As part of the Warner Bros. Blu-ray Elite program, Fat Guy Kevin Carr was sent a batch of free biopic Blu-rays to enjoy. Thanks to Warner Home Video for giving him a chance to watch and review J. Edgar, Malcolm X and Citizen Kane again.
What it’s about: Clint Eastwood tells the story of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), the man who founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation. From his early days as a clerk to becoming one of the most powerful men in American, we look at the ups and downs of his career. We see his lack of a personal relationship as well as his achievements in law enforcement, including the use of fingerprinting and having a national criminal database.
The movie: Kinda sucks! – While I respect the hell out of Clint Eastwood as a director, his movies have gotten longer and more drawn out as he has gotten older. That works for some films and stories, but for one of the most famous policemen in history, it makes for a dull and boring film. I appreciate Eastwood’s attention to detail and period feel of the piece, but it becomes a chore to watch. DiCaprio is fine as J. Edgar Hoover, and his old age make-up isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. Unfortunately, we have a great story presented as an old guy would direct it.
The bonus material: Kinda sucks! – There’s only one special feature on the disc, which is a long-form documentary about the real J. Edgar Hoover, which is interesting for history buffs. There’s also UltraViolet Digital Copy and a standard-def DVD.
Notes on the Blu-ray experience: Even though Eastwood’s film is a bit dull, he offers some excellent cinematography, which comes out clean and clear on the Blu-ray. Also, for the subtle (and often too subtle) soundtrack, the uncompressed sound is great. The biggest problem is that the contrast isn’t as strong as it could be, and the blacks and grays get lost in the shadows.
What it’s about: Volatile African-American filmmaker Spike Lee directs this biopic of his personal hero, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington). From his early beginnings as the son of a preacher to his rise to power in the Nation of Islam, we see the changes that Malcolm X goes through. With a life that ends too short, Lee shows him as a leader ahead of his time and one of the most influential black leaders in American history.
The movie: Kinda rocks! – I’m not a real fan of Spike Lee because, while he’s a fiercely talented filmmaker, his political rants get in his own way. However, Malcolm X is probably the best film he’s made, especially from a technical standpoint. It’s a powerful story, and it strikes at the heart of the racial strife that’s been felt in this country for centuries. As a white guy from the suburbs, I cannot judge the life of Malcolm X without fear of being called a racist. And in many ways, the criticisms I have about this film bleed over into the idolatry of the man himself. Other problems with this movie is its bloated length and occasional preaching outside of the actual preaching in the film.
The bonus material: Rocks! – The full Blu-ray book available from Warner Bros. is quite impressive. It includes commentary from Spike Lee, his editor, his DP and his costume designer. There’s also some deleted scenes with Lee’s commentary. There’s also the theatrical trailer and the featurette “By Any Means Necessary: The Making of Malcolm X.” Additional features include a bonus DVD with the Oscar-nominated 1972 documentary, Malcolm X.
Notes on the Blu-ray experience: With this being one of Spike Lee’s most well-shot films, it’s worth a look on Blu-ray. The rich colors and epic feel works on a high-def screen. In particular, the opening zoot suit sequence is quite awesome to watch on Blu-ray.
What it’s about: In this loose adaptation of the life of media giant William Randolph Hearst, Orson Welles’ groundbreaking film has been named one of the greatest films ever made. Impressive even today for its structure and depth of vision, Citizen Kane tells the story of a newspaper tycoon whose last word “Rosebud” is a mystery. Through a series of interviews and flashbacks, a reporter tries to piece together Charles Foster Kane’s life and discover the true meaning behind his final thoughts.
The movie: Rocks! – I saw this originally in high school but didn’t understand it. Nor did I truly appreciate the innovation of the cinematic elements. Watching it now with much more movie knowledge, I can fully realize how groundbreaking it was. It moves at a rapid pace and touches on the many elements and emotion in our lives. Even if you know what Rosebud is (and to a lesser degree the full meaning of what it represents), it’s worth it to watch things unfold. Movies today wouldn’t be the same without Citizen Kane, and it was great to revisit the film with a greater knowledge.
The bonus material: Rocks! – The 70th anniversary Blu-ray box set comes with two commentaries, one by Roger Ebert and the other by Peter Bogdanovich. There’s interviews with Ruth Warrick and Robert Wise, plus a stills gallery and newsreel footage from the premiere. Two additional DVDs are included. One features the 1995 documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane, and the other features the 1999 movie RKO 281 about the making of the film.
Notes on the Blu-ray experience: The 70th anniversary 4K transfer looks fantastic. The image is cleaned up and looks crisp and fresh. If you’ve only seen this film on TV or on VHS, it’s worth another look on Blu-ray.