Serpico


Viewed – 16 January 2021 Blu-ray

This true story tells the story of street cop Frank Serpico, a man who idealistically joins the Police department in New York, but as time transpired learns that many of the cops around him take money to ‘look the other way’. As it goes against everything he believes a cop is, Frank chooses to investigate the corruption from the inside which at the same time puts a target on his back.

I fort the law and…

This gritty drama boasts a versatile and compelling turn from Al Pacino in a role that put his name on the map following his break out turn in The Godfather. Directed by Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon) with authenticity, using mostly no name actors to aid the realism, this was a little drawn out … yet I found the story gradually pulled me in and I became quite absorbed after a while. It’s certainly a fascinating and eye-opening tale that’s enhanced by Pacino and its 70s atmosphere.

However there are some weak support performances, with occasionally wooden line-delivery … and in these more politically correct times, having only black people portrayed as crooks is jarring – yet such things reflect the times the movie was made I suppose. The threat and danger Serpico was also meant to be experiencing didn’t come across that well either. Yet as another solid Pacino role and an absorbing true story – overall I still had a good time with this.

The Blu-ray on Eureka’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ label, boasts an impressive, restored image with intact grain that brings out no end of detail and depth. The movie is presented in both its original mono and a new 5.1 soundtrack, both of which are clear and effective. Extras consist of some behind the scenes featurettes, a photo gallery with a commentary by the director, a trailer and a nicely detailed booklet. I’d have appreciated a commentary, and the lack of any appearance from Al Pacino is disappointing. A mostly decent treatment for a well regarded movie that although not exactly a classic for me, this release makes it worth a look.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

The Midnight Sky


Viewed – 12 January 2021 Netflix

It would be easy to get cynical of another ‘Netflix original’ movie after three made it into my least favourite movies of 2020. However as the streaming service continues to attract major Hollywood talent, sooner or later a gem would surface. This George Clooney vehicle, which he also directs has him as Augustine, a lone scientist in a research facility in Antartica following a global catastrophe that has wiped out much of mankind. However after receiving a message from a space station travelling back to earth, Augustine races against time to warn the crew of the dangers of a planet they once called home.

This very heart-felt drama has a stand out turn from Clooney, an actor I’ve often enjoyed. His character, who is terminally ill, is complex and believable as a man who has put so much into his career, he’s forgotten how to live. The supporting cast of astronauts, lead by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) are also well rounded and convincing. The space bits bare more than a resemblance to Sandra Bullock hit Gravity, whilst the on earth segments feel more like a man-verses-nature survival story … and these two sides make for a compelling whole. Both settings can feel claustrophobic with imminent danger, that although the pace was slow at times I never stopped being fully invested.

For such a concept, a lack of grandeur can be forgiven considering this is more a character piece, although a little light shed on the virus or incident that’s gone down would have been welcome. I was also left wanting a little more detail regarding certain choices Augustine makes in his back story. However, with a genuine gut-punch of an emotional ending, I still came away from this impressed.

Verdict: Recommended

The New Mutants


Viewed – 05 January 2021 online-rental

2020 was the first year in a while that we had no real big comic book movies, apart from Wonder Woman 1984 at the end and this decidedly low key release. Set in the same universe as the X-Men movies, this focuses on a group of troubled teens in a hospital who are coming to terms with their mutations as a female doctor studies them … including a Native American girl who arrives following an incident that wiped out her reservation.

Think ‘Girl, Interrupted’ meets ‘Heroes’ and you’ll get the vibe this one’s going for. A recognisable cast includes Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams as a girl with the ability to turn into a wolf, and The Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy as a bitchy Russian who can summon abilities from other dimensions. The banter and varying powers between the characters held my interest and there’s some good action, even if this is less a full-on comic book actioner and more a character piece.

However, hints at a shady organisation responsible for the hospital are unexplored, and the whole thing feels like part one of a bigger story. Plenty of potential here despite the fact that teen mutants is nothing new and has been explored in prior X-Men movies. Sadly a luke-warm critical and commercial reaction probably means this story won’t get continued. Worth a watch though.

Verdict: Good

Fighting With My Family


Viewed – 21 December 2020 Netflix

The sport of Wrestling has ever really appealed. The most exposure I ever had to it was seeing Big Daddy lay the smack down on World of Sport when I was a kid. However it has to be said, the sports movie has often been surprisingly great, and this little gem is no exception. The true story of the rise to fame of female wrestler Paige, who from humble beginnings with her wrestling obsessed family in Norwich, gets plucked by a coach who sees something special in her and gives her a chance to try out for a place in the WWE.

Florence Pugh, who first caught my eye in the unsettling Midsommer is great here as is her support cast including Vince Vaughn and Nick Frost. I especially enjoyed the bond Paige has with her brother and how it gets tested through the course of the story, leading to some quite heart-wrenching moments. It’s also laugh out loud funny in places, helped by a sharp script from Stephen Merchant (who also directs).

As a rise-to-fame journey, yeah it’s cliched with a believing in one self ark and a coach / mentor who’s tough yet secretly a nice guy … but that’s not always bad if it’s handled as well as this. A highly entertaining, well acted and feel good experience I couldn’t wait to talk about. A must see.

Verdict: Essential

Crash


Viewed – 12 December 2020 Blu-ray

Very few directors could deliver a movie with subject matter such as this and make it work, without it being exploitation trash, but in the hands of David Cronenberg (The Fly, A History of Violence) what remains an uncomfortable viewing experience somehow still took hold of this viewer. James Spader plays a guy fascinated by car crashes and aroused by the thrill of injury, twisted metal and the sheer violence of it all. Aided by his girlfriend (The Game’s Deborah Unger) they pursue this unhealthy obsession until Spader ends up in hospital. There he meets fellow crash victim Holly Hunter who he discovers is a kindred spirit and before long he’s lead into an underworld of like-minded people who find sexual arousal in near death experiences.

Maybe next time, my darling…

Acted from the off by all involved like they’re on the brink of orgasm, this highly sexual drama is just plain weird and has an atmosphere I’ll admit was initially hard to get into. Cronenberg’s direction however makes everything eerie, borderline hypnotic and very dream-like. However not for a second is it sexy, as Cronenberg gives each sex scene an unnatural and animalistic vibe that’s closer to his brand of body horror than say, Basic Instinct … but it works.

James Spader is perfectly cast, as is Deborah Unger, actors both at ease with uneasy material. However one surprise was Holly Hunter who I’d never usually associate with this kind of thing. Elias Koteas (Zodiac) stands out as a rather freaky medical photographer obsessed with staging recreations of famous car crashes. We also get Rosanna Arquette as a woman in leg callipers who’s involved in a particularly infamous scene. Overall this was a difficult watch. I appreciated much of the atmosphere and the perverse subject was strangely alluring… but was I entertained? No. Worth seeing but definitely not for everyone.

Crash remains quite the controversial movie, and this new, fully uncut limited edition from Arrow Video explores it impressively. The restored 4K Ultra HD image is grainy and nicely detailed, with only occasional softness. However, despite mention of HDR this isn’t a showcase for your TV setup. The same goes for the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that’s made up mostly of gentle dialogue and Howard Shore’s haunting score. The surrounds get a mild workout mostly in the various driving / highway scenes but nothing all that diverting. However it’s the extras where this release shines. There is a comprehensive booklet covering the making and legacy of the movie, various interviews, featuretts, some David Cronenberg short films, and a commentary by film scholar Adrian Martin. Add to this a double-sided poster and deluxe hardback slip case packaging and this is decent treatment for a polarising yet still worthwhile entry in Cronenberg’s back catalogue.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Recommended