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Case Number 25037: Small Claims Court

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Francis Ford Coppola 5-Film Collection (Blu-ray)

The Conversation
1974 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Apocalypse Now
1979 // 147 Minutes // Rated R
Apocalypse Now Redux
1979 // 202 Minutes // Rated R
One From The Heart
1982 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Tetro
2009 // 127 Minutes // Rated R
Released by Lionsgate
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // December 28th, 2012

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All Rise...

The Judge Jim Thomas 5-Film Collection is a bargain; he hasn't made ANY yet.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Apocalypse Now (published January 8th, 2000), Apocalypse Now (Blu-Ray) Full Disclosure Edition (published November 3rd, 2010), Apocalypse Now Redux (published December 5th, 2001), Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier (published August 15th, 2006), The Conversation (published April 26th, 2004), The Conversation (Blu-ray) (published October 20th, 2011), Tetro (published May 7th, 2010), and Tetro (Blu-Ray) (published May 4th, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

Francis Ford Coppola was perhaps the undisputed master of Hollywood during the 1970s. Consider: Patton (screenplay), The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now. Now that's a hot hand. It all fell apart after Once from the Heart bombed in spectacular fashion—so much so that he spent the next fifteen years or so doing movies for other people—and being reluctantly dragged back to The Godfather: Part III to pay off all of his creditors. Coppola took a long sabbatical from filmmaking in the 1990s, but returned in the mid-2000s. Lionsgate now brings us an overview of this filmmaking icon with Francis Ford Coppola: 5-Film Collection (Blu-Ray). Don't let the title fool you, though; there's only four films here.

The Case

Apocalypse Now/Apocalypse Now Redux
Apocalypse Now still outshines the other major Vietnam films of the period (The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket); some, such as Platoon and The Deer Hunter, are perhaps more completely realized, but at the same time, they are also more intimate, personal films. Coppola's magnum opus at times plays out like a fever dream, a paean to unbridled filmmaking and ego. Fortunately, unlike Heaven's Gate, about which the same can be said, there is a compelling vision underlying the episodic structure. Exactly what that vision is…well, that's a different story. Given the nightmarish production, I cannot help but think that the nature of the vision changed during filming, just as I can't help but suspect that by the end of the shoot, Coppola, like Kurtz, just wanted someone to put him out of his misery.

Apocalypse Now, like the surfers Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall, Tender Mercies) admires, rides the forward edge, threatening to pitch headlong into chaos at any moment; you can sense the supreme act of will required to simply keep the film together as it continually threatens to blow apart. This collection has the disc from the Full Disclosure Edition, and Justice Powers remarks are well taken. Technically, this disc is amazing; video might have a touch too much DNR for its own good, but still magnificent. The audio is likewise stunning—you'll be looking for cover when "The Ride of the Valkyries" cranks up. The use of seamless branching makes it easy to watch either version of the film. The additions in Apocalypse Now Redux are a mixed lot; some, such as the interlude with the Playboy Playmates, add yet another layer of surreality to the proceedings, but I'm not convinced that it constitutes an improvement. Worse, the plantation sequence is totally out of place, both tonally and thematically. It might be interesting to release an edition that allows you to pick and choose which scenes to include—kind of like a home edition of Coppola's idea of digital editing.

The Conversation
Harry Caul (Gene Hackman, The French Connection), one of the best surveillance men in the business, is on a job to record a couple's conversation in a crowded park. Having used multiple microphones to get the recording, Harry is now in the processing of combing those tracks and filtering out everything but the conversation. As the conversation emerges, Harry starts to fear that his actions have placed someone in danger.

If Apocalypse Now is a film that always seems a split second away from spinning out of control, The Conversation is the exact opposite—a sophisticated, tightly plotted thriller in which everything is plotted and blocked to perfection, right down to the elaborate surveillance that opens the picture. In a year (1974) with such heavyweights as The Godfather: Part II, Chinatown, and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, The Conversation just might be the best of the lot. The plot and Harry's character develop side by side, each informing our understanding of the other. Not only is Hackman masterful, but Coppola's direction is assured, particularly his ability to tell a story visually. There's a lovely close-up of Harry playing his tenor sax; his eyes are closed, his face intense. The backing band doesn't quite sound right—it's separated from Harry somehow. Then you cut to a wider shot and see that Harry is playing along with one of this jazz albums in his apartment, alone, isolated.

The disc is the same as The Conversation (Blu-Ray) from last year; Judge Becker gives a wonderful run down of the technical aspects and extras, though I don't think the video as quite as good as the audio. The audio track—specifically, the conversation itself—effectively becomes a character in its own right—its character is revealed just as is Harry's. Without masterful sound editing, it simply wouldn't work. It doesn't have the flash of Coppola's other films, yet it just may be the best work he's ever done.

One From the Heart
After the soul-crushing marathon that was Apocalypse Now, Coppola needed to be a smaller, more controllable work. So he decided to go with a small intimate romantic comedy. So far, so good. Then he decided to experiment some with musical storytelling. OK, fine, but you hope that Scorsese tried to talk him out of it after New York, New York. Having recently moved his Zoetrope Studios into a Hollywood studio lot, Coppola decided to shoot the entire film on his newly acquired soundstages. It's here, perhaps, that things went south; the shoot was beset neither by typhoon nor near-fatal heart attack—just Coppola himself, who kept wanting it bigger and brighter, sending a $2 million dollar budget to $26 million, and sending Zoetrope and Coppola into bankruptcy. It was, essentially, Coppola's Heaven's Gate; he spent the next decade or so doing projects for other people in order to pay off his debt.

Hank (Frederick Forrest, The Conversation), a Las Vegas junkyard manager, and Frannie (Teri Garr, Oh, God!), and travel agent, break up after living together for five years. In the aftermath, they both meet up with their idealized partners—a beautiful circus performer (Nastassja Kinski, Cat People) for Hank, a dark, handsome singer (Raul Julia, Tequila Sunrise) for Frannie. As they say, you only ever think you know what you really want. The plot is just as tissue thin as it sounds.

In one of the featurettes, an audience member at an exhibitor's screening likened the movie to an eight-hour meal in which every course is a dessert. It's an apt description; Coppola took a plot that could have played out in the course of 45 minutes and loaded it down with all manner of ornamentation, flashing lights, doohickeys, bells, whistles, and at least five kitchen sinks. Coppola wanted a highly stylized look, so he built almost everything on the soundstage. Did I mention that the movie is set in Las Vegas? And yes, that means that Coppola had entire sections of The Strip recreated—plus an airport and half of an airplane. That should give you a pretty good idea of where the $26 million went. It's pretty obvious that Coppola's desire to establish his studio as able to do just about anything led him to excesses that were not in the best interests of the story, which was based on the featurette "The Dream Studio." A side effect of all those bells and whistles is that there are relatively few moments of real tension or emotion. The characters are sketchily drawn, and Forrest and Garr, two fine actors, rarely make strong impressions; their relatively pedestrian exchanges are incongruous in the light of (often literally) the artifice surrounding them. Easily the highlight of the film, Tom Waits' score features a number of original songs performed by Waits and Crystal Gayle; the contrast between Waits' raspy voice and Gayle's silky smooth works a musical metaphor for our two leads.

Technically, this thing is a mess. The MPEG-AVC encoded video is flat out bad, with problematic contrast issues throughout and inconsistent detail levels, as well as occasional banding issues. Once in a while you get a shot that reminds you that you're watching a Blu-Ray, but at the same time, there are times you wonder if you're watching an old VHS. Blessedly, the audio is much, much, much better, clear and making good use of the surround channels. Better still, a music-only track is provided.

There's a broad set of extras, many of which were upgraded to HD for this release. The featurettes are a bit unfocused, with the exception of "The Dream Studio," which is oddly appropriate as it focused on Zoetrope Studios more than the movie itself. "The Electronic Cinema" is also interesting, as it focuses not on the movie (again) but on Coppola's then-nascent idea for digital editing.

One From the Heart is also available individually, but it's impossible to recommend the single purchase, particularly since the full set is available for under $30.

Tetro
Years ago, Tetro (Vincent Gallo, Basquiat) moved away from his family in New York to live in Argentina. Now, his younger brother Bennie (Alden, Ehrenreich, Twixt), a young waiter on a cruise ship, has a layover in Buenos Aires, and takes the opportunity to visit. While Tetro isn't particularly interested in reuniting, introducing him to his girlfriend Miranda (Maribel Verdú, Pan's Labyrinth) as a friend. As Bennie pushes to reconnect with his brother, he discovers pages of Tetro's unfinished novel, which hints at why Tetro fled to Argentina.

When Coppola returned to filmmaking in 2009, he stated that he was making films for himself, rather than for the masses. When you're Coppola, you get to do that sort of thing. Particularly in the context of this set, it's hard not to see Tetro as an experiment with musical storytelling in the same vein as One From the Heart. There are the stylistic conceits—in this case, the main part of the film is in black-and-white, while the various flashbacks are in color. The flashbacks are stylized, some more so than others. On the plus side, the story has infinitely more substance than the earlier film, the main characters get a rich backstory, and we come to care for Bennie and for Miranda.

Tetro? Not so much. Vincent Gallo has little screen presence, and that's being generous. He's more of an emotional black hole. Consequently, he demands little in the way of emotional investment. He's dickish towards his brother, dickish towards his girlfriend, and Coppola relies on a manipulative revelation at the end of the film to try and make everything better. It doesn't work. Both Ehrenriech (in his film debut) and Verdú does fine work, as does Klaus Maria Brandauer as Bennie and Tetro's father (appearing only in flashbacks), but the story demands some kind of emotional presence from Tetro, and Gallo simply doesn't provide it. The various flashbacks and fantasy sequences are wonderfully realized and look fantastic—but thematically they don't quite mesh with the main plot. Coppola is attempting, I think, to make some sort of meditation on the nature of creativity, but it never quite gels.

Technically, the AVC-encoded video is wonderful; the black-and-white and the varied palettes of the different flashbacks provide a wide variety of visual styles, all of which look wonderful. The CGI doesn't look quite right, but at the same time, the CGI sequences are in context obviously dream/fantasy sequences, so verisimilitude isn't that big a thing. The audio is superlative, with wonderful imaging and great use of the score. There's a wide variety of extras, giving you a nice look into the nuts and bolts of the production. The commentary track combines separate commentaries from Coppola and Ehrenreich; you get two wildly varying takes on aspects of the film simply based on the difference in their experience. Of the featurettes, the one on the ballet as a metaphor and the one on the cinematography are the most interesting.

The important takeaway from Tetro is that while the movie itself is far from great, it provides ample evidence that Coppola still has greatness in him.

The Verdict

This set gives you two certified masterpieces and two experimental works from one of our best directors. The biggest problem with the set is its name. Claiming that the set contains five films by counting Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux as two separate films is a bit of a reach. Actually, it's pretty much a flat-out lie. Setting that aside, the set can be had for under $30, which would make it a bargain even if it only contained the earlier two films.

Not guilty, but Lionsgate is directed to attend some remedial math courses.

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Scales of Justice, The Conversation

Judgment: 98

Perp Profile, The Conversation

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
• DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1974
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, The Conversation

• Commentaries
• Featurettes
• Interviews
• Short Film
• Screen Tests
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Apocalypse Now

Judgment: 96

Perp Profile, Apocalypse Now

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 147 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Apocalypse Now

• Commentaries
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes
• Interviews

Scales of Justice, Apocalypse Now Redux

Judgment: 96

Perp Profile, Apocalypse Now Redux

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 202 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Apocalypse Now Redux

• None

Scales of Justice, One From The Heart

Judgment: 73

Perp Profile, One From The Heart

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• Full Frame (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1982
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, One From The Heart

• Commentary
• Featurettes
• Deleted Scenes
• Isolated Score
• Alternate Music Tracks
• Trailer

Scales of Justice, Tetro

Judgment: 79

Perp Profile, Tetro

Studio: Lionsgate
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Tetro

• Commentary
• Extended Scenes
• Featurettes
• Full End Credits








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