The Squid and the Whale


Viewed – 05 August 2020 Blu-ray

I hadn’t heard of this movie up until now and only stumbled across it when browsing ‘The Criterion Collection’ releases. So a complete blind purchase that although I don’t regret, I don’t feel was entirely worth it. This follows the story of two brothers (one played by a young Jesse Eisenberg) who’s parents separate, leading them to have to spend their time living at each parent’s house … whilst also going through the trials of high school, first love and puberty.

trouble with Mom and Dad…

Jeff Daniels plays the Dad, a respected writer and teacher, who has a close bond with his eldest son (Eisenberg), whilst Laura Linney (Ozark) plays the Mom who gets sort of a bad rap due to having had an affair. William Baldwin also turns up as a tennis instructor. This very ‘indie’ drama, in the style of Gus Van Sant is very authentic and occasionally amusing with decent performances and astute observations of its various themes. It occasionally goes down avenues exploring the effect a breakup has on children that takes some weird turns … what with the youngest kid resorting to masturbation of all things, as a way of acting out (er…ok). Eisenberg also comes off as a bit of a brat, who whilst his usual brand of awkward is less likeable than usual.

For this kind of subject, I felt the movie offered very little we hadn’t seen before and didn’t go anywhere particularly interesting or all that optimistic. It also doesn’t really explore why the parent’s relationship hits the skids. A shame as it’s well acted (especially Linney who I’ve always liked) and has some good moments, but is otherwise forgettable.

The Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection has a an adequate image, thats very grainy and a bit lacking in detail, almost like 16mm – but it does create a distinct ‘look’ that suits the movie’s tone. Sound is clear in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and showcases various unusual and obscure music choices. Extras consist of a making of documentary, interviews, audition footage and trailers. We also get a booklet that has an interview and a write up on the movie and it’s production. Not too bad for a movie a little undeserving of such treatment.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-ray) Good

The Rhythm Section


Viewed – 28 July 2020 online rental

When a plane disaster kills Stephanie’s (Blake Lively) family, the government make out it was an accident. However when an ex-MI6 agent appears with information that suggests it was terrorism instead, Stephanie vows revenge. A quick glance online, this hasn’t had the most positive buzz, which is curious as overall I found it an enjoyably gritty thriller with a strong lead performance. Yes it’s a tad derivative of similar movies like French classic La Femme Nikita. Even though it lacks the style of a Luc Besson movies. This still delivers a semi-realistic experience with Jude Law on hand as another former agent who helps Lively become an Assassin.

Lively’s performance definitely has echoes of Noomi Rapace’s turn as Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, especially the down-trodden, self-destructive characteristics, and proved quite believable. The movie lacked a bit of exposition with the plane crash not being shown and the why ‘s and wherefor’s behind what really happened rather unclear. At time’s the cinematography lacked style also, with an overly murky atmosphere despite some glamorous locations. That being said one car chase and a fight do stand out. Jude Law also proves an enjoyably tough-talking mentor.

Apart from Stephanie’s motivation for revenge, why Jude Law or those that aid Stephanie turn to her in particular is anyone’s guess – considering she has no underlying skills to build on to make her an ideal assassin-type. It’s like the filmmakers really wanted to make a ‘girl with a gun thriller’, and didn’t concern themselves with the details. I’m guessing the book this is based on fairs better. Yet nit-picks aside this was still effective in places and Lively was decent.

Verdict: Good

Salvador


Viewed – 22 July 2020. Blu-ray

Oliver Stone has always been one of my favourite directors. This at times politically-charged film-maker has often impressed with powerful war movies like Platoon or hard-hitting satire with his controversial Natural Born Killers. I recall being quite affected by this 1986 drama portraying the violence and civil unrest in El Salvador that broke out in the early eighties. James Woods plays a desperate, seasoned journalist on hard times out to get that big story, who travels into El Salvador along with his friend, played by James Belushi. However once there he realises he may have under-estimated the dangers of the situation as war breaks out.

Revisiting this movie many years after first seeing it, I didn’t remember much but it still packed a punch. There’s some recognisable faces amongst its support cast (is that the bad guy from Crocodile Dundee 2 and the girl from Predator?) that screams 80s. However the imagery can at times be surprisingly unflinching, mixed in with I’m guessing real-life victim footage and most likely real-life residents of the area for added authenticity. Woods, an actor I’ve often enjoyed watching is good but a little too caricature for the otherwise realistic tone. His motor-mouth performance also makes him stand out and look a bit out of place. Belushi is rather annoying too. John Savage on the other hand as a war photographer proves the most believable.

Above and beyond all of that, it’s Oliver Stone’s direction, his camera-work and the gradual, building tension and constant threat of.violence that stands out, even if the more shocking scenes can seem a tad forced (the scene with the women on the bus). Yet this still retained its power even 30+ years later. Worth a watch.

The Blu-Ray from Eureka’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ label has a good to very good image quality with only the occasional appearance of flickering. Close-ups and larger scale scenes all look detailed and vibrant. Audio is presented in either the original mono or a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track which is mostly decent but occasionally sound seems to drop in quality like its reverting to its mono track. Doesn’t happen often enough to be a major issue though. Extras consist of a very worthwhile commentary by director Oliver Stone as well as a 62 minute making of called ‘Into the Valley of Death’, interviews, deleted scenes and a trailer. Also included in this release is a detailed booklet with an essay by film critic Barry Forshaw.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Dark Waters


Viewed – 18 July 2020 online rental

Following a series of unexplained cattle deaths on a farmer’s land in West Virginia, an attorney becomes involved in a case of chemical pollution and cover up that has him go up against a powerful and respected corporation that threatens his career and his health. Based on a shocking true story of the life-threatening chemical ‘c-8’ found in Teflon amongst other products, this follows the fifteen year battle against a seemingly untouchable industry giant.

sticking it to the man…

Mark Ruffalo, these days best know for playing Bruce Banner / The Hulk in The Avengers, is perfectly cast and delivers one of his best performances. I really got behind his character’s passion and drive and Ruffalo hammered home every emotion. He is aided by the often underrated Anne Hathaway as his wife, who proves very convincing as a woman struggling to cope with her husband’s obsession. Also on hand is Tim Robbins (remember him?) and a bizarre-sounding Bill Pullman. This was fascinating, filled with detail and investigation. As more and more was uncovered, the more powerful and heart-wrenching the movie got and as it drew to it’s conclusion I was rather affected. Yes, it seems some companies really do think they’re above the law and are too big to answer for things that they do.

Director Todd Haynes has delivered a gripping movie with several strong performances that really made this viewer think. Also, despite the magnitude of the case, it was presented in an easy to follow story that rarely got bogged down in the details. Check it out.

Verdict: Recommended

Greyhound


Viewed – 14 July 2020 Apple TV+

Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks is the latest name to appear exclusively on a streaming platform and shows that the digital medium and subscription services are making quite the impact. This based-on-true-events WWII drama has Hanks as a commander of an American warship given the unenviable task of escorting a fleet of ships across the ocean in 1942. However, they are not safe in the waters as a group of German U-Boats make an appearance.

A fairly simple setup paves the way for 90 minutes of gradually building tension as Hanks attempts to out-wit the Germans over several days before air support can arrive. The movie felt very authentic from the off, with plenty of I’m guessing realistic naval terms, that I’ll confess went a little over my head. Hanks as expected, is mesmerising and delivers a highly nuanced performance of a man with no small degree of humanity in the face of war and death. Support comes from Stephen Graham and Elizabeth Shue, both of which get very little to do, which goes to highlight this movie’s only failing … that of fairly one dimensional support characters, although the movie still managed to make me care, despite a lack of personality. Battles are visceral and heart-pounding and effects work throughout is decent, which delivers a real foreboding scale to the action.

Not as epic as similar fair but this is right, to the point and effective. Even if Hanks wasn’t in this, I would still have found it edge-of-the-seat stuff, but he does elevate it still and because of that I give this a firm recommendation. Just a shame it’s Apple TV exclusive because it surely deserves a wider audience.

Verdict: Recommended