Once Were Warriors


Viewed – 03 April 2018  Blu-ray

I remember really liking this gritty drama back when I watched it in the mid nineties.  It made a bit of a name of actor Temeura Morrison, who went on to play Jango Fet in the Star Wars prequels amongst other movies.  This tells the story of a New Zealand Maori family headed by Jake, a charismatic tough guy prone to violent outbursts and a liking for alcohol.  However it’s his wife who keeps the family together whilst he gets drunk with his friends at the local bar, and it’s her we follow as this brittle family try to stick together during increasing hardships.

Once-Were-Warriors

An authentic look at suburban Maori life and the society they inhabit, with local gangs and homelessness and the constant threat of violence.  It’s gripping and has a resemblance to movies like Boyz N The Hood and Menace to Society whilst at the same time having it’s own aesthetic and sense of time and place.  The good times are portrayed with more than a little cheese however with characters breaking into singing to portray happiness, but it’s the hard times the movie excels at and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of domestic abuse.  This is unflinching stuff, elevated by some decent performances especially from Rena Owen and an electrifying, career defining turn from Morrison.  However support actors come off as rather amateurish and you get the impression, perhaps for realism the director may have cast one or two non-actors.

This remains a tough watch even today and makes for a engrossing and thought-provoking experience.  Another gem from the 90s that you may not be that familiar with but is well worth you time.

The Blu-ray, to my knowledge the first time the movie has been given the HD treatment, is pleasing but underwhelming.  I found the image, whilst clean seemed overly soft, and the rather drab colour palette used doesn’t help.  However it’s still the best the movie has probably ever looked.  The soundtrack is in both uncompressed 2.0 stereo or DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 and delivers clear dialogue and impactful music when used.  Extras consist of a detailed ‘where are they now’ documentary, an interview with director Lee Tamahori and a trailer.  Not too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

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Night of the Living Dead


Viewed – 31 March 2018  Blu-ray

Criterion Collection

Growing up in the 80s and 90s I had a taste for zombie movies, and cut my teeth on movies like Return of the Living Dead parts 1 & 2 and even obscure oddities like The Video Dead.  However the much celebrated godfather of the genre, George A Romero mostly passed me by, and I hadn’t been that taken by Dawn of the Dead.  You see, I was more into the practical effects, and a sillier vibe to proceedings rather than the much talked about social commentary and seriousness of Romero’s approach.  So of course I never even got around to the 1968 genre-defining original that started it all.

Night of the Living Dead zombies

Although not the first zombie movie, for it’s time it seemed daring and streets ahead of what had been seen before (with the unusual casting of a black lead actor).  It presented a new type of horror that wasn’t set in a haunted house or the Carpathian mountains … but in a world we exist in, with familiar locales and normal people beset by extraordinary events.  When a young woman witnesses her brother get attacked in a grave yard by some strange man, she runs for safety, and eventually holds up in a seemingly abandoned house, where she’s soon joined by a man who quickly takes charge of the situation.  There the two barricade themselves in and gradually witness the undead march on the house.  Will they survive the night?

Night of the Living DeadDirector George A Romero presents a striking and effective, if rather rough around the edges experience, helped immeasurably by unconventional camera work and a claustrophobic setting.  His editing and direction cranks up the intensity, with a group of characters all offering up different viewpoints.  Performances aren’t that great however, and I found myself irritated by how pathetic female characters were, especially the character of ‘Barbara’ despite a strong introduction.  Yet working with a very low budget, applying at times experimental guerrilla film making techniques this still somehow achieves genuine shocks and an unpredictable narrative filled with creepy imagery.    With this taken into account and despite it’s age and at times amateurish performances … I had a better time than expected, which proves just how much it set in place, and still stands as the blue-print for what was to follow.

NOTLD CriterionThe Criterion Blu-ray is jam-packed with extras, but firstly I’ll say the classy black & white 4k-restored image presented in 1.37.1 ratio (yep we get black bars either side of the screen) is vivid and detailed.  It’s grainy but not overly so and generally creates an effective almost film-noir look that I appreciated.  The soundtrack whilst only in it’s original mono is sharp, has clear dialogue and the various moments of orchestral score (taken from believe it or not, stock library audio) is used well and at times creates a welcome Hammer-horror / 50s b-movie aesthetic.  We also get two commentaries, both from key members of the cast and crew, recorded in the 90s, and there’s several new featurettes / interviews covering the impact the movie has had on popular culture (with interviews with Frank Darabont, Guillermo Del Toro and Robert Rodriguez) along with archival footage.  For fans of the movie, this feels like the definitive release, and anyone who has never seen it before, especially if you are a fan of the genre horror – this is the version to own.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Justice League


Viewed – 27 March 2018  Blu-ray

After the critically panned yet commercial smash that was Batman V Superman (a movie I stand by as not being as bad as they say), we get this excuse to bring together several notable (and less notable) figures from DC comic’s illustrious history; namely Batman (Ben Affleck), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash, Aqua Man and Cyborg, when a centuries old, banished demon returns to claim three powerful cubes that if united will give him the power to conquer worlds.  Yeah, the villain, Steppenwolf is basically Apocalypse from X-Men er…Apocalypse, but minus Oscar Isaac’s charisma, although by no means is he an unappealing adversary.  Then we get the problem that Superman is dead, but there may be hope of resurrecting him if Batman’s plan works out.

Justice League

Some people like to focus on a person’s imperfections.  The same can be said when it comes to movie criticism, and I’ll admit I have been guilty of that in the past.  However I am also a strong believer that some imperfections can be forgiven if they don’t ruin the overall experience.  One such example is the rather luke-warm reception given to this latest entry in DC’s attempt to rival Marvel’s cinematic universe, which for the most part the company has fallen in the shadow of constantly.  Yet having sat through it’s refreshingly lean-2hrs I came away wondering what people had issues with.  The story whilst not anything ground-breaking is perfectly suitable and engaging to bring together these characters, and a witty script handles many egos together on screen particularly well, giving each individual a moment to shine.  I especially enjoyed the slightly out-of-his-depth Flash and I found the otherwise unfamiliar Cyborg intriguing with his semi-Frankenstein’s monster backstory.  Affleck again proves himself a worthy Batman / Bruce Wayne and thankfully Henry Cavill’s Superman gets some great moments also, with his resurrection handled rather well.  Add to this a wonderfully likable (and damn sexy) turn from Gadot’s Wonder Woman and I found myself mostly buzzing from this.

The troubled development with director Zack Snyder having to pass the reigns to Joss Whedon is barely noticeable unless scrutinizing the tone of every scene.  Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is a little side-lined but that’s to be expected with so many characters to focus on, and there’s some questionable CGI / green screen moments.  Oh and that bit with Superman sporting CGI moustache-removal (in one brief scene) is a tad jarring. Also I’d have liked a bit more focus on the villain and just how he seems to psychically know the whereabouts of each ‘hidden’ cube. Thankfully such shortcomings are made up for by plenty of great action, superheroes kicking butt and bags of personality.

So ignore the nay-sayers, ‘cause this one’s definitely worth a watch.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Thor Ragnarok


Viewed – 13 March 2017  Blu-ray

I had heard a lot of good things about this and confess to really enjoying the Thor character and the lore surrounding him, even if I like many was underwhelmed by the last solo Thor outing, Dark World.  In this third instalment, sandwiched somewhere between Avengers: Age of Ultron and the forthcoming Avengers: Infinity War, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is captured by a demonic being who is said to bring about Ragnarok, the end of days for Thor’s home world of Asgard.  However he sets about preventing this only to return home and find step-brother Loki up to his old tricks again, this time impersonating their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins).  However a turn of events brings another family member out of exile in the shape of Hella (Cate Blanchett) who vows to claim her rightful place on the thrown of Asgard even if it means killing everyone who stands in her way.

Thor Ragnarok

It would be easy for me to yawn at this plot, it being yet another Marvel disgraced family member coming out of the woodwork and vowing revenge against those that shunned him (or her).  It was done in the previous Thor movies and also (spoiler!) Black Panther, that it’s now getting very tired.  Thankfully then that isn’t the entire focus of this movie.  Oh no, firstly the dialogue is particularly sharp, with very funny banter from various characters, especially a wonderful, awkward buddy set up between Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Add to this great support from Jeff Goldblum as the other-worldly ‘grand master’, several quirky side characters (the hilarious rock dude) and of course a still brilliant Tom Hilddleston as Loki – and this was just great entertainment throughout.  The movie treads a careful balancing act between all out comedic farce and straight up action adventure, but somehow manages it, and even if Cate Blanchett’s villain is a walking cliché, the actress usual screen presence and charisma stands out and has such a cool design, familiarity can be forgiven in this instance.

It’s often better when these kinds of movies don’t take themselves too seriously, whilst still managing to deliver great action, memorable characters and gob-smacking spectacle.  This is one such example. Highly recommended.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Blob


Viewed – 06 February 2018  Blu-ray

You have to love the 80s.  It was a golden era for horror, and a time when horror could be fun as well as horrifying. Today a lot of horror movies go straight for the jugular and can be way too nasty   They’re almost a test of endurance.  That can’t be said for this rather under-appreciated 1988 remake of a 50’s b-movie of the same name.

the_blob

When a meteor crashes near a small town, biker rebel Kevin Dillon (The Rescue) finds himself thrown into a battle for survival alongside high school cheerleader Shawnee Smith (Saw).  Even as authority figures and adults dismiss the disappearances along with sightings of a weird goo … of course it’s up to the kids to find a way to stop what’s happening.  Yeah, there’s nothing all that clever here, but it retains that b-movie tongue-in-cheek tone that perfectly suits such a silly concept, with cast all doing a great job of going along for the ride.  Director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) piles on some effective gore with still great practical effects and a couple of genuine shocks (the kid in the sewer).  Also I’d forgotten how likable Shawnee Smith is, and well Kevin Dillon’s always been a great bad-boy (where’s he gone?).

It reminded me at times of John Carpenter’s seminal The Thing remake but fares poorly in comparison due to clichéd characters and only passable acting, and that silly tone stops it from being scary even for a second.  Yet as it stands this is still a great deal of fun and is certainly worth your time.

The Blu-ray is rather a pleasant surprise … image quality may seem a bit soft but colours are vibrant and overall the picture is clean, and free of any print damage.  The sound gets the lossless 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio treatment, but seems to lack a bit of ‘punch’ overall.  Extras feature a trailer and a director interview, but that’s it.  Considering the movie at time of writing still lacks a UK Blu-ray release this Region B Australian release is a godsend.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5