Hereditary


Viewed – 02 November 2018. Blu-ray

Its easy to be skeptical these days when a horror movie gets a lot of hype. However this was getting some very good word of mouth and even Oscar buzz for its lead Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense). So I took a leap of faith and picked up the Blu-ray. This story follows a family coming to terms with the death of the grandmother which casts a matriarchal shadow who’s passing proves polarising to family members, especially Annie (Collette) and youngest daughter Charlie. However as grief and tragedy sinks its claws in, a disturbing past reveals itself.

The directorial debut of newcomer Ari Aster this carefully observed and eerie family drama-come-horror feels like the work of a seasoned pro, not a relative newcomer. The camera work, shot framing, set design and atmosphere is all first rate. It’s a fairly simple tale and may not exactly go places we haven’t seen before, but boasts several top-tier performances and brilliantly staged scares. Toni Collette may be a tad OTT at times and well, Alex Wolf can’t cry for toffee, but with a subtle, understated but convincing dynamic of a troubled, dysfunctional family’s descent into madness … I was left punch-drunk as the credits rolled.

It gets a little hokey at times what with some bizarre CGI and some plausibility going out the window in the final act. Yet the writing plays cleverly with expectation and cliché, leading this viewer in one direction with genre staples like creepy kids and miniature model houses, before sending expectations spiralling to a conclusion filled with nightmare-inducing imagery. It however failed to completely get under my skin and isn’t as scary as it thinks it is … but in all other aspects this was incredibly effective.

Verdict: 4 /5

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Escape From New York


Viewed – 25 November 2018. Blu-ray

Director John Carpenter remains one of my favourite directors of all time. That’s not to say all his movies are masterpieces, but he firmly places his signature on all of them and I usually come away enjoying many aspects. The same can said for this cult favourite from 1981.

Kurt Russell plays Snake Plisken, a legendary soldier who on his arrival at a maximum security prison facility thats taken over Manhattan island in a futuristic version of New York … is about to be incarcerated for armed robbery. However after the President’s plane gets hijacked and he’s forced to board an escape pod launched into said prison island, the government call on Snake to go on a rescue mission. I remember loving this concept as a kid and hell, nobody looks more bad-ass than Kurt Russell with an eye patch and a semi-automatic. However I also recall not really being that into the movie itself.

Not much has changed. This is a particularly moody piece disguised as an action-thriller. It has all the required ingredients of pure popcorn entertainment, but somethings missing. The movie takes its time throughout and lacks any real thrills (not helped by what appears to be a tiny budget). However Carpenter helps by sprinkling several colourful characters here and there (with a stand-out Harry Dean Stanton) and along with Dean Cundey’s atmospheric and gloomy cinematography mixed with Carpenters own synth score, this still held my attention. Donald Pleasance, a Carpenter regular also pops up as the President, although lacks his usual presence. Overall this is Kurt Russell’s show and he’s great as a character way cooler than the movie he’s in, and every second the character is on screen, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised. One of those cult favourites still worth a watch, but not as memorable as its reputation might have you believe.

This new Blu-ray from Studio Canal comes in deluxe fold-out packaging boasting a poster, art cards and a detailed booklet. The movie is in decent shape (offered up in both 4K and HD editions) boosted by two soundtrack options that includes a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that although far from a surround showcase, sounds heftier and sharper than the otherwise acceptable stereo score. The picture whilst understandably gloomy is detailed and does the job marred only by an overly soft presentation. I didn’t get to check out the 4K transfer as I don’t have access currently to a 4K screen. Extras consist of a 52 minute documentary, deleted scenes etc. and four commentaries – which round off a very impressive package. Oh and they threw the CD soundtrack in also.

Verdict;

(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5

Candyman


Viewed – 30 October 2018. Blu-ray

Clive Barker had a bit of a short run of cinematic adaptations of his work, and few could argue that Hellraiser is a classic. This interpretation of his short story ‘The Forbidden’ may take a bit of artistic license with its source material but turned out to become a bit of a cult classic, and like Hellraiser spawned several inferior sequels. I recall liking it quite a bit, but how does it stand up 23 years later?

Virginia Madsen plays grad student Helen Lyle who whilst writing a thesis on urban myths, stumbles upon the story of Candyman after a local woman is found murdered in a run-down ghetto housing estate. Is he just the boogeyman or is there really someone committing grizzly murders?

Bernard Rose’s movie certainly has that 90s aesthetic and is hampered by rather weak characterisation and cheesy dialogue throughout.. The story is basic and attempts to add some depth with guff involving identical apartment buildings and a less than monogamous husband. However when the second half arrives and a key character is set up for murder, the movie elevates itself to another level entirely. I still really like the direction this movie takes and it turns a rather mediocre tale into something far more effective. For a movie with Clive Barker’s name associated, it’s occasionally gory and at times shocking but nothing all that disturbing. Rose’s direction is atmospheric though, and the cinematography is a lot better that this sort of movie usually gets. That theme is also still very haunting even all these years later. Candyman (Tony Todd) didn’t come off as iconic or as interesting as I recalled but he’s still an interesting creation. However why he’s called Candyman is anyone’s guess.

This new Arrow Video release comes in deluxe packaging that includes a storyboard booklet along with a poster. The movie itself is presented in two cuts, the r-rated u.s. version and the slightly gorier uk theatrical edition. However it’s only the u.s. version that gets the 4K restoration treatment, yet this doesn’t deliver much of a wow-factor image-wise with a very soft picture that whilst occasionally boasting vibrant colours is otherwise disappointing. The soundtrack fairs better and is punchy despite there being little to separate the 2.0 and 5.1 sound options, with no real use of surrounds other than to add a bit of depth. However we do get two new audio commentaries, firstly from the director as well as actor Tony Todd, and secondly from authors Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (sadly not Barker). We also get new interviews with lead cast members, behind the scenes crew members and production people. There’s also a retrospective on Clive Barker original story too. Again with Arrow exhaustive treatment that’s a treat for fans and collectors like myself. The movie itself is good entertainment but mostly not as memorable as I remembered.

Verdict:

(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

Mary and the Witch’s Flower


Viewed – 09 September 2018  Blu-ray

When news reached me that beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli were closing their doors, I was concerned that the type of movies seemingly unique to that studio, would never see the light of day again.  Thankfully that concerned was quashed on hearing about this release from new studio  ‘Studio Ponoc’ and directed by Ghibli stalwart Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Based on the children’s book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by author Mary Stewart, we have Mary, a spirited young girl who stumbles upon an enchanted broomstick one day after wondering into a misty forest.  Soon she is transported to another world, a school for witchcraft not dissimilar to Hogwarts, where the colourful characters may be hiding a secret linked to a sacred flower.

Mary-and-Witch-Flower

This is where the movie revealed an identity crisis, that lingered throughout.  Despite best intentions and a charming veneer of wonder and imagination with top-notch hand-drawn animation … echoes of the movie’s heritage and titles like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service meant it all quickly began to feel overly familiar.  No bad thing but the characters whilst interesting to look at and with some typically bonkers design … lacked personality.  Apart from Mary herself, an endearing yet clichéd character for this type of movie … the villains and various side characters just came off as typical, with the villain’s scheme also not fully explored. 

Yet a twist towards the end was welcome and brought the story full circle in a particularly satisfying way and add some fun action and plenty of energy – I still found a lot to enjoy.  Ghibli-lite, but as (hopefully) the start of a new era for Japanese animation, this is a promising start.

Verdict:  3 /5

Police Story


Viewed – 22 August 2018  Blu-ray

A few years ago I was heavily into all things Hong Kong Action Cinema and explored not only the movies of the legendary Jackie Chan but everything from John Woo to Tsui Hark and Jet Li.  I got pretty burnt out it has to be said but occasionally I’ll revisit that interest when I see one of the classics get the Blu-ray treatment.  This 1985 action comedy has Chan as rule-breaking super-cop Ka-Kui, who following a successful raid on a shanty town to capture a notorious drug dealer, finds himself looking after a witness (played by genre queen Brigitte Lin).

Police Story

This 1985 movie, the first in the long-running series … was a huge hit and won awards in it’s native land whilst helping turn Jackie Chan into the superstar we all know him as.  Watching this movie now, whilst well structured and entertaining throughout, seems to lean a little too heavily towards comedy with drawn-out scenes devoted to silly gags and comical situations involving his girlfriend (Maggie Cheung) and often bumbling co-workers.  Thankfully when the action does kick in it’s terrific, showcased in three varied scenes that prove without a doubt why Chan’s so respected, not just as a martial artist but also as a choreographer and daredevil with his unique brand of environment-using stunt work.  Influences from the likes of Buster Keaton are obvious and even all these years later, watching him is mesmerising.  Not exactly the greatest action movie Chan’s ever done or even his best movie but it’s still a classic for what it set in motion.

Police Story Blu-rayThis UK Blu-ray from Eureka! Is presented as a double feature box set with Police Story 2 and boasts a detailed booklet as well as a wealth of extra features.  We get three cuts of the movie (the original release, the Japanese extended cut & a shorter American home video cut), behind the scenes featurettes, archive interviews, a brief over-view of Chan’s stunt wok, deleted scenes and trailers.  The movie itself is in decent shape, with a 4K re-mastered image that whilst boasting nice detail and vibrancy, some darker scenes suffer from a smudgy, overly dark appearance.  The soundtrack is good though with both 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtracks presented in English dubbed and Cantonese subtitled, although the movie’s age means those surrounds are barely used.  Overall, solid treatment for a movie that’s still a great deal of fun.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5