”) (6 min), the Buenos Aires mental hospital where one scene was set and filmed.  Fausta: A Drama in Verse (5 min) is the brother’s play, and Tetro: End Credits (4 min), which shows the crewmembers whose names weren’t credited in the film.

One from the Heart (1982), exclusive to this set, is filled with some amazing elements.  Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, Dean Tavoularis’ production design, and Tom Waits’ music are some of the best work ever associated with a film, which is what makes it so unfortunate the story and characters don’t come close in terms of quality.

In Las Vegas, Frannie (Teri Garr) and Hank (Frederic Forrest) are celebrating their 5th anniversary as a couple.  However, the differences between them weigh so heavy (and seem so obvious it’s hard to believe they’ve been together so long), they break up with each other and quickly begin to see other people, Ray (Raul Julia) and Leila (Nastassja Kinski) respectively.  But Hank soon realizes he might not want to move on and tries to get Frannie back.

One from the Heart is a visual wonder, filled with inventive direction and cinematography.  The whole thing was shot in a studio and feature the amazing sets, including a recreation of Fremont Street from downtown Las Vegas.  The studio also allowed Coppola to incorporate some theatricality to the artistic choices in lighting and transitions.  The best may be the use of a scrim as two scenes are shown playing out simultaneously.  Tom Waits’ songs, which find him joined by Crystal Gayle on vocals, don’t directly tell the story of Frannie and Hank, but they thematically mirror what’s going on.  The duets are so good I recommend the isolated score option and owning the soundtrack.

Where the whole thing falls apart is the script.  The characters are one-dimensional, the plot offers no great drama or comedy, and the dialogue is forgettable.  And the actors are unable to improve on what they’ve been given.  It’s infuriating how bad these aspects are because some people will likely never to see the genius on display here.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1.  Colors are vibrant and blacks good but frequently crush.  The print is dirty.  Grain is apparent and increases during the during the dance/music portion of their separate dates.  In his review, Jeffrey Kauffman of Blu-ray.com noticed “parallel vertical lines running through the image… no matter what’s going on.”  With it drawn to my attention, I noticed something like this during Frannie and Ray’s dance in the ballroom, but not during other scenes.  The DTS-HD Master Audio doesn’t show the same defect, wear, and age as the video does.  The score and songs sound great and fill the surround speakers.  That’s the most use the rears get aside from some minor ambiance.  Dialogue is clear throughout.

The production of One from the Heart has an amazing backstory.  The film was the first made at the brand new Hollywood location of Coppola’s American Zoetrope, a new studio intended to lead a revolution in filmmaking.  However, the film’s out-of-control cost and eventual financial loss led to the end of the endeavor.  The story of the film and the studio are told in the extras.

Naturally, this disc also has a commentary by Coppola that is just as enlightening as the others he has given in the set.  The Dream Studio (HD, 30 min) is a great piece about the opening and closing Zoetrope Studios in Hollywood.  The Electronic Cinema (HD, 10 min) proves Coppola had great foresight about the industry’s move to digital and shows his full embrace of it.  Tom Waits and the Music of One From the Heart (HD, 14 min) shines the spotlight on the musician and his work.  The Making of One From the Heart (HD, 24 min) offers interviews and behind-the-scenes material.  In these ten Deleted Scenes (HD, 24 min), some are from the original release and some haven’t been completed.  “Early Opening Sequence” and “Laundromat Meeting/Hank & Moe Meet Leila” each have optional commentary.  Unfortunately there’s not a Play-All option.  The Videotaped Rehearsals (HD, 7 min) show part of Coppola’s studio idea was to have a repertory company of actors that could spend time on rehearsing and creating the characters.  There’s also footage of them traveling to Fremont Street to shoot scenes in order to work on them in studio.  The Tom Waits Score: Alternate Tracks (24 min) allow a listen to six different songs and demos.

Coppola took certain stage in the selling of the film and he can be seen holding a Press Conference at the Studio (HD, 8 min) on February 4, 1981 and Francis Ford Coppola Speaks to the Exhibitors (HD, 2 min).  There’s also “This One’s From the Heart” Music Video (HD, 4 min); Stop Motion Demo (HD, 4 min), which is a brief look at the work that went into the visually impressive opening credits; and the 1982 Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3 min) and 2003 Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 min).

The Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection is an impressive Blu-ray collection for avid movie fans.  While I highly recommend the set, the arbiter of whether it should be purchased is based on what is already available in a person’s personal library and how interested they are in the filmmaking process of Coppola and his collaborators.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • gkubrick

    learned a lesson. don’t create a draft until it’s ready to publish or else it will get buried within the system