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Phantom of the Opera, The (Blu-ray)

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The Phantom of the Opera (Blu-ray)Starring Lon Chaney, Mary Philbin, Virginia Pearson, Norman Kerry

Directed by Rupert Julian

Distributed by Image Entertainment


It’s hard to imagine a more iconic moment in the world of horror cinema than when Mary Philbin pulls off Lon Chaney’s mask, exposing his horrific visage as he played the organ in The Phantom of the Opera. The look of sheer anger that spread over Chaney’s horribly disfigured face is one of those moments that will always have the ability to haunt (and delight) audiences regardless of the film’s age (a whopping 86 years since the first release).

Horror fans (and general cinephiles, too) can finally rejoice because on November 1st, 2011, a newly remastered high-definition transfer of The Phantom of the Opera is finally being released courtesy of Image Entertainment, and for those of us who have had to make do with crappy and grainy versions of the flick throughout our lifetimes, high-definition is the way to go here.

In Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera, Chaney’s Erik is a deformed opera lover living amongst the underground catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House who falls in love with a young singer named Christine Daae (Philbin). At first Erik takes Christine under his tutelage and begins to transform her from shy vocalist to prima donna, all the while committing a series of violent acts in order to win her the lead part from the resident diva, Madame Carlotta (Pearson). However, it’s not that easy for Christine, who is torn between her blossoming career and her suitor, Raoul (Kerry). When Erik finally reveals his true feelings for Christine, she spurns him for Raoul, enraging “The Phantom”, and suddenly the body count really starts to pile up around the Paris Opera House.

The real draw for this film ever since its original release in 1925 has always been “The Man of a Thousand Faces”, who was able to bring tragic and grotesque characters to life with his haunting performances. Chaney was known for creating some of the best tortured characters in cinema, and his portrayal of Erik is amongst his best, embodying the Phantom with equal amounts of loneliness, torment and rage.

It’s because of Chaney’s performance that we sympathize with the Phantom (as does Christine initially, too), but soon that sympathy turns to terror as Erik becomes increasingly possessive and homicidal over the young singer, showing his true “face” to those within the Paris Opera House. What separates the Phantom from Chaney’s other classic monsters is that despite his disfigurement, Erik’s quite human, and his monstrousness reflects the violence humanity as a whole keeps buried deep within us. We’ve all seen the Phantom’s terrifying face, but as a victim of fate, it’s the humanity lurking within the Phantom that manages to resonate even to this day, evoking a haunting feeling of pathos for his tragic character.

Despite the passing of 86 years, The Phantom of the Opera manages to still deliver a good number of chills, and with this latest release Phantom proves that good storytelling will always remain timeless. The chandelier drop sequence is still a rather shocking moment, giving the film a violent jolt, and the “Bal Masqué” sequence when Erik comes dressed as “Red Death” (a reference to the Edgar Allan Poe tale by the same name) is still downright creepy and incredibly disconcerting.

For Image Entertainment’s Blu-ray release of The Phantom of the Opera, we get three different versions of the film varying in length and quality, and after some research it looks like the best version offered here is the 24 frames per second 1929 reissue version that clocks in at a 78-minute running time. It’s got the best film quality of the pack, and it really moves the story along well. And while many purists out there will argue that the 1925 version is THE true version of the film (justifiably so), the 1925 version suffers from some image quality issues, making it look blurry at times in comparison to its 1929 counterparts.

That being said, Image should definitely get some major props for including the 1925 version (which includes the epilogue not found in either 1929 version) on the Blu-ray even if it’s not in the greatest of shape because it does offer longtime fans a completely new viewing experience, which will no doubt be pleasing to those who have been waiting for a decent release of The Phantom of the Opera for some time now.

In terms of sound quality, admittedly the last time I saw The Phantom of the Opera was on a 13-inch black and white TV I had in my room as a kid so I don’t know if I’m exactly qualified to make any judgments, but overall everything sounds rich and wonderful. There’s an all new musical score from the Alloy Orchestra that accompanies Gaylord Carter’s theatre score on the 1929 24 fps version, while the other 1929 version is accompanied by an orchestral score from Gabriel Thibaudeau. The original 1925 film features a piano score by Frederick Hodges that’s a bit more minimal sounding, but frankly, there’s not a bad apple in the bunch. Fans should definitely be pleased.

Unfortunately, special features are sparse on this Blu-ray presentation of The Phantom of the Opera, but for a film that was made over 86 years ago now, that’s to be expected. We do get a full length audio essay by Dr. Jon Mirsalis that accompanies the 20 fps reissue, but that’s about it in the commentary department. We also get an interview with composer Thibaudeau from a 2004 PBS special that is a bit dry as well, but the real money shot in terms of special features here is the reproductions of the original theatrical program and the script of the film. Amazing stuff.

If you’re a The Phantom of the Opera fan, then no doubt you’ll want to pick the Blu-ray up, and for those genre lovers out there who may not have ever experienced this adaptation of the classic Gaston Leroux novel, it is the perfect introduction. Image’s Blu-ray presentation is the best we’ve ever seen the film, and with three different options to choose from, it’s a disc you’ll no doubt enjoy revisiting again and again throughout the years to come.

Special Features

  • Phantom of the Opera trailer
  • An Interview with Gabriel Thibaudeau
  • Photo Gallery
  • Phantom Script
  • Phantom souvenir program reproduction

    Film

    5 out of 5

    Special Features

    3 out of 5

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    IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor

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    Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.

    On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.

    The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.

    While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.

    What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.

    While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.

    • Alive in New Light
    5.0

    Summary

    IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.

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    The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell

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    Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law

    Directed by John Law


    I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.

    The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.

    The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.

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    Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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    Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

    Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

    Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


    During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

    Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

    What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

    While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

    Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

    While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

    With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

    • Before We Vanish
    4.0

    Summary

    Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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