Something Wild


Viewed – 16 June 2018  Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it.  Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had.  Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had.  Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.

something wild

Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence.  Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller.  Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas.  Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto.  Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare.  The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story.  Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.

criterionThis UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming.  The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots.  There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation.  The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch.  Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson.  On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer.  Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  2.5 /5

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The Age of Shadows


Viewed – 05 May 2018  Blu-ray

I’m certainly a fan of Korean cinema.  Over the years I’ve discovered some real gems and found myself liking certain directors and actors the more I see their movies.  This critically acclaimed thriller follows Police captain Lee Jung‑Chool (Kang Ho-song) who infiltrates a group of resistance fighters who are reportedly planning a series of bombings on Japanese establishments during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1920s.  As a Korean born man, Lee Jung finds himself questioning his allegiance when a charismatic resistance fighter befriends him and lets him in on their plans.

the-age-of-shadows

This tale of loyalty, double crosses and war time espionage is shot with no end of style and class.  The set design and photography here is simply breath-taking and further cements director Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) as one of the best the country has to offer.  Although at times overly-complicated, this was gripping stuff with some brilliantly executed set-pieces including a tense sequence aboard a train and an exhilarating finally set to the music of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.  Add to this two strong turns from Kang-Ho Song (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, The Host) and Gong Yoo (Train to Busan) and even though occasional shoot-outs got a tad repetitive … it was the battle of wits at the centre of the story that came across the strongest.

Not one of those Korean movies I’d leap to recommend over so many others, but if you’re a fan of well-made world cinema, this is definitely worth your time.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

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

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

(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