Monday, July 29, 2019


Quentin Tarantino's latest film, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, is a hard movie to review. For one thing, I don't want to reveal the ending for those who haven't seen it--and the climax really deserves its own separate discussion anyway.

There's also the fact that you can't really compare the film with anything else in theaters right now. It's a near-three hour trip through Tarantino's personal flashback fantasy. Set in 1969 Hollywood, the movie is saturated with the music and pop culture of the period. When it does come out on home video, it would help if there is a text commentary which points out and explains all the references.

Tarantino, due to his celebrity filmmaker status, has been allowed to create (note that I didn't say recreate) a time and place that he definitely wants to spend as much time in as possible. The main characters in this film, Leonardo DiCaprio as struggling actor Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as his stuntman/gopher/best friend Cliff Booth, are the type of guys I think Tarantino would have wanted to have been. A long, long time is spent covering the minutiae of the duo's everyday life, and one can't help but think that Tarantino might have spent even more hours doing nothing but showing the men meandering around Hollywood. DiCaprio and Pitt do have excellent chemistry together.

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate

Rick and Cliff's misadventures alternate with the activities of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who just so happens to be Rick's neighbor. While Rick and Cliff are figments of Tarantino's imagination, Sharon Tate most certainly did exist. Here, she's not so much a character as she is a mini-skirted symbol of late 60s free-spirited glamour. Sharon's ultimate real-life fate hangs over the entire movie, and gives it an underlying tension.

How Tarantino resolves to deal with that fate has already spawned much internet discussion. It is up to the individual viewer to decide whether the director is honoring the late actress or trivializing her demise.

I liked ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, but one has to realize that I am a person that would much rather watch a movie or TV show from 1969 than those made in 2019. I'm also the type of person that will get references to people like Andrew V. McLaglen and Antonio Margheriti, and appreciate "appearances" in the film by Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen. For those who have very little knowledge of 1960s American entertainment, the movie may be a confusing drag.

One thing I do have to give Tarantino credit for--he's put himself into a position where he can tell the stories he wants to tell, exactly the way he wants to tell them. You may not like the man, or his movies--but in the end he makes the films he wants to make, regardless of mainstream tastes.

Saturday, July 27, 2019


If there was any actor that truly fit the definition of "cult movie star", it was Klaus Kinski. Whether it was his looks, his temperament, his lifestyle, or his professional choices, there was nothing mainstream about him. The man  made several appearances in German Krimis, Spaghetti Westerns, and low-low budget sci-fi flicks. He also had a long and tumultuous personal and professional relationship with director Werner Herzog, which enabled Kinski to give extraordinary, world-renowned performances in such films as AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD and NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE. Kinski's immense acting talent was matched by his ability to cause controversy at every point in his life. Troy Howarth ably covers all of this in his book REAL DEPRAVITIES--THE FILMS OF KLAUS KINSKI, published by Wildside/Kronos Books. (This review pertains to the standard edition of the volume.)

The first great impression Kinski made upon me as an actor was his role in David Lean's film version of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, which ironically may have been the most mainstream production he ever appeared in. Kinski has a very, very small part, and very little screen time, as a anarchist being sent to a labor camp during the chaos of the Russian Revolution--but even while chained to a cot in a overcrowded train car, he totally dominates the scene. His anger, sadness, and fury at his situation are there for all to see--it's as if the suffering of the entire Russian population is etched on his face. When Kinski proclaims "I am the only free man on this train!!!" you know exactly what he means, and you never forget him for the rest of the film.

Howarth pays tribute to Kinski's unique and eclectic abilities with this fine book. Just watching most of these films must have been a chore--many of them are incredibly obscure. The author covers all of them, and while he is obviously a fan of his subject, he's not afraid to be critical of the movies, or the actor. Kinski often took part in a mediocre project just for a quick paycheck, and at times his performances would suffer as a result. Howarth does not hesitate to point this out.

Every film Kinski appeared in is covered, along with credit & plot information, and the actor's role in the production. Howarth also examines Kinski's television appearances, certain movies he had a chance to appear in, and documentaries which concern the actor. A small biography of Kinski is provided. Stories about the man's notorious personal life are legion, but Howarth avoids taking the easy route and wallowing in tabloid gossip. The author only comments on Kinski's off-screen eccentricities when it directly concerns a particular film under discussion.

The book is illustrated with several black & white movie stills and photos of Kinski. The volume is over 500 pages, and you more than get your money's worth. Howarth presents cogent analysis of Kinski's films and career, while also making the book an entertaining and informative read.

REAL DEPRAVITIES--THE FILMS OF KLAUS KINSKI is a thorough examination of the movie career of a rather unique performer.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

THIS ISLAND EARTH On Blu-ray From Shout Factory

Universal's 1955 THIS ISLAND EARTH is one of the greatest science-fiction films ever made. It's a magnificent, colorful adventure, bigger and bolder than any of the black & white sci-fi features the studio made during the same time period.

It is also never really been given its proper appreciation on home video, and it has undeservedly been the focus of the theatrical version of a snarky TV show. Thankfully Shout Factory--who has been churning out special edition Blu-rays of classic fantastic films like mad recently--redresses the balance.

The Shout Factory Blu-ray of THIS ISLAND EARTH presents the movie in two different formats: one in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and another in 1.33:1. There's also two different soundtrack choices: one in original Perspecta Stereophonic Sound, and DTS-HD audio.

Shout Factory says that they have used a new 4K scan of the original film elements, and both aspect ratios look magnificent. I prefer the 1.85:1, especially with the Stereophonic mix, which is very vibrant.

There's a ton of extras on the disc, including a documentary on the making of the film which lasts about 50 minutes long. A short interview with Luigi Cozzi (director of STARCRASH) is featured. In it Cozzi compares THIS ISLAND EARTH to Bram Stoker's tale of DRACULA (and he actually makes a very good case for it). Cozzi unfortunately also brings up the urban legend which claims that director Jack Arnold "saved" the movie in post-production.

There's two excellent audio commentaries by Robert Skotak and David Schecter. Skotak's talk focuses on all the general aspects of the entire production, while Schecter covers the music used for the film.

A "Trailers From Hell" episode on THIS ISLAND EARTH is on the disc, with commentary by Joe Dante. There's also multiple still galleries, with many photos of the famed Metaluna Mutant. (The people who complain how the Mutant shouldn't have been in the film are probably the same people who complain about the demon being in NIGHT OF THE DEMON.) There's also reversible disc cover sleeve art.

This is another outstanding release by Shout Factory, but what makes it even more important is the movie being presented. THIS ISLAND EARTH has deserved this kind of treatment for a long, long time--and it has finally gotten it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


I'm currently reading Troy Howarth's book REAL DEPRAVITIES: THE FILMS OF KLAUS KINSKI. It's a fascinating volume, as Howarth covers all sorts of obscure productions. Klaus Kinski was the ultimate cult movie actor--nothing was mainstream about him, whether he was on or off the screen.

One Klaus Kinski movie that I recently have been able to see for the first time is the 1967 Italian/German MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE. In some cases the film has been classified as a Spaghetti Western--but in my opinion it is not one. Like most European Westerns, it was made in Spain...but its story is actually set in Spain, not the 19th Century American frontier. In fact, it is a cinematic adaptation of the story that forms the basis of the novel and opera CARMEN.

Franco Nero stars as Spanish soldier Jose, who becomes infatuated with a enticing gypsy girl named Carmen (Tina Aumont). Jose's obsession leads him to kill one of his officers in a fight over the woman. Jose becomes a wanted man, and winds up joining a band of outlaws that Carmen knows...a band that includes her husband Garcia (Klaus Kinski). Jose hopes to steal enough money to allow him and Carmen to go away to North America, but this dysfunctional relationship can only end one way.

MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE was referred to as a Django film in Germany, to take advantage of the European popularity of the character also played by Franco Nero. If you take a glance at any of the posters for the film, or its trailer, you'd swear it was a typical Spaghetti Western. But if you're looking for the wild action sequences and the outlandish characters and situations the genre is known for, you won't find them here. MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE is more of a historical melodrama and character study. Director and co-screenwriter Luigi Bazzoni keeps a measured pace throughout the film, taking time to establish the dynamic between Jose and Carmen.

The fact that the character of Jose doesn't come off as weak or pathetic is due in large part to the strong screen presence of Franco Nero. But make no mistake, Carmen definitely holds the upper hand in the relationship. In the beginning of the story Jose is a clean-cut by-the-book soldier, but as he becomes more and more besotted by Carmen he gets scruffier and scruffier (see picture above). Jose's appearance at the end of the movie closely resembles Franco Nero's usual Spaghetti Western persona. At one point a character tells Jose, in reference to his determination to win Carmen, that he is suffering an illness...and the man does have a sort of addiction to the woman. Jose knows full well what kind of woman Carmen is, and how he is destroying himself by going after her--but he literally can't help it. Franco Nero was different than most Spaghetti Western stars in that he could portray great emotional distress in a forceful and believable manner.

Any adaptation of the Carmen story needs a seductive female lead, and Tina Aumont here more than fits the bill. In his Kinski book Troy Howarth mentions that Aumont may have been too young for the role, but I don't think so. She has a spoiled brat quality that fits the character well. As for Klaus Kinski, he doesn't show up until about halfway through the film, and he doesn't stick around too long. He does bring his usual intensity and surly attitude. The revelation that Kinski's Garcia is Carmen's husband is a shock to Jose as well as the audience. Kinski gets to participate in a couple of knock-down drag-out fights with Nero, and these brawls have a rough, disorganized vibe to them.

MAN. PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE has impressive widescreen color cinematography, with several examples of unique and striking compositions. The director of photography was Camillo Bazzoni, the director's brother, and the camera operator was none other than Vittorio Storaro, who would go on to become a legendary cinematographer himself. The atmospheric, Spanish influenced music score was composed by Carlo Rustichelli, and it's the exact opposite from the Morricone type of sound one expects.

MAN, PRIDE, AND VENGEANCE is not an action-packed, over-the-top Euro Western. It is a quite effective historical melodrama, with impressive leading performances. Spaghetti Western fans may find it to be a intriguing alternative.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

DEAD OF NIGHT On Blu-ray From Kino

The 1945 British film DEAD OF NIGHT is the granddaddy of all modern horror anthology films. The five tales presented in it have influenced numerous other movies and television episodes. The influence of DEAD OF NIGHT has been so pervasive that those now who see it for the first time may feel that it's overly familiar. Kino has just released the movie on Region A Blu-ray.

DEAD OF NIGHT is compared to similar horror movies made later on, but it should stand on its on. It was made by the famed Ealing Studios, and those who worked on the film--in front of and behind the camera--were among the best talent in the British film industry at that time. The film was definitely designed as a chiller, but it has more of a mainstream feel to it than the typical horror movie product.

All five of the stories in the film still hold up well today, even the humorous segment involving a couple of golfing buddies. The final segment, which stars Michael Redgrave as a tormented ventriloquist, remains the best, and it leads to a shattering conclusion (if the end of the movie can properly be called a conclusion).

A long time ago I owned a very cheap VHS copy of DEAD OF NIGHT that featured a very bad print of the film. Whenever I have seen it on TV, it has never looked or sounded very well. The disc cover for Kino's Blu-ray says that this is a new restoration in 4K from original archival materials. I would say that this print is quite good, but there are visible scratches from time to time. Certain parts of the movie look sharper than others. The sound quality is mediocre--at times music and dialogue seem distorted and muffled. If you are not used to listening to English accents, you may find it difficult to understand what the characters are saying at points.

Included on the disc is a 75 minute program featuring a number of talking heads who thoroughly discuss all aspects of the production of DEAD OF NIGHT. Among those taking part are Kim Newman and John Landis. The overall discussion is very insightful and wide ranging, and it is well worth watching. The discussion carries no type of credits whatsoever, but it appears to have been put together recently. Tim Lucas also contributes another of his excellent commentaries.

The sound quality on this disc of DEAD OF NIGHT is not perfect, but Kino should be commended for putting out a decent version of this movie.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


CENTRAL PARK, from 1932, is one of those Warner Bros. films from the early thirties that is short on running time but stuffed with plot. Despite being just short of an hour, there's enough situations to fill about three different movies.

What makes this film stand out is that it is entirely set in the famed New York City landmark. It begins with a montage sequence showing several citizens going about their business inside the park (a camera unit must have been sent to New York for this footage). We then meet a couple down on their luck: Dot (Joan Blondell), who can't find a job on the stage, and Rick (Wallace Ford), who was part of a rodeo show that closed down. The two take an instant liking to each other (as short as this movie is, they can't spend too much time getting to know one another), and it appears that their luck is about to change. Rick makes the acquaintance of a friendly cop (Guy Kibbee), who tips him off about some police motorcycles that need washed, and Dot is chosen to do undercover work for a couple of detectives. Of course, the "detectives" are really some gangsters who intend to use Dot in a scheme to steal money raised for a charity bazaar at the Central Park Casino.

If that isn't enough...the friendly cop has only one week to go until retirement, which means you can probably figure out what's going to happen to him. The cop also has very bad eyesight...which means he can't see the crazed former employee of the Central Park Zoo as he takes vengeance upon an ex-coworker by throwing him into a lion's cage so he can be mauled! The lion winds up getting away, while Rick and the cop chase and battle the gangsters throughout the park.

CENTRAL PARK doesn't have the salacious aspects of most Pre-Code films, but it is rather brutal. The mauling sequence goes on for quite a while, and there's a couple of intense fistfights. There's also a car chase and multiple shoot-outs, in which various police officers are shot and killed.

The sub-plot with the mad ex-zoo employee is rather striking--as played by John Wray (who was one of the murder suspects in DOCTOR X) the guy is so loony he's even sporting a maniacal leer on his wanted poster picture. As Wray goes about his gruesome business against his former co-worker, he laughs and grins wildly, making a potent impression. Surprisingly, Wray's ultimate fate takes place off-screen, and is mentioned as an aside at the end of the film--was there a sequence involving him that was cut out?

Joan Blondell doesn't really get much to do here--she doesn't even have any snappy comebacks to toss off. She's an appealing presence as always, but she's not used to her full advantage. Wallace Ford does well with his ordinary guy character (Rick's rodeo experience winds up coming in handy). Ford would play the same type of role in several much-lower budget movies in his acting career.

Guy Kibbee gets the best part in the film as the affable middle-aged cop. As soon as we know about his situation, we know how he's going to wind up--but Kibbee is still able to make a predictable role likable and even poignant.

CENTRAL PARK was directed by John G. Adolfi, a man I have very little knowledge of. Adolfi did direct a number of films with the distinguished actor George Arliss, and he also helmed Joan Blondell's screen debut, SINNER'S HOLIDAY. (The latter fact makes it even more puzzling why she isn't given more of a chance to shine here.) It's hard to judge Adolfi's talents on this story, simply because it moves so fast and has so much going on in it. None of the characters are well-developed. even Guy Kibbee's cop. There's a sequence in which the lion gets into the Central Park Casino and starts chasing numerous patrons around, but it's put together in a sloppy fashion. Some of the shots certainly look dangerous, but one feels more peril could have been mined from it. (In all fairness, with the state of assembly-line Hollywood film making at the time, Adolfi might have had nothing to do with the sequence.)

CENTRAL PARK is made for movie buffs who have about an hour to kill. Just about every little-known Pre-Code film is now branded as a "unsung classic"--but CENTRAL PARK is an okay time-filler, nothing spectacular. Even Joan Blondell fans might be disappointed that she doesn't have a bigger showcase. It is a reminder of how fast films moved in the early 1930s.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Frank Dello Stritto's CARL DENHAM'S GIANT MONSTERS is a follow up to his magnificent book A WEREWOLF REMEMBERS: THE TESTAMENT OF LAWRENCE STEWART TALBOT. Both volumes are "biographies" of famous fantastic film characters.

CARL DENHAM'S GIANT MONSTERS covers the life of the man who captured King Kong from Skull Island in 1933, as depicted in the famed RKO film released that year. Denham was played by Robert Armstrong in the film and its sequel, THE SON OF KONG. But according to the author, Denham had all sorts of amazing adventures before and after his encounter with Kong.

Dello Stritto offers the premise that while he was working for an oil company in the Far East, he and his wife encountered Carl Denham on a small island in Indonesia during the 1970s. Denham was still hiding out from people who blamed him for the death and destruction wrought by Kong after the giant ape's rampage in New York City. Denham became friends with the couple and proceeded to tell them about his extraordinary encounters.

Like his volume on Larry Talbot, Dello Stritto uses numerous characters and incidents from various 20th Century horror and science fiction films to flesh out Denham's story. Some of Denham's acquaintances are pop culture icons, while others might require a trip to the IMDB to figure out who they are. No matter who Denham winds up meeting during his story, the circumstances behind it all are endlessly inventive and creative, due to the author's cunning imagination.

This book reveals that as a young man, Denham was involved with Theodore Roosevelt's exploration of the Amazon River in the mid-1910s. Denham would return to the area a decade later as part of the Professor Challenger expedition depicted in the silent classic THE LOST WORLD. Denham's thirst for adventure would never fully be quenched, even after the disastrous results of his bringing King Kong to America. He would accompany many other well-known movie explorers, and be quizzed by any number of cinematic scientists, mad or otherwise.

Dello Stritto references such disparate films as MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, the 1941 THE MALTESE FALCON, and KONGA. He also slips in some rather clever links to the 1976 and 2005 versions of KING KONG. But this book is more than just a collection of fanboy in-jokes. The author goes out of his way to make Denham's story seem as if it really happened. He portrays the older Denham as a man who, at times, still has some of his old bravado--but he also is haunted and humbled by his actions during the Kong affair. (While reading this book, I couldn't help but hear Robert Armstrong's voice when Denham speaks.)

CARL DENHAM'S GIANT MONSTERS is published by Cult Movie Press, and, at 500 pages long, you certainly get your money's worth. The book has a clean and concise design by Tom Jackson, and it is filled with many movie stills which represent the numerous personages Denham comes into contact with. The reader even gets a map illustrating King Kong's travels in New York City!

Most film buffs will definitely love CARL DENHAM'S GIANT MONSTERS. The premise is fascinating, and Dello Stritto does a masterful job in connecting all the dots and bringing back memories of dozens of fantastic films. Frank should have won a Rondo Award for A WEREWOLF REMEMBERS...and he better win one for CARL DENHAM'S GIANT MONSTERS.

Saturday, July 6, 2019


On the Fourth of July Turner Classic Movies screened the 1959 historical biopic JOHN PAUL JONES. I was watching the White Sox game at the time, but I caught up with the movie a couple days later.

JOHN PAUL JONES was produced by Samuel Bronston, who is best known for making big-budget epics such as EL CID and THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Like most of the other films Brosnston produced, most of JOHN PAUL JONES was shot in Spain. The movie was released by Warner Bros. and directed by John Farrow, with Robert Stack as Jones.

Scottish-born American Revolutionary War hero John Paul Jones is a fitting subject for a large scale movie such as this one, filmed in widescreen and color. Jones' real life was filled with all sorts of exciting adventures and conflicts--some historians consider him to be the father of the American Navy.

The cinematic version of Jones' life gets many of the details right, or at least without too much exaggeration. If anything the script tries to cover too much ground, which leaves the film as being rather episodic. The movie goes through so many incidents in Jones' life that none of them wind up as being particularly important or memorable.

We first see Jones as a young boy in Scotland (he throws an egg at a British officer). The naval hero is portrayed as an ornery cuss (he gets into some sort of major argument with somebody about every ten minutes). Robert Stack brings a lot of intensity and determination to the role, but you never really get to know the character, other than he seems ticked off most of the time. An actor with a bit more panache might have made the role more interesting. There's a subplot that has Jones romancing a French noblewoman, but it only just adds to the running time (which is over two hours).

A number of famed historical figures are trotted out during the tale, including Patrick Henry (Macdonald Carey), Benjamin Franklin (Charles Coburn), King Louis XVI of France (Jean Pierre Aumont), and Catherine the Great of Russia (a bizarre cameo by Bette Davis). Jones even travels to Valley Forge to meet with George Washington. The future first President of the United States is only shown from the back--the audience doesn't get to see his face, kind of the way Jesus was portrayed in a number of biblical epics. None of the historical legends, in least in this film, makes a great impression.

The biggest highlight in the movie is the battle between Jones' ship Bonhomme Richard and the British ship Serapis. (I have to admit, though, that the battle could have been staged with much more flair.) What helps this sequence is Peter Cushing, who plays Captain Pearson, the commander of the Serapis. Cushing doesn't play Pearson as a stock war movie villain--the man is shown to be a capable and thoughtful naval officer, and even after battle Jones and Pearson have great respect for one another. As Pearson, Cushing once again is given a chance to show how fitting he looks in period costume. (Actually, Cushing himself would have made a fine John Paul Jones.)  The battle does give Stack the opportunity to recite Jones' legendary quote, "I have not yet begun to fight!"

Peter Cushing and Robert Stack in JOHN PAUL JONES

The movie ends on a bit of a downer with Jones' death after his service in the Russian Navy. One could say the whole movie does not live up to the heights expected of it. It has plenty of pomp and circumstance, and obviously a lot of money was spent on it--but it feels more like a dry recitation of facts instead of a sweeping historical adventure. Director Farrow (who co-wrote the script) presents as many ballroom dance sequences as he does naval battles. The action sequences here are not shot that much differently than the others one sees in innumerable movies set on the high seas. Max Steiner's music score does help a bit.

A real-life historical hero such as John Paul Jones deserves an exciting, fast-paced movie tribute. JOHN PAUL JONES isn't terrible--but it is slow and overlong, and for me just doesn't capture the spirit of the man and his times.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

WAR AND PEACE On Blu-ray From Criterion

I had read about the 1960s Russian film version of WAR AND PEACE a number of times. I had read that the entire project may have been the most expensive cinematic production ever, how it may have used the largest number of extras ever, and that in total it was a mind-boggling seven hours long.

Thanks to Criterion's recent release of the entire uncut version on Blu-ray, I have now had the opportunity to actually watch WAR AND PEACE....and it certainly lives up to its legend.

Before I go further I must point out that that this version of WAR AND PEACE is not really one single film--it is comprised of four different films. Due to this, I think WAR AND PEACE should be compared to something like THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Honestly though, WAR AND PEACE shouldn't be compared to anything else. It is so momentous and monolithic, it deserves its own category.

Director/co-writer/star Sergei Bondarchuk had the backing of the Soviet government, and enough time and resources available to make a dozen movies. He certainly put it all on the screen. There is so much to see and experience here that it's almost impossible to properly appreciate it with just one viewing. The sets, the locations, the costumes, the number of people involved--at times watching what is going on can be so overwhelming that one just wants to pause at a certain scene and soak it all in.

And the battle scenes! I've always maintained that the greatest battle sequence I've ever seen in any movie was from WATERLOO--a film directed by Sergei Bondarchuk. But WAR AND PEACE tops that with two major conflicts: the Battle of Austerlitz and the Battle of Borodino. Both sequences are jaw-dropping--it really does look and feel like thousands of soldiers are trying to slaughter one another. Bondarchuk doesn't try to have any of the characters "explain" the battles, and he doesn't go out of his way to make the audience understand the tactics behind each one. He puts the viewer right in the middle of the action and never lets up. The camera soars to the sky, or skims across the ground....and there's no annoying 21st Century editing techniques to interfere with what we are seeing.

Another major epic sequence is the burning of Moscow, where one gets the impression that hell has literally broken out upon the earth. With these type of set-pieces one would expect that individual characters might get lost among all the fury--but they don't, because we share their experiences and their reactions. Bondarchuk's ability to shift between the epic and the intimate is comparable to that of Sergio Leone. Just like Leone, Bondarchuk knows how and when to use close-ups and when to stay on a shot, and he knows when--and when not to--use sound.

The first chapter of WAR AND PEACE is called ANDREI BOLKONSKY, and it sets up the situation and introduces the main characters. Sergei Bondarchuk plays Pierre Bezukhov as something of a misfit, a man who is ill-at-ease no matter what situation he finds himself in. Bondarchuk, for me, had a middle-aged character actor type of vibe. Vyacheslav Tikhonov plays Andrei Bolkonsky, an aristocratic Russian military officer. I though Tikhonov resembled Christopher Plummer in looks and manner. Ludmila Savelyeva plays the pixie-like Natasha Rostova, who entrances both Bezukhov and Bolkonsky. Apparently one of the reasons for Savelyeva's casting was due to her Audrey Hepburn type of qualities (Hepburn had played Natasha in a 1956 film version of the story). You can't help but be reminded of Hepburn when watching Savelyeva.

ANDREI BOLKONSKY ends with the Battle of Austerlitz, in which Bolkonsky is injured. The next chapter, NATASHA ROSTOVA, deals with Natasha's and Bolkonsky's romance. This leads to THE YEAR 1812, which is almost totally taken up with the Battle of Borodino. The final chapter is called PIERRE BEZUKHOV, and it deals with that character's travails through the occupation and burning of Moscow and being held prisoner by the French during their retreat from Russia.

I watched the four chapters of WAR AND PEACE on four different nights. I would recommend doing it this way simply because there is so much to take in, even in just one chapter. I was blown away by the overall affair, but I must admit that I will be able to appreciate it better with multiple viewings. This is a seven hour expansive widescreen historical epic, and seeing it just once seems to me a bit of a waste. Having a official Region A version of it on home video now allows a person to take the time to study it and get the most enjoyment out of it.

What impressed me most about WAR AND PEACE is that it didn't seem like the typical big-budget movie epic. WAR AND PEACE, for me, had a reality to it, due to the Russian locations, the authentic costumes, the stupendous battle sequences, and the fact that I had never seen any of the actors before. Because I had no prior knowledge of any of the cast, I didn't see them as performers--I saw them as the actual characters. I have the 1956 WAR AND PEACE on DVD, and that has big stars like Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda--and no matter what, you're not going to see them as Russian're going to see them as Hepburn and Fonda.

Criterion's Blu-ray release of WAR AND PEACE has two discs, with two chapters of the film on each. The films are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a very lively 5.1 DTS-HD mix of the original Russian soundtrack with English subtitles. There is no English dub track (for those who don't like subtitles, you're going to have to put up with seven hours of them).

The overall visual quality is impressive (the packaging says that this is a new 2K digital restoration). There is, however, some distortion at times in the dark areas of certain scenes.

As usual with Criterion, there's a number of extras, such as a few vintage featurettes about the making of the film from the 1960s, and new short interviews with chief cinematographer Anatoly Petritsky and Sergei Bondarchuk's son. There's also a talk with historian Denise J. Youngblood about the film.

Inside the disc cover is a fold-out poster of the case artwork which has on the back an essay by critic Ella Taylor.

I'm now at the time of my life where I wonder how many more major movie moments I'm going to experience. I'm talking about moments that enchant and amaze you, moments that make you remember a certain film for the rest of your life. Watching WAR AND PEACE for the very first time was one of those moments (I only wish I had been able to see it on an actual theater screen). It is an incredible production all the way around. It may have been backed by the Soviet Union, but it didn't seem very political, at least to me. WAR AND PEACE is truly the ultimate vast grand historical romantic cinema epic.