How to Train Your Dragon [Blu Ray]: a teenage viking wants to follow in the dragon-slaying tradition of his tribe, but comes up with an unorthodox plan when he doesn’t have the heart to kill one. As the story plays out it’s clearly well-written, with lots of details and nice touches – the father/Son angle in particular is very well-played, and the swash-buckling finale delivers more than your standard Statham flick. The voice cast is amazing, star-studded and everyone’s distinct – despite every Viking speaking in a ‘krrrayy-zzeee’ Scottish accent – annoyingly the whiny voice of main character is one of the weaker performances. The BD picture detail is jaw-dropping: barnacles, hair, fur, water will drop your jaw, and the colours are extremely vivid and vibrant – sound wise, everything from explosions to ambience punches through – no questions, it’s a must-own Blu Ray. You’d like to think that a film as solid as this would have been a warning shot at Pixar, but being followed by Megamind and a bunch of sequels/spin-offs it feels like more of a fluke – which is disappointing, as it showed progress for DreamWorks Animation. Pitching to both children and adults How to Train Your Dragon makes for a great kids film, but will also entertain the big kids!
Buried [Blu Ray]: An American truck driver in Iraq wakens up in a coffin with a Zippo, Blackberry phone and a few other items; his shit has hit the fan. From Reynold’s instant panic at the blacked out start, and with the entire film playing out inside the box, this is very claustrophobic and unbelievably suspenseful. As time ticks down, and the story snakes forward it’s impossible not to get whipped up in the boiling tension – especially during the latter half when bigger events unfold. It’s not often that black humour can lighten the mood but when a film is this intense, being put on hold or flippant sarcasm does take the edge off – momentarily. Technically, it’s superb – the camera work, varied lighting and sound maximise the intensity, and for the Blu Ray, while the picture’s not particularly ‘worthy’, every single scratch, movement, phone tone and background noise punches through. The only limitation of the film is that if you don’t buy in, it will only ever be ‘a guy stuck in a box’. With a scope this tiny, you’d think 90 minutes would be a long stretch, but Buried is quite the opposite – hyper-dramatic to the very last frame – it’s amazing how much Cortés forces out of this concept, and kudos to Reynolds, who took yet another gamble on a left-field movie. Proof that a tiny, tight project can be just as good as any ‘tent-pole’ picture.
IP Man (AKA Yip Man) [Blu Ray]: partial-biogaphy of grandmaster martial artist Yip Man, as he fights to protect his town through the Japanese invasion of 1937. This is a jaw-dropping homage to the old martial arts films; choreography, subtle wire work, sound effects and filming of the action. This all peaks during a 1-on-10 fight indoors, which is action-tastic, bone-snappingly brutal and phenomenal to watch. Storywise, the film starts off amazingly with random schools of martial artist groups challenging each other to fights, but as soon as the war / Chinese history kicks in it slows the film down to a crawl. Annoyingly, there’s random leaps forward in time about every ten minutes; is it a week, month or year… we don’t know. Outdoors the BD picture great, but inside it’s very grainy – and the entire second half (invasion) looks depressingly washed-out and devoid of any colour. Films that handle the Sino–Japanese war have a tough job, and IP man succeeded nationally (although falls down internationally) in doing this; because it’s over-sentimental – but you can’t hold that against such a nationally proud, historical piece. Overall, IP Man starts with a massive bang, but the entire second half becomes a bit of a struggle, although the great action will keep you in your seat.
44 Inch Chest [Blu Ray]: a man is left shattered when his wife walks out on him, so he and some unsavory friends kidnap Casanova and figure out how to best resolve the situation. Instantly obvious is the unimaginable level of crass language and nasty homophobic terms oozing from your speakers for the duration… it’s almost too much, yet it provides a strangely soothing and lyrical/rhythmic effect when intertwined with the cockney rhyming slang script. It also somehow feels genuine and integral to the situation and characters. With a strong play-like feel (long scenes, one main setting, and dips in and out of pretentiousness) it’s very much an ‘actor’s film’, and each cast member gets your undivided attention to shine at some point. The breakdown of the main character means you’re never really sure what’s real and what’s not, which is also a bit surreal. I’ve never really rated Ray Winstone as more than a typecast, but this absolutely ripped my heart out – his eyes and the speech about love being a hard graft are as good as it gets. McShane easily has the best character, best flashback and most room for fun; which he clearly laps up. There’s some lovely black comedy, and great usage of cinematic tropes – particularly music to manipulate. The BD picture and sound are average, although the content’s not really HD worthy. More than anything else, 44 Inch Chest the tale of a broken hard man being challenged by several stereotypes of stock British gangster characters – which keeps it interesting for the duration. Because of the off kilter tone and excessive offensive language you can’t safely recommend this, although it could well be one of the best sleeper hits you’ll ever see… I guess time will tell.
La Femme Nikita [Blu Ray]: a young drug addict street punk is given the choice to die or train for the French secret service – surprisingly, she opts for the latter. The most striking thing from the opening frame onward is how horribly this film has aged – not unlike a nylon shell suit, it may have been smack-up-to-date at the time but it somewhat limits the ‘timelessness’ factor being so deliberately 80s. In saying this, it gives the film an authentic retro feel, and coupled with the cyber-punky tone & Besson‘s peculiar visual style, it’s definitely unique. Gear and tone continually change as Nikita flips between the perfect assassin, a normal girlfriend and broken down cry baby. Story has some awful comedy moments, but is balanced out with tense action scenes and over-the-top graphic violence. Blu Ray picture and sound are both solid, but never really jump out, and don’t leave a lasting impression. It’s strange that for a film which is unique and powerful enough to define a director and influence most of his subsequent works – not to mention becoming the benchmark of modern assassin, especially female assassin, films; it’s surprisingly not-that-great. Much like Leon (who puts in his first appearance here as The Cleaner) it’s still an enjoyable film, but I remembered it far more fondly than it stands up today. Proof that Besson’s target audience is exclusively teenage males? La Femme Nikita is a solid nuts ‘n’ bolts action piece, but for every good aspect, there’s a counterbalancing disappointment!
The Town [Blu Ray]: while befriending a ‘kidnapee’ (why not?) from his last heist, a bank robber juggles escaping his lifestyle, one last big job and the FBI chasing his tail. I really wish that people wouldn’t do another Irish-American / Boston film as it’s genuinely the worst possible combo for accent suicide – I swear Affleck settled in Jewsh Grandparent territory. To top off the ear-grinding vocals, the dialogue itself is beyond cornball: the script is laden with cheesy and clichéd lines. Fortunately, the story is very good and the action is executed as any of the Hollywood masters would – intense and impressive – particularly the penultimate heist car chase and final shootout. Cast-wise, Glen Childs (Welliver) and Don Draper (Hamm, who I didn’t rate until this) both turned decent performances. Unfortunately, Ben is terrible, wooden and has clearly written himself in as the super-uber dude who can evade the law, mastermind heists, juggle girls and be as cool as possible – quite the little vanity project, and it ruins the central character for me because you just can’t empathise with such a massive, boring douche. The Blu Ray picture and sound are solid – fantastic sweeping shots of Boston and action that challenges the speakers; don’t be tempted by the extended cut though – it’s beyond overlong and filled with boring/ridiculous back-story (not necessary when characters are all this flat-pack). Despite having a decent cast and all the makings & style of a true heist classic the final product is disappointingly average; and I really wanted to like it more.
Space Dogs [Blu Ray]: family friendly, fast-and-loose re-telling of the Soviet space dogs Belka and Strelka, who were sent up in Sputnik 5 and became the first animals to return from space in one piece. As a grown up, this film wasn’t pitched at me – the characters are a large-headed, squeaky-voiced, constantly kinetic mixture of animals on spectacularly dazzling adventure. Needless to say, that description ticks every box on the “child entertainment requirements” checklist. Being presented by the Russian Centre of National Film and Ministry of Culture Office there’s a lot of interesting, educational national pride, history, facts and even a mini tour of the Worker and Kolkhoz Woman statue – which is quite refreshing. The Blu Ray presentation and sound are both impressive; it’s bright, colorful, detailed and sharp. Although missing the multi-generational appeal that Pixar seem to have perfected, Space Dogs looks great, has a simple “happy ever after” story and would be a neat stocking filler for young children this Christmas!
Repo Men [Blu Ray]: when organ replacements are bought on hire purchase, people who miss payments have said organs removed by repo men. Jude Law is in the future again, hanging out with cyborgs again, sporting an awful accent… again. Live Schreiber is a snake oil salesman / shark in a suit… again. So the casting’s not very imaginative. Storywise, it hurts your head to watch such an incoherently directed film: three months pass in 5 minutes. One character goes from rich to unwell, to a hobo, then finds hobo love, then becomes an action hero, then a blood fetishist… Then from out of nowhere someone gets a conscience. It’s generally hard to know what’s what in the mangled plot, as well as how much time has passed and what’s supposed to have happened between the scenes. There’s some heavy flow gore (done well), cheeky product placement, a ridiculous voiceover, and it’s the only film I’ll probably ever watch and shout “Scan her tits!” at the screen. Things eventually pick up with a semi-redemptive OTT knife-and-saw fight near the end, followed by an insane blood orgy and a half-decent ending that made me add a 1/2 mark out of pity. The other two points are for Whittaker and the soundtrack. Blu Ray picture and sound are both solid – but just don’t waste your time with the film! Repo Men is a classic case of great idea with batshit terrible execution; rendering it the definition of idiotic.
Jennifer’s Body [Blu Ray]: when a slew of horrific murders hit a sleepy town, Needy starts to think her best friend is a blood-thirsty vampyre. On the surface this appears to exists as a Megan Fox bootay appreciation vehicle, which is fine by me, especially because she plays a sexy femme fatale – with some brilliantly lewd lines. Fortunately, there’s more here than just foxy Fox. The film is laced with a good dose of black humour and absurdity; just enough to confirm that it’s not taking itself too seriously – 8675309 / Goths at a Funeral / Emo band story arc etc. It’s also ‘teen horror’ to the core: with an emphasis on ‘hip’ music, high school setting, sexually charged ‘teens’, pop cultural references, slang vocabulary… right down to the Prom Night finale. The direction’s strong, and BD picture and audio quality are both very good – also the directors cut is apparently far superior to the theatrical version. I was more than surprised as I watched this with a constant smile, and some proper belly laughs; it’s one of the best in its genre since the likes of the Faculty and Idle Hands. After its initially poor cinematic reception Jennifer’s Body will hopefully shine a lot brighter on DVD/Blu Ray as it’s far better, runnier, sexier, more violent and smarter than it looks, and you’d expect.
A Single Man: [Blu Ray] – Follows an over-educated, depressed homosexual suicidal lecturer! The role could have been totally melodramatic Oscar Bait, but was played realistically by Firth. Stunning performance, well-earned gongs. He’s simply great to watch, and is the intense focus of every scene. The colouring / sound mix playfully tweaks with what you see and hear for around the first hour, but by the end it’s overused with some ridiculous gray = sad / colour = happy scenes. For being such an intense story, it’s very slow burning – with a few dramatic peaks to keep staleness at bay – I feel the drama could have been milked a little more. It’s undoubtedly well directed; every shot is stylish and looks cinematic, even scenes like a man on the toilet! The Blu Ray isn’t very watchable: much of the film has a stylistic (read as: shitty) diffusion / grain to the picture to set the era and tone. Overall, it’s quite a plain non-eventful story, boosted by a brilliant central performance.
Rubber [Blu Ray]: For reasons unknown, a discarded tyre comes to life, and starts a murderous rampage using its psychokinetic – head exploding – powers. There’s an awesome short movie in here, but in order to ‘beef it up’ into a film, several (ridiculous) elements are thrown in that don’t really do it for me. A film that’s punctuated with meta sequences and references should have a better reason for doing so than simply adding to the runtime; the entire observer side-story just broke up and detracted from the fantastic personification of a demented tyre. The SFX and direction are impressive – the tyre’s personality is built up piece by piece as he shakes, moves, inquires, turns, breathes, rolls, crushes and showers all on its own. Moreover, the film has an art exhibit / music video style and feel throughout, with fresh visuals and great cinematography featuring the Californian desert. The BD picture is among the best I can remember watching, every texture is rendered crisp and sharp; audio is generally flat, but bouncing when the music kicks in. I liked Rubber, but really wanted to love it – ultimately, it should have either been a 20 minute intense short, or full-on 80 minute character study of the tyre.
Vengeance / 復仇 [Blu Ray]: a French chef travels to Hong Kong to avenge a brutal attack on his daughter and her family. Having a mish-mash of French, English and Cantonese dialogue this clearly has international aspirations. As you’d expect from Johnnie To it’s a very well-directed film; in particular he gets the most out of his cast, even from the lead character – aging rocker (now botox-faced) Johnny Hallyday (!WTF!) – although Anthony Wong’s the real star as usual. To also wrings a lot of tension from many of the buildup and action scenes – although there is one nighttime shootout that’s a total mess, and several times when it changes from night to day (and vice versa) in 2 seconds flat. So it’s all good, until the film starts dragging on a bit, throwing up some strange plot twists (Memento anyone?) and generally falling into the ‘Asian Gangster’ pitfalls – many stylishly dressed gangster factions are all entangled with one another and disputes can only be settled through gun-centric confrontations – the only difference is the European actors, who seem a bit crowbarred in for international effect. As a Blu Ray, the picture’s OK and the sound is impressive enough (thunderous gunshots). Despite the big names and big story, for a person that’s seen scores of Asian gang movies, this has already faded in to the big pot of genre films.
Hobo with a Shotgun [Blu Ray]: tells the tale of an individual with no permanent residence, and his acquisition of a short-range firearm… Duh! Being born the same way as Machete, I had some reservations before starting this – but they were short-lived. EVERYTHING about this film is an authentic ode to the horror/exploitation ‘masterpieces’ I grew up watching from the 70s and 80s. The setting is a dystopian, lawless town, so rotten that only the eponymous anti-hero can clean it up with a shotgun. There’s fantastic gore every 5 minutes, and all kinds of insane and outrageous blood-soaked SFX. The story is so absurd and OTT that you simply can’t begin taking seriously. – it’s essentially a cheap vehicle used to maximise the blood ‘n’ guts factor. Rutger Hauer is a little too good for this type of film, fleshing out an emotional, solid central character. Abby also makes a good scream queen, and the rest of the cast are enjoyable stereotypes. The colour pallet is very saturated; bright and poppy, the blood leaps off the screen – Hauer’s face was also what BD was made for; the faithfully recreated Carpenter-esque 80s sci-fi horror synth soundtrack and gunshots pump out of all speakers – this is worth the Blu Ray upgrade if the film sounds like your bag. All in all, the video, music, plot, gore, sleaze and nastiness all combine to make this feel like an authentic retro film – unlike the one crappy video-grain effect used on Machete. This beat every expectation I had, and while it’s no cinematic masterpiece, it’s certainly an absolute must-see for all horror/B-movie/retro movie fans.
The Interceptor: [Blu Ray] [not even going to try to explain the plot here]. It boils down to being a hardcore Sci-Fi picture featuring the paranormal, supernatural, people from another realm… and that’s just the headlines. It starts with a dude jumping out of an exploding plane, and has similarly insane and impressive stunts for the duration. The action’s handled and executed very well – edited perfectly with long steady takes so you know what’s actually happening! (Speedboat chase / huge fight scenes and generally a shitload of car-flipping stunts) To balance out the awesomeness there’s an overdose of artsy-fartsy dreamy sequences that don’t really make much sense, or advance the story much, but nevertheless look pretty. There’s Assassins creed style visuals with symbols and glyphs all over the shop, an overload of suits ‘n’ shade dudes, and a few hotties thrown in for good measure – put everything together and it’s a nerds wet dream. The BD picture detail is stunning and the minimal pallet ensures that any colours leap out; the sounds solid enough too, particularly in the action sequences. After Nightwatch and Daywatch it’s strange that Russia’s biggest films still go down the Black Vs White, Good Vs Bad… route. A more technically proficient, stylish and insane film you could not ask for – a simpler story, you could.
Dragon Tiger Gate [Blu Ray]: Two step-brothers and a random come together and fight the evil Lousha Gate to save their martial arts school. Based on a Chinese comic (Oriental Heroes), there’s some sweet-ass stylish opening credits, and more generally the acting’s decent by comic adaptation standards. The story’s a bit overcooked and strays pretty deeply into the field of cheese with the metaphors, dreams and visions – which gets a little tedious. What makes this watchable is Donnie Yen’s jaw-dropping action choreography (and 14 year old emo girl’s haircut!), particularly the 2x restaurant scenes. The baseball field and gate bit are also fairly good – although the final boss fight has far too much SFX, which loses the innovative and live action feel of the earlier battles. The Blu Ray picture’s good, and vibrant when it needs to be, the HD sound is loud, proud, punchy and clean. Although the story’s not up to much, Dragon Tiger Gate is some harmless action fun.
UP [Blu Ray] An elderly widower tries to achieve his lifelong dream of living in South America, but picks up a few inadvertent companions on the way. This one’s definitely pitched way younger than other Pixar films and while there’s some happy moments, overall it’s pretty grim, with some real tearjerking scenes. The ensemble of dogs lighten up the film and were the only things I really enjoyed: poor grammar, dog-based jokes, squirrel etc. Blu Ray presentation is absolutely fantastic, the picture is so vibrant and much of the scenes look like 3D. Best looking BD I’ve seen. Sound/Music is just as important as the dialogue – and it sets the mood / plays with your feelings, to the point of being explicitly manipulative. Up is a super-crazy adventure for kids, but a little shallow and cutesy for the grown ups.
Born to Raise Hell [Blu Ray]: an Interpol agent assigned to Eastern Europe gets a replacement partner (his last one died on the job) to help him take down a Gypsy gang. The first time director constantly misses the mark with a poorly handled rape/burglary, then laugh-out-loud ‘intimate scene’, and a ton of woeful action moments. My biggest gripe surfaces with entire minutes of filler shots and blurry cam montages between the scenes. It’s amateur hour behind the camera, and in front of the camera we have Seagal (!!) with an ominously lit face and awkward gun-holding poses. He and his crew do the script justice, with classic lines like “lemme see yo hands bitch”, “wat the fuck is wrong wit chu boy” and every other Seagal sentence ending with “maaaaan”. His new colleague even dares to whisper the line “I’m one month away from becoming a father” – I WONDER IF HE WILL MAKE IT TO THE END?!?!!? Written solely by Seagal, It’s little surprise that he penned himself as a one-man-army cop with an unfeasibly hot girlfriend and mad fighting skillz – despite being a big oaf. The Bucharest setting is in more bad taste than you could imagine, everyone’s has a crazy Russian-esque accent, but talks English, is involved with drugs and works as a gangster or stripper. The entire film just reeks of cheap and is possibly the flattest and most uninspired Seagal flick you could imagine – it makes his ‘Lawman’ TV show look like Oscar Bait. The Blu Ray’s decent enough, but there’s nothing here worth watching. Proof if proof be needed that Seagal definitely is a
one-no-trick-pony-tail. Why are people still letting him do films?
Rock ‘n’ Rolla [Blu Ray]: Guy Ritchie introduces another bunch of dodgy geezers that you would find in ‘everyday Britain’… honestly! There’s a huge section of Basil exposition at the start; although goes with the territory of having 20 storylines and around 400 characters. There’s more narration by a LANDAN GEEZA – and the script’s full of more cockney slang / gangster limericks; I wouldn’t blame non-Brits for requiring subtitles. (Ewe go’ mo’ feet on thu street van coppas on thu beat – etc). There’s more Tarantino-esqué styling with wipes, swipes, fast cut editing, dialogue in boxes. There’s more people acting trivially when surrounded by or cut between senseless violence – which is becoming old hat. There’s also more dark comedy elements, which are quite good: a homosexual sub-plot, S&M, botched robbery, comparing scars, indestructible Russians… Where this succeeds is the stunning Brit cast; Hardy, Strong, Elba, ‘Superhands’, Butler, Kebbell, and Newton. The Blu Ray’s worth the extra pennies, with a slick picture and some tasty HD-audio. If you can’t tell from the above, Rock ‘n’ Rolla is more of the same ol’ Guy Ritchie tricks, although it’s all totally passable, and in the end, quite entertaining & watchable. It was planned to be the first of three films and – surprisingly – I’d like to see the other two.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: (Blu Ray) Film adaptation of the eponymous novel – follows an investigative journalist and a computer hacker as they investigate a 40 year old disappearance, which in turn unearths much bigger crimes. The one thing that grabs you for the duration is the performances offered up by the cast, particularly the two mains: Rapace is great at portraying an enigmatic character, who is strong and smart, yet damaged and vulnerable; Nyqvist on the other hand effortlessly portrays a determined journalist and dedicated researcher with incorruptible morals. Mains aside, nobody else really drops the ball either and the strong cast definitely make the film more believable, engaging and gripping. As for the story, you’ve seen it a thousand times before, but never done like this: it’s essentially a Miss Marple ‘whodunnit’ murder mystery served up with a huge wedge of modernity – metro setting, bit of snuff, bit of action, bit of romance, and lots of graphic scenes & descriptions of terrible crimes – add to this a bunch of critiques (violence against women, corrupt big business, modern Sweden…) and you have a very busy film. My favourite aspect of Dragon Tattoo is how the story’s told – it obviously helps to have great source material – but the direction is outstanding, and no matter how hard it gets to watch, or how long it goes on for, you simply can’t stop watching. My only major nitpick was the constant flashbacks as everything else about the film batted a lot higher. The BD picture is decent enough but typical Scandinavian washed out bleak pallet means that nothing really jumps out – sound again is alright, but nothing special. The final product is a modern facelift of the classic murder mystery that continually makes you wince, yet keeps you hooked through to the very last scene
Gamer: (Blu Ray) it is the future (!) and computer games have reached the next level with humans controlling prisoners in a live PPV bloodsport called Slayers. The film opens with such a WTF battle – guns, explosions, slow mo, blood and teabagging. More generally the action’s scenes feel totally anarchic – good for conveying confusion, bad for having any idea of what’s going on. It takes sci-fi to the next level of ridiculousness with 1980s pseudo science; Butler being mind-controled in a game by some Justin Bieber lookalike through a fake brains… So many parts of the film reek of “This scene / character would be totally LOL” – let’s have the fattest, ugliest, stereotype computer geek – LOL; let’s have butler get drunk, then piss and puke – LOL; let’s get a rapper in it, LOL; Dexter as a baddie would be so LOL… by the end it’s trying way too hard, especially that ridiculous dance number. The story’s a carbon copy of films like Running Man / Condemned / Death Race – and it has a vibe somewhere between cyberpunk and goth S&M freaks The BD picture’s very good throughout (camerawork and cinematography are great) but the soundtrack is on a whole other level – much like War this works the entire system… would be a great demo, if your shop was for over 18s. All-in, Gamer’s a pretty broad genre-spanning punky type film that doesn’t taking itself too seriously. There’s a good punt at a story, and enough action to keep everyone interested. I got the feeling that Gamer was just a really fun project for the people involved to be working on. Made by video gamers for gamers, while stereotyping their culture and the media… bizarre.
Monty Python’s Life of Brian: (Blu Ray) Monty Python sketch-fest that kind of follows an everyman called Brian, who is mistaken for the messiah and turned into a religious leader. While it was offensive / notorious / boundary-pushing – to the point of struggling to get funding – at its time of release (1979) it doesn’t hold up too well these days. Definitely feels a lot more like a bunch of loosely connected scenes rather than a proper ‘film’ as there’s no constant themes and the story jumps around / gets caught up in tangents. Most disappointingly, it’s not ‘rolling on the floor’ funny, although fans of Python’s erratic / crazy / shouty style will be entertained. There’s some nice nit-bits of historical facts and characters. The BD picture’s pretty grainy, looks a bit washed out but textures do show a lot of detail. The sound starts off well, but most of the scenes end up being a shouty din with a terrible mix – probably down to poor and aged source material. If Monty Python’s your thing then this is decent, but it’s nowhere near the best comedy of all time, or even the best of Python.
War: (Blu Ray) A gritty cop is out to avenge his partner’s death at the hand of the cockiest and most conspicuous hitman on the planet. Initially, this one doesn’t bat too high; with flashbacks referencing the start of the film after 20 minutes!! It’s also totally textbook, from the archetypal spy/metal music & story-progressing montage through to the constant ‘satellite’ shots and swooping cuts of cars driving over bridges. However, the last 30 minutes or so make this film more than worth persevering with – and in general the film was slicker and smarter than the uninspired synopsis and general image gives it credit for. There’s a lot of decent and original action/choreogrphy threading through the film – the best being an awesome footchase, and a jaw-dropping steakhouse punch up. You know what to expect from Statham and Li, and neither disappoint. The uncompressed audio mix bursts out of every speaker for the full duration creating one of the best soundscapes I’ve heard to date – every word, footstep, punch, gunshot and shatter is crystal clear and mixed in perfectly with the film’s fully orchestrated score – it’s truly an aural delight that should be a must-have for anyone with a home theater system, indisputable demo material. The picture’s generally good, but has a few bum scenes. Overall, if you like your cop-revenge-action films this is definitely one of the better ones out there – and while it’s not outstanding, there’s a lot of good touches that elevate it above expectations.
Goodfellas: (Blu Ray) A semi-fictional take on the life of Henry Hill; notorious American Mobster from Brooklyn. The chemistry between all the characters is fantastically played, sure there are some stereotypes, but the main three are very believable and realistic, yet completely different. Liotta’s acting is great, but his commitment was even more noteworthy; starting off naive and weedy but becoming a fat, ruined, coked-up mess for the last 30 minutes. Women don’t get much of a look-in, and it’s a good job because Bracco’s acting and ‘jewish accent’ are unforgivable. Scorsese shows he’s a master of the craft with many great, long, signature single-take shots – in particular the journey from the car to the table at the front of the club and from the skies to the meat truck – very powerful directing for the duration that backs up the story. The only anomaly is a bizarre breaking of the fourth wall at the very end of the film. The elegance of the direction is contrasted with a lot of brutal, no-holds-barred violence: beatdowns, bitchslaps, chest-stabbing, face shots, and a lot of gun-butts to the nose! Unfortunately, the Blu Ray doesn’t do the movie justice; the picture’s mediocre and the audio track is pretty lifeless – not once does it make you think “wow”. As divisive as this statement may be, I truly believe that this is the ultimate gangster movie and does in one film what The Godfather fails to do in three – an interesting and highly-watchable epic about the rise-and-fall of an ordinary man, that was accurate and true to the Italian Mafia.
Inglourious Basterds: (Blu Ray) Not really much of a re-make after all. Straight off the bat the first 20 minutes are among the immense, intense and electric in memory. As the film continues there’s just so many great sections: Jews in hiding, the Jew Bear’s entrance, strudel meal, entire bar scene, cinema premier (Inc. Italian Accents). Cast-wise: Pitt looks ridiculous and uncomfortable, but is still very, very funny again; Stiglitz is great to watch, especially in the bar scene; Fassbender totally outdoes Mike Meyers, who plays a terrible British stereotype, and as for Cristoph Waltz, what can I say that has not already been said… It’s a bingo! He turns an already fantastic script in to comedy and tension of the highest level without even trying – 100% charisma!! The dialogue’s much more focused and natural than any of the previous Tarantino outings. I also applaud the use of foreign actors and dialogue, which most war films don’t usually have, Tarantino has masterfully cast some of the best European talent in a lot of the key roles – and although there are a lot of characters and story threads coming together it’s all managed quite well, with only a couple of minor lapses. The alternative history setting (& ending) is always a strange pill to swallow, but if you roll with it the film still works. The music chosen isn’t his finest to date. The Blu Ray Sound and picture are both fantastic, definitely reference material. While Tarantino may not be every critic’s cup of tea he keeps giving the public exactly what they want. Ballsy & enjoyable WWII action-romp.
Speed Racer: (Blu Ray) Follows the Racer family of car-enthusiasts as their son Speed takes on the biggest companies in the world. Off the bat this is blatantly aimed at kids but off the bat I didn’t really care much because this looks absolutely outstanding. The Wachowski‘s mash together so many elements for the visuals: the Jetsons space age, Metropolis, 1920s, Al Capone, Neo Tokyo, extreme sports, The Gumball Rally, Wipeout & Rollcage games, and the list just keeps going… pretty much all green-screen. The editing adds another layer on top, with some awesomely bamboozling wipes and cuts. The comic roots shine through as the overall visuals sit somewhere between classic manga and souped-up CGI. With all of this behind it, the visuals are almost too good as it ends up being a sustained assault on your eyes over the 2hr 10min runtime – especially during every race / ‘Car-Fu’ battle. Looks aside, the story & characters are terribly textbook and the absurd Kid & Monkey combo kept trying their hardest to make me hate the film, it started to work by the end. There’s some genuinely funny nubs of humour throughout like the R-R logo and Paul Frank ‘human’ shirt on the monkey. There’s also a nice James Bond assassination-attempt homage and couple of criminally underused actors – like Moritz Bleibtreu. The BD Picture’s is among the best I’ve seen so far – with everything from the huge city-scapes down to the roads rendered so sharply it feels like 3D in parts – the sound quality is less impressive but the mix still flies out all the speakers during the action scenes. Overall, despite the plain story and shallow characters I was absolutely mesmerised by the spectacular visuals. One of a kind.
Three Kingdoms – Resurrection of the Dragon: (Blu Ray) A Chinese historical epic that takes you through the life of a legendary military General. Nothing about this seems particularly well thought-out. Our hero (Zilong) ends up with a new BFF after five minutes, you only see his wife once, and he becomes an invincible warrior after twenty minutes; as you do. There’s hardly any martial arts, but quite a few battles; some of which are on gigantic scale… but you couldn’t have made them any more boring if you tried. This is mostly down to the poor disjointed editing and slow-motion / blurry techniques that are overused. The BD is mediocre: some of the costumes and scenery are detailed but there’s a lot of noise in some scenes, the sound is also up and down. Different era altogether but Assembly is the best Chinese war film I remember seeing. All in, it had good intentions but is riddled with cheesy over-sentimental vibes.
Redbelt: (Blu Ray) Follows a badass martial artist – that goes around unintentionally making everyone else look rubbish – and his nagging wife as they end up in the world’s biggest cluster fuck. For the record, this one’s all story and no action, with what has to be the worst main ‘non-fight’ ever. There’s almost no fisticuffs throughout and what little action you do see is comprised of 1-2 second shots that doesn’t really flow like MMA should. This is made more annoying because the soundtrack really gets you pumped up for a big rumble several times. Fighting gripes aside the story’s a tour de force in every sense of the word, although it gets a bit unlikely towards the end. It’s masterfully told / directed and superbly acted; Ejiofor and Mortimer in particular standout despite all the distracting big-name athletes, actors and personalities that pop up throughout. The BD picture’s sharp, but there’s nothing eye-popping on show, the sound however is immense, crisp and feels very natural – a pretty impressive disc. The judges score; marketing this as a ‘fighting’ film (Sony Fight Factory Label) is like branding The Blind Side an American Football movie, Borat an Educational one or Crank ‘good’… you do feel totally cheated; but what was on show is great.
The Fall: (Blu Ray) With a ‘to watch’ pile this big it’s uncommon for me to re-watch a film, even rarer viewing one several times within a year, but after subjecting many a friend to the DVD I couldn’t pass up a loan of this Blu Ray. The Fall is pretty impossible to pigeonhole but would probably fall more under the Art realm than just a plain ol’ Movie. In saying this, the mythical storyline is pure cinema escapism that you rarely see these days: much like the magic Cinema would have had like in the 1920s. There’s more eye-popping locations on display than the finest travel brochure – so many that some get no more than 1/4 second glimpse: Colosseum, Eiffel Tower… Both lead characters are fantastic; Pace should be a much bigger star and the young girl Catinca Untaru will be, mark my words! The scenery, costumes, textures and detail of the picture is phenomenal, it’s what BD was made for! The Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra ensure the soundtrack’s epic, making the BD a must see. There’s a few spells of trippy visuals and the story won’t be for absolutely everyone but I would encourage anybody to give this a shot. Reining in my initial score from a 9.5 to an 8, although the first viewing DID blow me away that much.
Kaispace: Films you didn’t know you needed to see
The Dark Knight: (Blu Ray) Opens up with one of the best bank jobs in history and almost everything going forward is first class; especially the story, enemies, drama and action – it’s all just so epic. Heath Ledger’s absolutely on fire as the anarchist Joker, genuinely looking insane – watching his lips, tongue and ticks should freak anyone out – and he nails the offbeat humour with conviction to spare. Bale continues to make Bruce/Batman believable as the human-turn-superhero. Katie Holmes magically transforms into Maggie Gyllenhaal; no complaints from this reviewer. Eckhart’s great, despite only being able to half-act in the last hour. Lt. Gordon wins my ‘Worst husband ever’ award, no contest. Downsides: it’s a tad long and has lots crammed in (the last half hour could have been in a third movie, and a great posthumous send-off to Ledger?), Batman’s voice is ridiculous and Two-Face / Dawes / Scarecrow don’t get nearly enough screen time. The picture’s great with fantastic detail and stunning aerial shots, but once again the bombastic sound dominates the disc – every gunshot, explosion & Batmobile ride rocks you to the bone. The constant thrills and spills topped off with slick visuals and a great cast make The Dark Knight far superior to the strung-out character study of Wayne that was ‘Batman Begins’. With a final movie just being announced I’m drooling at the prospect, although I don’t fancy the chances of it topping this.
Batman Begins: (Blu Ray) Going to be controversial and say that this one bored the pants off of me. Because it’s a re-boot it’s laden with backstory and takes about 40 minutes before it gets going. Caine & Freeman are too safely cast and the so-called ‘jokes’ all fall flat, landing somewhere between ‘terrible’ and ‘was that supposed to be funny?’ For the positives it definitely makes batman cool and scary again – miles away from the campy original or souped up 90s movies. Gotham’s got a nice hint of Metropolis about it. The picture is very dark, so it doesn’t blow you away. On the other hand, the sound will as it dominates all speakers, especially the Bass – fans should get the BD. Overall it’s too long, quite boring and Wayne has no really cool enemies. It does tee-up the Dark Knight well though…