Nobody


Viewed – 27 July 2021 online rental

Bob Odenkirk made his name primarily as the bumbling yet likeable lawyer Saul Goodman in acclaimed TV sensation Breaking Bad. However I’d have never imagined him as some badass former assassin, but that’s the premise we have here as he plays Hutch, a family man hiding a secret that gets unearthed after he pisses off a bunch of Russian mobsters.

No more Mr nice guy…

From the writers of the John Wick franchise, this also has vibes of Liam Neeson hit Taken mixed with Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, with a rapid pace and plenty of kick-ass violence, all shot with no end of style and wincing choreography. Odenkirk, playing against type is clearly having a ball and is surprisingly convincing. The story however is merely an excuse to show Odenkirk in such sequences and doesn’t add up to much. At around 92 minutes it also felt rushed and occasionally forced just to make things ‘happen’ (he beats up a group of guys on a bus, simply to prove he’s still got it). The main villain is also rather one-note and stereotypical. However it was really great to see the legendary Christopher Lloyd as Hutch’s dad joining in with the mayhem.

For its style, some fun humour and quality action, this entertained well enough … but I couldn’t escape the feeling there was a bigger story here we were not seeing, lacking the world-building of the aforementioned Wick movies. Check this out if you’re an action fan, and as a vehicle for Odenkirk you’ll find this eye-opening. Yet for a fully fleshed out experience – I was still left wanting.

Verdict: Good

True Romance


Viewed – 21 July 2021 Blu-ray

In the early to mid nineties, one name seemed to reignite cinema as we know it and seemed to make movies exciting again. That name was Quentin Tarantino. At the time his movies, both those he directed and the ones he simply wrote, influenced me in my own writing. Most notably this lovers-on-the-run thriller from 1993. Directed by the late Tony Scott (brother of Ridley Scott) this tells the story of Elvis-obsessed Clarence (Christian Slater) who after falling for newbie call girl Alabama (Patricia Arquette) decides to confront her pimp, Drexel (Gary Oldman) to reclaim her belongings … yet after the meeting goes horribly wrong, Clarence comes into accidental possession of a suitcase full of cocaine.

This is shot with Scott’s distinct style; smokey interiors, sunsets, garish colours and soft focus. Something he put to great effect in movies such as Top Gun and The Last Boyscout. He’s also a great fit for Tarantino’s snappy, pop-culture filled script, helping to get the most out of a colourful cast, which also includes Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken and even a stoner cameo by Brad Pitt. There’s many stand-out scenes here, such as the now iconic Sicilian scene between Walken and Hopper, many quotable lines (“I like you Clarence, always have …always will!”), and even side characters seem to jump off the screen. However, I’ve always felt the movie is held back a tad by the fact Clarence comes across as a bit of an asshole sometimes. It also didn’t feel right how easily Alabama dismisses certain crazy things Clarence does. Yet as an unconventional love story, and despite their flaws, I still found myself liking these guys.

Like Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs etc, at the time this came under fire by the censors for its violence, and yes it’s violent (especially the Tony Soprano vs Alabama scene) but it’s all larger than life, and by today’s standards – rather tame. Yet this is still one of Tarantino’s most entertaining scripts, and remains a nineties classic well worth your time.

The newly restored 4K release from Arrow Video is a difficult one to judge. Mostly due to Tony Scott’s directing style which delivers an overly soft, yet noticeably grainy image. The HDR implementation does seem to bring out the colours, and overall detail is good, if not exactly reference quality. Soundtrack in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio is crisp, and the various scenes involving music really deliver (Drexel’s club especially). Extras are plentiful, many of which are carried over from the previous Blu-ray, including deleted scenes, interviews and four commentaries, from Scott, Arquette & Slater, critic Tim Lucas and most notably one by Tarantino himself. New to this version are additional interviews with behind the scenes crew members, co-stars and fans of the movie. We also get art cards, a detailed 60 page booklet, double-sided poster and deluxe packaging.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Xbox Series X – impressions


So the other week I finally got my hands on the elusive Xbox Series X, Microsoft’s ultra-powerful flagship next-gen console. Now having spent a couple of weeks with it, I can firmly say I’m impressed. The most notable improvement over last gen, and I’m coming off the technically capable Xbox One X, is the new ‘quick resume’ feature which basically acts as a save state for games, meaning you can switch from one game to another without quitting the previous game and quickly resume where you left off. This is a great quality-of-life improvement that I never knew I wanted until now. It makes dipping in and out of multiple games a breeze and with the super-fast loading of the console’s NVME SSD drive, it’s only seconds before you’re back in the action. It’s not currently available on all games, but that list of games that use the feature is constantly growing.

Like the PS5 this machine benefits greatly from the super-fast SSD, whilst technically not quite as speedy as the PS5’s, in practice games load up almost as quickly (Red Dead Redemption 2 falls from over 2 minutes to just over 30 seconds!). There’s also the inclusion of Ray-tracing for far more realistic lighting and reflections, and many games benefit from silky smooth 60fps, some even offering 120fps. The other notable advancement is the ‘smart-delivery’ feature which automatically upgrades any game in your collection to the Series X version, depending if an upgrade has been made available. Yes, this leads to some mammoth downloadable patches, but the system does everything for you including moving said games from an external HDD to the internal storage to ensure it takes full advantage of the SSD.

Game on…

The only obvious negative of the Series X and Series S so far has been the lack of a flagship exclusive, like PS5 had with Demons Souls, and more recently Ratchet & Clank. Timed exclusive The Medium doesn’t exactly fill those shoes, despite being a suitably atmospheric horror adventure but not exactly a showcase for the machine. Yet it’s with Gamepass where the Xbox brand shines, with over 300 games to pick from, including big names like Gears of War, Doom and Halo. Yet outside of Gamepass the machine is no slouch with its third party support either, and all the big games like Call of Duty, Tomb Raider etc. are on the machine, mostly running better than ever with much faster loading times included.

Perfect Dark

The future is bright for Xbox, with Microsoft having invested highly in development studios, meaning those exclusives will grow in number in time to come. Also with highly anticipated games like Perfect Dark, Bethesda’s Starfield and let’s not forget Halo Infinite among many more … there’s much to be excited about.

Black Widow


Viewed – 10 July 2021 Disney+

I think few could argue that Scarlett Johansson is a real movie star and has proven herself more than capable in many types of roles. However many will know her as one part of Marvel’s Avengers alongside the likes of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man. However unlike those characters, Scarlett’s Black Widow hadn’t until now got her stand alone origin story. This finds Natasha Romanova / Black Widow being hunted down by the shady organisation that turned her into an assassin, leading her to explore her own past and confront the broken relationships she thought she’d left behind.

Scarlett Fever…

Midsommar’s Florence Pugh plays Yelena, the estranged sister of Black Widow and it has to be said steals the show with her personality and sarcasm, and the banter that occurs not only between the two females but also with David Harbour’s Red Guardian proves this movie’s best aspect. Add to this some decent action, with a stand-out prison break sequence, and this was ticking my boxes.

Unfortunately the plot wasn’t very engaging with what was happening and why not pulling me in. Also Ray Winstone’s villain was rather forgettable. Although the mysterious henchman ‘Task Master’ was much more interesting. Yet as an origin story, this failed to delve into the character of Black Widow, only showing glimpses of her training or much of her upbringing. As a Marvel movie however, this still delivers the necessary spectacle, slick action and fun moments – but overall felt a bit under-developed with occasionally lazy writing. For fans of the MCU this is worth seeing, but adds so little to the whole narrative it’s far from essential.

Verdict: Good

Safety Last!


Viewed – 03 July 2021 Blu-ray

I’ve not watched many movies of the classic ‘silent’ era, but have in the past year started taking an interest in the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. So I now come to Harold Lloyd. I remember catching some of his short films on TV as a kid, with the ‘Hurray For Harold Lloyd’ jingle that went with them sticking in my head. This 1923 feature is possibly his most famous, with the iconic dangling-from-a-clock-face image stuff of cinematic legend, which went on to influence Jackie Chan’s similar stunt in Project A.

don’t look down…

Lloyd plays a small town guy with dreams of making it big in the city. Leaving his fiancé behind with the promise of sending for her when he’s made it, Lloyd soon gets a small time job at a department store. However as time passes he sells the idea that he’s some big shot to his fiancé back home, leading to her turning up unexpectedly. This causes Lloyd to have to pretend he’s the manager of the store, which gets more and more complicated, leading to him to performing a stunt by climbing the outside of the twelve story building.

Gentle in its humour and with a rather typical set up, this still proved very entertaining. Lloyd’s relatable everyman persona is charming and fun, and the down-town Los Angeles setting is especially fascinating when you consider the age of this movie. Of course the second half, taken up almost entirely by the famous building climb is something to behold, and although it was mostly achieved with camera trickery, Lloyd’s physical skill sells the danger and the comedy brilliantly.

The Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection is packed. Firstly the movie itself is given a new 2k restoration, with a musical score by composer Carl Davis, created in 1989. We also get an in-depth introduction from Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd, a fascinating audio commentary from critic Leonard Maltin and filmmaker Richard Correll. Add to this a 107 minute documentary about Harold Lloyd called ‘The Third Genius’ and three newly restored shorts … and along with a detailed booklet, interviews and a special effects featurette – this is a must for any fan of the era.

Verdict:

(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Essential