Return of the Living Dead 3


Viewed – 01 September 2017  Blu-ray

In the nineties I remember really loving this movie and watched it on a rental double bill with Stephen King adaptation The Dark Half (I really need to see that again also).  So when I heard this was finally getting not just a Blu-ray release but was also digitally re-mastered and fully restored with a plethora of extras – I couldn’t resist.  Telling a sort-of Romeo & Juliet story of a young teenage kid who’s trashy girlfriend is killed following a motorcycle accident. Said kid then decides to bring girlfriend back to life using his father’s shady military experiments on the recently deceased via a mysterious chemical known as Trioxin.

ROTLD3

The poster art of this movie was instantly iconic, what with sexy star Melinda Clarke posing as some sort of sadomasochistic zombie hottie.  It may not be all that clever and is mostly low budget fair but for some impressive practical effects work that still look good to this day (bar occasional dodgy puppetry zombie action).  Clark’s performance, although nothing all that layered is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, really bringing home the pain and suffering of her undead cravings whilst resorting to inflicting pain on herself to stop from eating her boyfriend (!).  It’s a fun concept and an entertaining ride, with director Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Society) pulling out all the tricks to deliver lots of gory fun.

I suppose with many gorier, nastier movies since, this one’s impact has been considerably diluted and is much more pop-corn schlock than ‘full on horror’.  Also, the idea of Clark’s Julie fighting her desires to eat brains isn’t as explored as it should have been, with her gradual transformation particularly rushed.  Yet this has it where it counts; great practical effects, lots of blood & gore and plenty of energy, which might not make it the classic I remember it as – but still left me grinning like the twenty something former me.

The Blu-ray from Lionsgate as part of their Vestron Video Collector’s Series is impressive stuff.  The soundtrack may only be in the original 2.0 stereo but has clear dialogue and plenty of atmosphere.  For a mostly low-budget movie where clearly all the money was spent on the make up effects, the movie has some nice detail, retains clarity and depth despite mostly night-set scenes and facial detail is decent.  Add to this extras that consist of two worthwhile commentaries, interviews and stills galleries.  Great treatment for what may be a cult favourite but doesn’t get talked about all that much..

Verdict:

(the movie) 3 / 5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

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The Game


Viewed – 22 August 2017  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Edition

As an admirer of director David Fincher, this thriller from 1997 was one of those movies I’d forgotten he’d actually made.  At the time still riding high after the success of Seven, this rather high-concept but somewhat under-the-radar effort proved an obvious follow up; throwing in all the traits we’d come to expect from the director – bags of style, a twisting narrative and an attention to detail that has him often compared to Stanley Kubrick.

The-Game

Michael Douglas stars as wealthy businessman Nicholas Van Orton, a guy who seemingly has it all but is ultimately cold and miserable.  That is until on the day of his birthday, his brother, played by Sean Penn gives him the gift of ‘the game’.  Baffled and intrigued at the same time, Nicholas agrees to attend an interview at the organization responsible … and so sets into motion a unique thriller that clearly borrows from the likes of Hitchcock as Nicholas struggles to stay one step ahead of an increasingly bizarre series of events.

I’ve always liked Michael Douglas and he’s very good here, proving complex and likable for a character that is otherwise mean spirited and selfish.  Penn hams it up a little bit but proves enjoyable and Deborah Kara Unger is also decent.  The idea itself is great but ultimately isn’t fully realised and despite Fincher’s assured direction and best intentions … it could have gone further, been more elaborate but sticks rigidly to plausibility for the most part (despite throwing all that out the window for the final act).  Not one of Fincher’s best but still worth a look or revisiting for the concept or if you’re a fan of either Douglas or Fincher.

The Blu-ray boasts a quality image despite the occasionally soft-looking exterior or wide angle shots.  Close-up detail is good and dark scenes offer plenty of detail.  The movie is delivered in DTS Master Audio 5.1 and is for the most part punchy and immersive, even if in certain scenes dialogue gets a little lost in the atmospherics.  Extras consist of merely a couple of trailers – very poor, but perhaps not surprising for one of the director’s more over-looked movies.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3 /5

The Handmaiden


Viewed – 06 August 2017  Blu-ray

Let me say straight away that I regard Korean director Park Chan-wook as one of the best around and his much acclaimed vengeance trilogy (which includes the famed ‘Oldboy’) speaks for itself.  Add to this his previous American debut ‘Stoker’ being an underrated gem and well to say I was looking forward to what came next, was an understatement.  Once I discovered it would be a period piece though, for a director more known for contemporary (and bloody) revenge thrillers … I did feel a little trepidation.

The Handmaiden

A seasoned crook (Ha Jung-woo) with his eye on a wealthy heiress (Kim Min-hee), sends a trusted young pick pocket (Kim Tae-ri) to pose as her handmaiden.  Once gaining the Heiress’s trust the crook himself poses as an eligible count in hope of marrying the heiress and gaining access to her fortune.  Once plan is set in motion however the pick-pocket/handmaiden finds herself drawn to the lonely heiress who has lived all her life in a secluded mansion, overseen by a controlling and perverted uncle.

This beautifully shot film is full of character and period atmosphere, complete with stunning costumes and spot-on performances.  It’s an intriguing premise that twists and turns, spread over three distinct parts, where we get to see the differing points of view of the various characters and gradually learn about each of their underlying plans and cunning manipulations.  Who will come out on top?  Think to some extent Dangerous Liaisons and you’ll have a good idea what this about.  It’s got a quirky sense of humour (especially during some explicit but not particularly erotic sex-scenes) and some of the Korean / Japanese traditions are fascinating.  For a film by Park Chan-wook however it lacks the showmanship he’s displayed in the past, going for a more sedate, realistic vibe that’s still eye-catching thanks to gorgeous cinematography and lavish locations / set design.  At over 2 and half hours, it’s a bit drawn out, but packs in a lot of personality.  Not as immediately essential as his best work … but still one to check out if your a fan or enjoy quality Korean cinema.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer


Viewed – 09 July 2017  Blu-ray

I remember watching this on VHS rental a number of years ago and deciding it was one of the more disturbing serial killer movies I’d seen.  Of course over the years it’s shock value will have diluted.  These days the boundaries of what is allowed to be seen on screen has been pushed to a much harder degree than what would have been banned back in the eighties.  Henry was censored heavily back in the day and now we have a fully uncut version hitting Blu-ray for the first time.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Directed by John McNaughton Shown: Michael Rooker

Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) plays sociopath and killer Henry – loosely based on real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who kills at random and without motive, drifting from town to town.  After befriending Otis (Tom Towles) and moving into his run-down apartment they are soon joined by Otis’ younger sister Becky and their simple dynamic is complicated once Henry begins involving Otis in his murderous ‘hobby’.

Directed my John McNaughton (Wild Things, Candyman) with a cold, semi-documentary style this is a movie that doesn’t offer explanation or back story but simply explores a week in the life of a killer.  Rooker is unnervingly convincing, aided well by his co-stars and McNaughton’s ominous tone.  It doesn’t offer answers and is all that more powerful for it, offering some still-to-this-day shocking scenes (the home invasion).  The acting isn’t Silence of the Lambs Oscar stuff by a long stretch and some scenes are incredibly amateurish, not helped by a low budget and filmed-on-the-fly locations.  Yet it still manages to pack a punch all these years later, so fans of this type of stuff need to get on this one asap.

Henry SteelbookThe Blu-ray release is a mixed bag.  The picture quality is more serviceable and at times rather poor, which goes hand in hand with the 2 channel sound mix, with some scenes (including the under the bridge scene) having particularly poor audio.  Extras fair better but are all archive; a making of, interviews, deleted scenes and censorship history – but well worth dipping into.  An audio-commentary by the director is the icing on the cake.  The Steelbook I picked is very nice also.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

John Wick: Chapter 2


Viewed – 27 June 2017  Blu-ray

The first John Wick was one of my favourite movies of 2015; a stylish, frenetic yet simple tale of revenge and bullets with an iconic turn from the king of cool, Keanu Reeves as the most feared assassin in the world.  This follow-up begins almost immediately after the last movie with Wick visited by an old mobster associate who decides to cash in a ‘blood oath’ asking the ’trying once again to be retired’ assassin for one more job.  However with reluctance Wick is forced to pick up his gun and take on an army of henchmen that could just start a war. 

John Wick 2

This plays out similarly to Wick #1 with the killer’s reputation proceeding him wherever he goes, although this time its not about a vendetta but more about trying to survive following double cross after double cross.  It’s packed with uber-violent, stunningly choreographed fist fights, gun fights and showdowns; all filmed with no end of style and panache.  However with the revenge storyline replaced with all out action, I felt less invested in proceedings, especially with the movie feeling rather stretched out, with some unnecessary padding.  We learn a little more of the international scale of the organization Wick works for, and some colourful characters do pop up, including a return appearance from Ian McShane, a mute Ruby Rose and also a reunion of sorts with Keanu’s Matrix co-star Lawrence Fishburn.

If you go into this wanting the same level of style, violence and action as Wick #1 you’ll be fully satisfied.  However if like me you were hoping for any progression of characters or the world they inhabit; maybe you’ll need to wait for the inevitable Chapter 3.

Verdict:  3.5 /5