True Romance: (Blu Ray, Director’s Cut) A guy that loves, and is frequently visited by, Elvis runs away with a girl that looks mysteriously like Lolita after they score a suitcase of drugs: cue the mafia and police hunting them down. Definitely not your average tale of monogamy. The story-driven action is a different class, mixing the best bits of Tarantino’s script with a Tony Scott in his Prime. It’s pretty violent, especially the final shootout and girly beat-down – although that scene can claim ‘best chest in a fight, ever’ award. Another highlight is the dazzling ensemble cast including Gandolfini, Oldman, Chris Penn, Rubinek, Kilmer, a noteworthy stoned Brad Pitt and one of cinemas truly great moments: Dennis Hopper & Christopher Walken mesmerisingly discussing the finer points of Sicilian heritage with a dash of classic piano. Not to be forgotten, Slater and Arquette give what could easily be the performances of their careers. There’s some great tension (lift scene) and it lands up being quite poetic given the content. Can’t forget the cheesy / feathery ending and staple Tarantino cooler-than-thou movie & pop culture throughout. The picture and sound are both astonishingly average, only fans should upgrade. All-in, you can’t really fault much of this movie, and it’s amazing to think that even all the big names couldn’t save True Romance at the Box Office. Impressive runaway fantasy.
Stranger than fiction: (Blu Ray) It feels like a watch advert to begin with, then turns into an outlandish narrator hostage situation – won’t give the story away, but it’s pretty original. What’s most interesting is that you’re not used to seeing WIll Ferrel play the serious everyman, which he does a decent job at despite being out of his comfort zone. Someone also needs to stop casting Queen Latifah as motivational!! Maggie Gyllenhaal balanced it out by rocking my loins for the entire film. The picture’s crisp but there’s nothing really worth seeing here, the sound mix is dull, but the original audio is great. Similar themes and story to Eternal Sunshine / Being John Malkovich / Adaptation so check it out if you like those. I guess the main thing this film has over others is the fresh twist on life and who’s in control of it. It’s quite witty and intelligent, with a fantastic idea but I just can’t put my finger on what was missing.
The Hurt Locker: (Blu Ray) Disappointing. First off, despite being 130 minutes long no characters develop beyond superficial stock figures: ‘badass old-timer’, ‘young suicidal kid’ and the ‘hot-shot maverick that will get everyone killed’ – it’s also hard to feel anything, let alone sympathy, for someone so reckless and that goes AWOL as often as Will James. The plot’s essentially 5 near-identical bomb situations separated by limp character-building that never really covers new ground. On the other hand, it is well-shot throughout and the tension of each action / bomb-scare does come through in parts; the sniper battle was done well, definitely the highlight of the film. The acting’s also pretty good given how flat the characters were, but it was definitely amplified by the documentary feel. The picture’s alright, but the sound is phenomenal, creating a war-like chaos with the constant background noises – brilliant when coupled with the visual style – worth the upgrade. Overall it was too melodramatic and full of pro-American and pro-army tones for me to begin enjoying it: rock ‘n’ roll loving party-hard soldier turns his back on his family to keep saving the day in Iraq… really? It’s clearly a bit edgy (intimate & gruesome bomb scenes), contemporary (Iraq) and overcomes adversity (female director), hence it’s scooping awards, but for me, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Look out for Guy Pearce and Ralph Feinnes before they get blown to bits. Is it the ‘best war film in years’? Probably, but with competition like jarhead and The Kingdom it that really saying something?
Kill Bill Vol 2: (Blu Ray) retribution continues at a slower pace as the back story is given more attention. This installment starts off as it means to continue, totally rip-off retro: effects, music, voiceovers, homage, etc. The story’s very strong until the last 45 minutes when it grinds to a halt, feeling drawn out with heavy conversation and that stupid truth serum. I’m not a huge fan of Tarantino’s ‘natural dialogue’. It’s not Kevin Smith bad but still quite annoying, and it really bogs down the end of Vol 2… On the upside there’s still some great cinema to be had; parts like the blacked out buried alive scene utilising big sounds to strike fear in to you are movie gold. The acting is top notch again, from Uma through to the let-himself-go Bud, sharp-as-ever Bill and the (still) foxy Elle Driver – it helps that all characters get good screen time to develop. The Blu Ray is absolutely stunning; close-up skin, face, hair and clothing detail will blow you away – even in the intentionally grainy Pai Mei scenes. The sound’s also fantastic, again making it worth the upgrade. It’s definitely the weaker stand-alone film, but when viewed back to back with Vol 1 it’s a great conclusion to one of the most epic revenge tales committed to celluloid!
Kill Bill Vol 1: (Blu Ray) a former assassin and her nearest & dearest are murdered; she survives and sets out for revenge – big time. Although his style’s not for everyone this Tarantino flick works the audience like no other. It has style in excess as it flips between live action and anime, the past and present, colour and B&W, tranquility and hyper violence… There’s also a load of retro & chic elements such as the unnecessary censorship of The Bride’s name, yellow jumpsuits, and who doesn’t wiggle their big toe when Uma wills herself on? With all the style, story, great soundtrack and violence it’s easy to overlook Uma’s talent, covering everything between ‘broken woman’ to ‘superwoman’ without raising a single doubt. It’s very heavy on the homage, but doesn’t take itself seriously – what with the limbs flying everywhere as the bride breakdances with a sword in hand! The trademark unnecessarily long dialogue is toned down a bit and the middle part with Hattori Hanzo feels a tad stretched. The music builds up so much tension before the fight scenes and technically the film’s outstanding: the swooping single shot between the main room and toilets (twice!) in the House of Blue Leaves seems effortless. The consistently vibrant picture and near-flawless audio on this Blu Ray make it 100% worth the upgrade. If a gravity-defying swordswoman hacking and shooting her way through dozens of bodies is your thing, then look no further than this. Perhaps one of the best action films, ever.
Reservoir Dogs: (Blu Ray) Follows a bunch of – not so – professional criminals after a botched heist – Tarrantino’s debut. Like his later movies this one is stuffed with obscure music, bloody violence, fragmented storytelling, and dangerously high levels of pop-culture. Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi lead the cast for me, but you can’t really fault anyone’s performance. It’s stylish, some of the longer shots are frighteningly smooth & effective and there’s cool ideas peppered throughout; standout being the anecdote about the drug deal being told in various situations. The realistic and brutal violence will shock some, and even for the start of his career the homage isn’t subtle. Like his other early works it’s also questionably racist – strange gamble for an up-and-coming director. The picture’s alright in parts but the sound’s quite rubbish, not worth the BD upgrade. Although the story and characters aren’t groundbreaking, you can’t deny how original the delivery and presentation are. Cult classic, and rightly so.
Machine Girl: (Blu Ray) the story’s just a vehicle for the onslaught of gore, so it’s not even worth dwelling on… ‘revenge’ should cover it. This action & blood fest includes… <spoilers> shot in the eye, face shot to bits, hand hacked off, exploding head (2), maid murder, extreme bullying, tempura arm, brains facial, intestine facial, blood facial showers (gave up counting – ?), cook brutality, forced cannibalism, ninja stars (?), fingers sliced, amputation (2), necrophilia, urban ninjas (3), decapitation(?), blood drinking, nails in the face, fountains of blood (?), chainsaw deaths (?), bucket of death (2), limb fighting, an unforgettable boob job and many an OTT gory death. To lighten he mood they also chucked in some… swordfights, cleavage, ghosts, questionable first aid, midriff, sexy lingerie, a drill bra, pant wetting, death by strobes, Japanese schoolgirls and a MILF. </spoilers> The picture quality drifts between barely acceptable and below upscaled DVD, the sound is also poor – definitely not worth paying more for the BD. Bad and camp acting throughout, but for being on a budget the gore’s pretty good and is more comical than serious. It’s pretty entertaining but definitely a required taste: think ‘Story of Ricky’, ‘Braindead’, ‘Versus’, ‘Bad Taste’…
2001: A Space Odyssey: or oddity! (Blu Ray) Apes and astronauts try to solve a 4 million year old secret of our universe. Be under no illusion, this is more about the (then) ground-breaking special effects than story – and considering what the standards were, they’re beyond impressive. The landscapes and space ships are astonishingly Intricate, and the complex ‘gravity-defying’ set-pieces are mind-blowing, many have become iconic through the years. The picture and sound are definitely reference material: particularly the epic orchestrated pieces that pump through all speakers & work the bass. The physics are also spot on, which you can’t say about many sci-fi films! But then there’s the down-side… The first 25 minutes is just a bizarre ape racket, there are several long ‘space ballet’ type scenes, loads of ridiculously dragged-out & slow shots, minutes of pure blackness with ominous sounds, and a few chunks of painfully unwatchable psychedelia. The ‘Jupiter Mission’ section was the only part that I enjoyed as it actually had some story and drama: the camp / murderous / paranoid computer Hal and Keir Dullea’s intensity, which stole the show for me. The ending is incoherent, illogical and disappointing. I fully appreciate that in 1968 (before the original moon landing!) this would have been a ground-breaking awe-inspiring epic extravaganza – and despite advances in effects, it still fares well – but it doesn’t make up for the lack of story or substance. 2001 is constantly lauded as one of the best films ever, which maybe raised my expectations too high but to me this would be best enjoyed on drugs. Lots of drugs.
The Hangover: (Blu Ray) a trio of buddies waken up after a stag night, minus the stag and all memory of the evening. It’s pretty entertaining as the details unfold but you get the feeling the writer polled a thousand guys and put the best ‘crazy nights out’ tales together to make a story. The brother Alan was probably the best part of the movie and although other guys were funny in parts the ‘one-man wolf pack’ totally stole the show. In saying that the overall humour hit home with me, but isn’t for everyone and is probably more for guys than girls – it’s pretty much Superbad for men. Mike Tyson must be skint at the moment, there’s also an outlandish Asian and maths montage worth noting. The picture’s brilliantly detailed but the surround mix is disappointing, with little action in back speakers. Despite being let down by the cheesiest of endings this is definitely worth a watch.
Seven Pounds: (Blu Ray) can’t mention any aspect of the story without giving it away, but this is essentially ‘The Will Smith Experience’ as he plays a stern, distant and socially awkward man with a questionable past. This film stews for far too long, not revealing any of the story for the first hour, starts making sense at the 1:30 mark and the penny finally drops at 1:45. For me this is far too long to rely on a single revelation, and will leave some viewers feeling short-changed or completely zoned out. The 5.1 mix is faint but atmospheric although the picture’s pretty colourless and a lot of the shots are deliberately unclear so this isn’t worth getting on BD, unless you really like Will Smith’s hair. Because they get so little screen time the supporting cast feel like a bunch of necessary extras. Not a lot else to say really, underwhelming.
Wall-E: (Blu Ray) a lonely ‘bot and his roach, set out to clean polluted earth – which lands him on a wacky space adventure. Due to the lack of dialogue it relies on two things to engage the audience; the personification of Wall-E and descriptive music. It’s not totally dialogue free as there are talking humans and the bleeps / robo noises are used masterfully to convey basic language. The mid-section’s a happy-go-lucky robo-screwball, with slapstick and visual gags everywhere. Unfortunately, the story is pretty predictable and lacks the adult layer that makes the best animated films (like Finding Nemo) stand out. It’s also quite preachy and so critical about humans, fatness, our capitalist way of life, and the corporation that Al Gore could have co-written it. The broken robot uprising was a poor rip off of the broken toys in Toy Story. The sound throughout is pretty good but the picture’s two tales: brilliant in space but dull and cloudy on earth. Don’t get me wrong, I did like this, but it’s nowhere near as good as the aforementioned Pixar titles.
Watchmen: (Blu Ray) A gang of retired vigilantes squeeze back into their costumes to figure out who’s trying to kill them off. The story itself is a near perfect blend of action and dystopian Noir mystery, although it’s no Sin City rip off. Picture and surround sound are both absolutely stunning and could easily be used as test/demo material. All aspects of the visuals are totally slick, and bone-splitting graphic violence has never looked this good. The run time may put some off, at 2:45, but it’s all about the characters past and present. A few streaks of hardcore physics to melt your mind, and older viewers will remember the constant fear of a potential nuclear holocaust. On a downside the soundtrack’s very dominating, trendy and generic for such an original story, and it’s never good seeing a huge blue wang, ever. Haven’t read the graphic novel so can’t compare them, but as a stand alone film this is certainly a great achievement. Plain awesome viewing.