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

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Solo – a Star Wars Story


Viewed – 20 November 2018. Online rental

I was disappointed and somewhat annoyed by The Last Jedi, so like many others I suddenly felt cautious about a Star Wars movie the same way I’d felt cautious going to see Revenge of the Sith. This spin-off gives us an ‘early years’ snapshot of none other than Han Solo, which I’ll admit was an intriguing idea. Solo (a perfect Alden Ehrenreich) is from the off a likeable rogue who unwittingly gets signed up for the imperial infantry after getting separated from his love interest in the shape of Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke. However once amongst a rag tag group of soldiers he teams up with Woody Harrelson’s smuggler and also makes a new, hairy friend.

Directed by Ron Howard this is immediately entertaining and slickly made. It starts off energetically and barely lets up, with a sharp script that throws in several nods to the classic franchise as well as introducing us to a fun, twist filled caper. The banter between the characters is great, and I especially enjoyed the new droid L3, and how she’s a sort-of girlfriend to notorious womaniser Lando Calrissian! That train sequence is first rate also. However with a focus on smugglers and thieves and not so much the empire or any sort of rebellion, this has a different vibe than what we’ve seen before. The plot for what it is is simple though and the transporting of a valuable item from one group of people to another is only their to bring certain characters together. Yet the origins of the Millennium Falcon and some of Han’s boasted escapades (the kessel run?) was certainly fun to see play out.

A final twist proves overly confusing (unless you have indulged in any of the expanded universe), and Emilia Clarke is surprisingly bland. Thankfully then, this still nails it where it counts … adding its own flavour whilst managing to retain the feel of what a Star Wars movie should be.

Verdict: 4 /5

Thoroughbreds


Viewed – 19 November 2018. online rental

What attracted me to this was actress Anya Taylor-Joy who first impressed in the unsettling horror The Witch and was also one of the better aspects of Split. She’s quickly grown to be a go-to actress for me. So sitting down to this I was also pleased to discover that Olivia Cooke was also in this, who was great in the Bates Motel television series as well as Ready Player One.

Two high society girls, Lily & Amanda who are brought together after a time apart rekindle an unconventional friendship and soon conspire to do something that may just improve their disaffected lives. This takes it’s cue from similar mean-spirited movies like Heavenly Creatures and Heathers and portrays two troubled girls with subtlety and solid performances. Although a tad slow at first, the direction, complete with effective use of what is pretty much a single location, is what excels. One scene especially plays out with a threat of violence thats almost unbearable, and it’s brilliantly done as is a final act that left me rather shaken. It’s not a showy movie but plays cleverly with anticipation and gradually getting to know two characters, and as a result for a slow burner this packs the required punch.

I’d have liked a little more back story and the motives behind certain actions were vague at best, causing me to lack sympathy. The oddball soundtrack is also a little too bizarre to be all that effective. However, for one of those movies you may not be aware of, this is well worth checking out.

Verdict: 3.5 /5

Veronica


Viewed – 11 November 2018. Netflix

A Spanish supernatural horror hyped as being so scary it caused heart attacks and for viewers to switch it off. I’ve had my fingers burned by similarly worded hype campaigns before, as I recall actually being cautious to see The Blair Witch Project back in the day and well, that turned out to be a pile of shite. However this also had Paco Plaza attached as director, one half of the duo that delivered the excellent [REC] and its equally impressive sequel.

Veronica, a school girl who pretty much runs the house, looking after her younger siblings whilst their single mother works all hours, holds a seance involving a Ouija board along with two friends in a bid to contact her dead father. Predictably things don’t go to plan and soon theirs some sort of demonic entity out to claim the souls of her brother and sisters. So Veronica has to find out how to banish the demon and save the day.

Paco Plaza’s direction is moody and stylish with some clever camera work and decent gradual build up of dread. Set-pieces such as hands coming out of a bed or some ravenous kids are well done but an over-familiarity with the subject matter quickly creeps in and makes this pale in comparison to similar fair like Insidious or The Conjuring. It’s just not all that scary. The principle cast do their job but are all more serviceable than particularly memorable. Not essential then, but if you’ve exhausted most mainstream horror offerings, then there’s still entertainment to be had with this.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

Happy birthday to me


Well I turned 43 today. I don’t really feel that age, but then again I sometimes feel older than that. Today was a good day. Work made a fuss and of me and gave me cards, two cakes(!) and other bits and bobs. At home my folks got me clothes, Diablo 3 on the Switch and a Statue of Harlequin that’s totally badass. It’s been really good.

Birthdays always feel weird to me. I’m not entirely comfortable being the centre of attention and although I enjoy the experience I’m often eager to get back to normal.

So thank you to all who wished me happy birthday and/or got me prezzies. I really appreciate it.

Craig.