15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
A mixed bag on the audio and video front, but overall a pretty good deal for what it is
, November 9, 2012
This review is from: Billy Bathgate & Blaze -Blu-ray Double Feature (Blu-ray)
Mill Creek cranks out yet another Miramax/Touchstone double-feature budget Blu-Ray release, this time for two noble cinematic failures: "Billy Bathgate" and "Blaze". Both films are entertaining-yet-flawed fictionalized historical pics that benefit from great casting, good production values and intriguing lead performances. Admittedly, both films are far from perfect, and were expensive box office duds upon their initial release; however, both were unfairly maligned IMO, and are worth checking out on home video.
"Billy Bathgate" is a stately, handsome-looking gangster flick based on the fictional book by E.L. Doctorow, which tells a tale of the infamous gangster "Dutch" Schultz, seen through the eyes of a young protege; For better or worse, it has all the usual tropes that one expects to see in a mob film and little in the way of surprises. Furthermore, with the exception of "Dutch" Schultz, the characters in the film are all drawn pretty shallow. However, with fun casting (including Nicole Kidman, Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi), an eccentric, menacing lead performance from Hoffman and high-production values (this 1991 film cost $45 million to make), fans of gangster flicks and Hoffman should be entertained.
"Blaze" is the inspired-by-a-true-story tale of quirky Louisiana Governor Earl Long and the far-younger stripper Blaze Starr, who together carried out a very open illicit love affair, much to the chagrin of the disproving public. Very loosely-based on the autobiographical book "Blaze Starr: My Life as Told to Huey Perry", both Paul Newman and Lolita Davidovich have fun with their lead roles, and the chemistry is there between the actors. However, the film should have taken a lot more risks, especially considering the inherent seediness of its subject; it comes off as genteel, when it should have some off as raunchy and even (at times) uncomfortable. Still, worth a gander for Newman fans.
As far as the Blu-Ray goes, it's a mixed bag. On the video front, "Blaze" looks pretty ugly on Blu-Ray. Part of the fault lies in the soft-focus cinematography (likely used to down-play Newman's age), which constantly hinders sharpness throughout the film; the other issue is with the print itself, which is dirty and worn-looking. Colors look muted throughout, and while black levels do look pretty good in a few scenes, most dark scenes appear grey and washed-out. Still, the picture is a small step up from the DVD, with colors a bit punchier and sharpness slightly improved, with no obvious DNR or edge enhancement issues. Overall, watching "Blaze" upconverted in 1080P will give you a pretty comparable picture to what's found on this Blu-Ray. If you're picking this up for "Blaze" alone, have this one on DVD already, and are strapped for cash, I'd say you wouldn't be missing much if you took a pass on this Blu-ray.
However, "Billy Bathgate" fares better in the video department. The opening scene of the film looks pretty crummy, but it gets better from there. Sharpness and colors are a decent step-up from the DVD, and as with "Blaze", DNR and edge enhancement are a non-issue. The overly-reddish look of the DVD is gone, with far more balanced coloration and natural skin tones, and decent black levels. Unfortunately, the print looks somewhat worn and dirty in places, although not to the extent of "Blaze". Still, for a neglected catalog title release, "Billy Bathgate" looks pretty good, and should generally please fans of the film.
The audio for both films are presented in 2.0 DTS-HD, which is basically lossless two-channel stereo. Once again, as is standard practice with both Mill Creek and Echo Bridge, both films get shafted with lesser audio mixes than their DVD counterparts, where both films were presented in 5.1 Surround Sound. To be fair, the audio on the Blu-Ray for both films is OK for what it is; furthermore, upon listening to the DVD audio tracks, I found that both films on DVD are mixed pretty flat and play more like standard Dolby Stereo than 5.1 Surround Sound. While I find the practice of slapping films on Blu-Ray with two-channel stereo releases to be reprehensible (especially when perfectly fine 5.1 surround sound mixes already exist elsewhere), in this case, the difference between the Blu-Ray and DVD audio tracks for both films is basically a wash. That being said, stop already with the 2.0 stereo mixes...if I want 2.0 audio, I'll dig up my old VHS collection!
Both films lack any special features, but the DVD releases had none either, and this Blu-Ray does contain trailers for both films, presented in 1.33 fullscreen, both of which were absent on their DVD counterparts.
In all, at a price of under $7.00 here on Amazon.com, this double-feature is a pretty good deal for what it is. The reality is, this is as good a treatment as both films are likely to get on home video...at least until Mill Creek and Echo Bridge lose their rights to Touchstone/Miramax's catalog library, which will hopefully happen sooner than later.
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