Viewed – 29 November 2013 Blu-ray
Growing up this was one film I kept catching on TV, and it left a long standing imprint on me as a movie fan. Brian De Palma’s 1978 thriller was sort-of his follow up to Carrie, exploring again psychic telekinetic individuals, this time two instead of one and bringing back Carrie’s Amy Irving now alongside screen legend Kirk Douglas.
Douglas is a secret agent whose son has powerful telekinetic abilities that his shady friend, John Cassavetes wants to take advantage of. After an explosive opening where Douglas is betrayed and his son kidnapped – we switch to 11 months later where we meet Gillian, a young woman only just discovering her abilities who seems to have a psychic connection with Douglas’ son – and therefore becomes of interest both to Douglas and Cassavetes.
With a haunting, eerie score by John Williams and several stand-out set-pieces (the fairground ride, the slow-motion institute escape) this is De Palma at full tilt. Strangely it remains one of the famed director’s lesser known efforts, but with a solid turn from Douglas and an emotional performance from the often underrated Amy Irving – I still got a kick out of this, even all these years later. It’s still scary, especially with Douglas’ son’s powerful, malevolent incidents (hovering in the air in a darkened room, the murder of a woman by making her body spin…) although at times it resembles a 70s cop show with unfortunate comedy bits – and for a movie often labelled as horror – gore and scares are infrequent. Overall though this is one 70s movie I highly recommend seeing again.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is decent. The picture is vivid if at times a little soft and over-saturated but in good shape mostly – and the sound punchy and fitting to the period. The 4.0 DTS soundtrack can jump about at times from clear dialogue to an echoey locked in a closet sound (?), so I found the 2.0 soundtrack the most pleasing. Extras are also plentiful with documentaries, interviews, an isolated music score, a nice booklet with a new write up on the movie, and a reversible sleeve with new art work. Again another stellar job from Arrow.
(the movie): 4 /5
(the Blu-ray): 3.5 /5
Viewed – 26 November 2013 Blu-ray
Back in 1987 Bruce Willis shocked audiences world wide by transforming his wise cracking, comedy image from popular TV series Moonlighting into credible action-hero machismo with the first in this franchise … arguably one of the finest action thrillers ever made. Naturally such a well crafted movie would spawn sequels, and generally in my opinion, Die Hard has always delivered – but any good run had to come to an end, and yes, all the rumours you may have heard about this ill advised continuation of John McClane’s adventures are true.
Willis travels to Moscow to track down his estranged son (Jai Courtney) who seems to have got himself in a heap of trouble with some Russian terrorists. But before long father and son are reunited against a common enemy, and attempt to bond between the bullets flying and the bodies piling up. Directed by relative-unknown John Moore, this frantic, moodily shot attempt at an action movie from the get-go fails on almost every level. Firstly this isn’t just Willis playing McClane as a fish out of water New York cop (that would have been fun – but it’s not explored) he genuinely looks lost – not necessarily over the hill, but just in the wrong movie. His wise-cracks are delivered awkwardly like Willis himself is bored with the character, and the setting and the plot just failed to resonate. Add to this rapidly edited, confusing action that is mostly too fast and too chaotic to follow or enjoy, and well … I began to almost want to remove this from my PlayStation 3 and throw the original Die Hard in for the umpteenth time.
A plot twist towards the end was borderline interesting, but especially bad for this franchise, the villain was just a cliché, and his evil scheme nothing that clever. I wouldn’t normally be so against a movie, but for a franchise I previously adored – this was an embarrassment. Oh, and that cool free fall through a building and into water showcased in the trailer – that’s the best bit of the movie.
Verdict: 1 /5
Viewed – 08 November 2013 Blu-ray
I remember loving this entry in director Wes Craven’s admirable output several years ago … its clever idea of suburban hell and enough gore and creepiness to keep your nerves thread bare. It tells the tale of ghetto teenager ‘Fool’ who with his mother dying of cancer, teams up with a petty crook (Ving Rhames) to break into the house of the local wealthy property owner and his wife. Yet a seemingly straight forward plan as you can imagine goes horribly wrong, and they stumble upon a very macabre secret.
Genre king Wes Craven delivers again. As the director of cult favourites A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream, you can expect a degree of skill to the chills and frights, even if for the most part this plays out more like an adventure, with Fool transported into another world, that of the labyrinthine house and its many traps and secrets – its like he’s entered an episode of The Crystal Maze at times. Playing the couple is Twin Peaks stalwarts Everett McGill and Wendy Robie who are both wonderfully nuts … and pretty much make the movie for me. Also as their nervous daughter Alice, A J Langer is quite heart-breaking and very believable. Yet Brandon Adams as Fool, a few corny lines aside is a revelation for such a young actor – did he go onto anything else?
This movie is quite silly in places, and sometimes its more funny than genuinely scary – but I’ll go on record as saying it remains one of the more inventive horror movies of the 90s, and for Wes Craven, possibly his most interesting creation.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is very pleasing. The image is detailed and colourful (Ving Rhames’ hat in the van looks astonishing…) and although at times a little softness rears its head – overall I was very pleased. Audio is acceptable in uncompressed 2.0 stereo and the many sound effects inside the house still work well. Extras consist of a (moderated) commentary by Brandon Adams, as well as several featurettes and interviews. Most interestingly we also get a collectable booklet and a reversible sleeve with specially created new art work. An impressive package by all means.
(the movie) 3.5 /5
(the Blu-ray) 4 /5
Viewed – 08 October 2013 Blu-ray
Anyone who has watched the long running reality TV show ‘Cops’ should be right at home here, with two street police officers (Jake Gyllenhaal & Michael Pena) going about their daily duties in South Central Los Angeles, risking their lives as they attempt to enforce the law amongst local gangs consisting of African-American punks and Columbian drug dealers.
Shot with a mixture of traditional and shaky hand held camera, this is immediately authentic and engrossing. Gyllenhaal is one of my favourite actors, and proves utterly gripping. With good support from Pena, they make for likable buddies. Of course when they piss off a local drugs cartel after stumbling upon a crime scene involving a big stash of narcotics as well as human trafficking, these street-wise officers soon realise they may have bitten off more than they can chew.
Director David Ayer (Street Kings) has crafted a powerful movie that’s not scared to show the gritty realism of the streets, including some strong violence, making for a hard-hitting but also entertaining experience. Granted the South Central / hood thing has been done to death (ahem), but the documentary-style approach offered a refreshing take, pulling this viewer in and making him feel like he was there. The ending was also a bit obvious for the most part … but overall, this was a quality evening’s viewing.
Verdict: 4 /5
Viewed – 20 September 2013 DVD
I love magic, from the likes of Penn & Teller to David Blaine and Cris Angel, so this was an easy pick for me. Four famed street magicians are brought together by a mystery organization known as The Eye to use their skills at illusion to pull off a series of elaborate heists. Yet an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) is hot on their heels, aided by a former magician (Morgan Freeman) who now hosts a TV show exposing the secrets behind so called magic tricks.
This is a very entertaining and cleverly plotted thriller, deftly put together by The Transporter’s Louis Leterrier and with several stand out performances, most notably the always interesting Mark Ruffalo and also Jesse Eisenberg, doing his geek/genius thing to perfection. Also on hand is a sexy Isla Fisher and an enjoyably dead-pan Woody Harrelson. For me the plot got a bit convoluted and some of the twists and turns were a little hard to swallow (especially the ending). Also by exploring a subject many still consider steeped in mystery, the ‘magic’ goes a tad over the top and far fetched, with unnecessary use of CGI. Also the motive for these clearly gifted illusionists turning to crime is not explored which I found hard to understand, especially when they clearly make them selves known for their crimes (?).
That being said the action, including an intense car chase and the illusions themselves make for a gripping and enjoyable experience over all, backed up by some very stylish looks. Just a shame its all a bit too frantic and clever (or complicated?) for its own good.
Verdict: 3 /5