Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir [dir. Joseph L Mankiewicz]

For a good while I had my eye on the Indian (Excel) blu-ray release of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (G&MM), especially since the US release from Fox wasn't much cheaper even for a 2013 release. But I was not sure if the Indian BD would carry over the 2 audio commentaries included on the US disc, and so when I had the chance to order stuff from Amazon US to Singapore in time for my vacation there, I snagged the US BD.

G&MM is an old-fashioned story of love and friendship between the titular characters. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) after her husband's death decides to leave her in-laws' home and make her own with daughter Anna and faithful caretaker Martha. Conscious of not having thus far led a life of her own, Lucy acts on impulse, renting a cliffside cottage that appeals to her despite strong misgivings from the buffoonish house agent, only to discover that it is haunted by the ghost of its former occupant, the salty seaman Captain Gregg. As played by Rex Harrison, Gregg is first seen as a bluff petty-minded bully, determined to drive out all tenants and preserve his home. But he quickly takes a shine to the young widow, and we see the beginnings of a (heavily sanitized) romance across the pale. When Lucy is hard-pressed for the rent he comes up with the idea of her writing a book out of his racy memoirs (called Blood and Swash). In the course of getting the book published Lucy meets with another man, a cheeky handsome writer-artist (George Sanders) who charms her off her feet and gives the spectral captain a bout of distinctly corporeal jealousy. What ultimately becomes of Lucy forms the remaining part of this whimsical story.

Despite the idea of a lonely house haunted by a blasphemous mariner's ghost, Philip Dunne's screenplay (based on a novel by Josephine Leslie, writing as - heh, heh - R.A. Dick) is not a stormy supernatural thriller, but a gentle funny romance. Captain Gregg's language may have raised polite brows in the early twentieth century setting of the story, but even in the 40's when the novel and film were released, his "blasted" exclamations would have been more cute than shocking. Without the use of special effects to depict the ghostly element, the real magic in G&MM is the chemistry between Tierney and Harrison. Never even implying the crossing of any taboos, there is an appealing sweetness in their scenes together. Captain Gregg is an under-written character with little nuance, but Harrison is energetic and, when needed, tender. Tierney gives a mostly good account of the widow who looks first for freedom and then for love. The other big stars of the film are Charles Lang's wonderful chiaroscuro cinematography (only a few years before he had captured The Uninvited) and a lush romantic score from Bernard Herrmann, very different from his compositions for Alfred Hitchcock.

Even at a little past 100min, the film goes on for a bit more than it should have, but it offers relaxing old-fashioned good-natured amusement and should bring at least the occasional smile to even the dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon.

The stray bit of speckling aside, 20th Century Fox's blu-ray gives a luminous video presentation of G&MM's shadow-dappled visuals. The English audio is presented as lossless original mono or a respectfully repurposed 5.1 track that mostly gives additional space to Herrmann's music. I have not as yet heard the two commentary tracks, will try to update this review when I do.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse [dirs. Bob Persichetti - Peter Ramsey - Rodney Rothman]

The last movie I watched was Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, to be referred henceforth only as 'Verse.

'Verse arose from the curious situation of divided rights between Sony and Marvel for Spider-Man. Apparently Sony retains the TV and digital rights for any Spidey adaptations, and can make solo Spidey films with approval from Marvel. In return, Marvel gets to use Spidey as part of their cash generating MCU juggernaut. After a truncated non-Amazing Spider-Man series 5 years ago, Sony recently mounted Spidey onto cinema again, this time with the help of comedy / animation wunderkids Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie).

Unlike every previous Spider-Man feature film adaptation which goes with the best-known "Peter Parker is Spider-Man" timeline, 'Verse gives us Miles Morales (originally introduced in comics in 2011), an awkward school-going Afro-Latino lad who gets the bite. But wait, Peter Parker is here too...more than one...and a host of other Spider-people...including a pig (now that's going the whole hog). You see, the movie's premise involves the opening of a multi-universe portal by Spider-Man nemesis Kingpin which, after the original Parker is smashed into by a gargantuan Green Goblin, flashes in Spider-characters from a whole bunch of alternate planes. Their existence is however ephemeral unless they return to their own planes and the collider is destroyed, all of which needs to be done by Miles...once he gets a hang of how to control his new powers, that is.

So yes, the narrative is a wee bit over-packed, and doesn't have the space to explore its full multi-universe potential, but it works well most of the time, and the banter between Miles and another universe's Peter B. Parker forms a linchpin of companionship and character-building upon which the rest of the film rests.

Visually, 'Verse is an amazing trip that uses almost every color in the known spectrum. The animation is also unique, often resorting to a halved frame-rate to give the image a crisp still quality that looks like pages from a comic book. Supplementing this is the use of onomatopoeic verbiage, including thought bubbles and on-screen representation of a multitude of sound effects a la the Adam West Batman series. According to the makers the attempt was to make every freeze-frame look like a comic page or a work of art, and it works. For sheer eyeball-melting eye-candy, this tops most superhero films you know. With all their limitations of access to the character, Sony put out possibly the best Spider-Man feature film made thus far.

While I'm sure people with access to 4K and HDR will have an even better experience, the 1080p blu-ray also gives a topnotch presentation, incredibly colorful and texturally rich. 'Verse is a film that can be re-visited several times purely to admire the wizardry of the artists involved in the making. The 5.1 audio track sounds bombastic on my home surround, a heck lot better than some of the under-powered MCU blus (looking at you, Thor: Ragnarok). Of the extras, I watched all the featurettes, and they are decent though not significantly in-depth (I think they auto-play after the main feature). There is also an audio commentary and an extended version playback of the film, which inserts or discusses differently conceived scenarios and concept art elements.