Project A


Viewed – 23 February 2020. Blu-ray

For some reason in the nineties when I was heavily into Hong Kong Cinema and the movies of Jackie Chan, this famed 1983 outing passed me by, even though I caught the sequel. Sitting down to this now, in pristine HD on a great Blu-ray from the fine folks at Eureka … I was both impressed at the action and stunt work but left cold by a rather messy plot. Chan plays Dragon Ma, a coast guard captain during the turn of the century, who gets embroiled in a series of weapons thefts by invading pirates. Along with a police lieutenant (Yeun Biao) and a petty crook (Sammo Hung) Chan turns out to be the best choice to save the day.

The story is a bit naff, disjointed and complicated by Chan’s usual brand of bumbling, squabbling and slapstick, although it’s a treat to see him teamed with fellow kung-fu stars Hung & Biao. The stunt work is at times wince-inducing crazy (especially the famous clock tower fall) and the fights frantic and brilliantly choreographed … but when the structure and plotting is this poor, it can spoil the fun. Thankfully then production values, set design and costumes are all top-notch. Chan also proves likeable as is much of the colourful cast, and when the villain is revealed he’s also quite formidable. As ever there’s also plenty of often silent-comedy influenced comedy and although quaint is more hit than miss.

For fans this is certainly one to check out, and the action still impressed even if it’s not Chan’s best.

The blu-ray from Eureka boasts great image quality sourced from a new 2k restoration. It’s generally sharp and colours really pop. We get the soundtrack presented in its original mono Cantonese as well as 5.1 Dts HD Master Audio which proves effective even if surrounds are not really showcased. The movie is similarly available in dubbed English. Extras consist mainly of talking-head interviews with cast and crew, but Chan is absent although we do get Yeun Biao. There’s also outtakes (a highlight with any Jackie Chan movie) and deleted scenes. We also get a detailed booklet. No commentary is a disappointment but overall this is great treatment for one of Chan’s most famous if in my opinion slightly overrated movies.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

The Dark Half


Viewed – 22 February 2020. Blu-ray

In the early nineties I was quite the horror nut and on one occasion I recall renting two horror movies from a local video rental store and considering them two of the best I’d watched in years. One was the underrated zombie gem Return of the Living Dead Part 3 … and the other was this movie. Now looking back over the many Stephen King adaptations, it’s a shame that this 1993 effort is generally forgotten. Directed by horror legend George A Romero (Night of the Living Dead) this was the second time the famed author & director had teamed up (previously they worked together for Creepshow), and at the time there was quite a bit of hype for this.

Writer Thade Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) chooses to literally put to rest his writing alter-ego George Stark in hopes of being recognised in his own right and stages a publicity stunt where he has a funeral for his pseudonym. However shortly afterwards people involved in the stunt start getting killed, and Thade begins to realise that George isn’t happy being dead.

It’s classic early nineties fair, but under the watchful eye of Romero is done with style and plenty of sinister atmosphere – the sadly deceased horror master clearly had more to him than the zombie movies that made his name. Hutton delivers a commendable duel performance as both Thade and George, aided by gradually impressive make up effects and camera trickery especially during a fight sequence between the two characters. Support comes from Amy Madigan as Thade’s wife and more notably Michael Rooker as a local Sheriff.

The story is creepy but a little lightweight, not helped by rather tame violence despite an ever growing body count. The climax though, delivers the necessary gore. I was also left with some questions but the credits rolled before the movie could tackle them. Yet with solid direction and a strong turn from Hutton (whatever happened to him?) I still got a lot out of this.

The Blu-ray from Eureka is impressive, with decent image quality that only occasionally suffers from excessive grain. Detail and colours are mostly great throughout. For audio we get 2.0 uncompressed and a new 5.1 DTS Master Audio mix, both of which impress with clear dialogue – and the sequences involving thousands of sparrows pack a punch. Extras are plentiful including a commentary with George A Romero, a making of, an episode of The Incredibly Strange Film Show, a Romero retrospective, behind the scenes, deleted scenes, trailers and a collectible booklet.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Birds of Prey


Viewed – 18 February 2019

… and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Some of my favourite movies are pleasant surprises. I went into this with not very high expectations and you know what? I really enjoyed it. It’s a simple movie at heart; a diamond falls into the wrong hands, a pick pocket kid steals it causing bad guys to go hunting for her, whilst at the same time anti-hero Harley Quinn fresh off a break up with former boyfriend The Joker finds herself the target of cops and crooks.

The alternative Avengers?

Yeah I wasn’t here for the story either, but when you consider Margot Robbie’s Quinn was the only redeeming aspect of the mostly forgettable Suicide Squad, another crack of the whip with this off-kilter character I was certainly up for. She doesn’t disappoint, narrating and carrying the movie in a whirlwind showcase of the actress’s screen magnetism and comic timing. Add to this decent support from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an avenging assassin and especially Ewan McGregor having a ball as villain Black Mask, and with several stand out fights and action scenes … I was thoroughly entertained. For a mostly female lead vehicle it didn’t shove some feminist agenda down one’s throat either.

It’s plot and structure are a little messy, but the movie wisely plays with this as a representation of how Harley Quinn thinks. Rosie Perez seems a bit out of place though, and characterisation other than the lead is fairly basic. Yet with enjoyable dialogue, a goofy sense of humour and a memorable villain, this was far from the disaster some critics (and that disappointing box office) would have you believe.

Verdict: Recommended

Ready Or Not


Viewed – 15 February 2020. Online rental

Marriage is meant to be a happy time when two people tie the not in hope of spending the rest of their lives together. However, new bride Grace doesn’t quite realise what she’s getting into when introduced to her new hubby Alex’s eccentric, wealthy family on their wedding day. As it turns out each new member to the ‘family’ must undergo an initiation before they can be truly accepted. So sets forth a wedding night quite unlike any other.

Here comes the bride…

Margot Robbie look-alike (and fellow Ozzy it transpires) Samara Weaving proves a plucky lead surrounded by colourful characters in this energetic ‘romp’, that plays out kind of like an even more macabre version of Cluedo. The idea however just doesn’t make much sense and when you find out exactly what’s going on it fires up more questions than the movie has any chance of answering. Yet a decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone helps carry the movie, aided immeasurably by its cast who all look like they’re having a riot, and there’s some shocks and surprises along the way, as well as a solid punch-line ending.

The directors have delivered a brash, often cartoonishly violent ride, and that’s almost good enough. However it’s all let down by a poorly thought-out concept that feels like a stretched out segment of an anthology piece than its own movie. Fun, in a purely popcorn entertainment kind of way.

Verdict: Good

Uncut Gems


Viewed – 04 February 2020. Netflix

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Adam Sandler. His movies especially these days just slip under my radar and except for The Wedding Singer none of his output has ever impacted me much. However, some positive word of mouth has been doing the rounds about this, so I thought I’d check it out. Sandler plays Howard, a crooked jewellery store owner and general wheeler-dealer with a wife, kids and a girlfriend on the side who lives his life ducking mob loan sharks and continually struggling to keep one step ahead of people. After obtaining some priceless uncut gems however, a way out just might be on the cards.

I found Howard’s lifestyle exhausting to watch yet it’s portrayed fairly realistic even if it never made me sympathise with such an obviously self-inflicted plight. What’s going on and why is pretty much glossed over as well. And… despite best intentions, Sandler fails to be much more than a caricature surrounded by more believable casting (including NBA star Kevin Garnett as himself). This isn’t helped by what appears to be a bad Heat-era Al Pacino impression Sandler is doing throughout.. With that said the sheer relentlessness of the direction is commendable.

For fans this proves a departure for Sandler they might appreciate but for me he didn’t stand out or prove all that appealing … the story pretty much goes exactly where I expected also. Forgettable.

Verdict: Poor