A Quiet Place


Viewed – 04 November 2018. Online rental

Few. I’m just trying to catch my breath. Well, if this wasn’t one of the most tense and gripping movie viewing experiences I’ve had in a long time, I don’t know what is. The always dependable Emily Blunt leads this sci-fi horror drama about a small family trying to survive in a wilderness where ravenous creatures (aliens?) hunt and kill anyone and anything that makes a sound. So this young couple and their children live a life of silence, sign language and dread. You see, to add to their plight the teenage daughter is deaf,which makes her highly vulnerable and Blunt is pregnant.

This is a film dripping with tension, impending doom and director John Kransinski squeezes every ounce of emotion and fear from the characters, making me care so very much for them. This movie does an incredible amount with hardly any spoken dialogue, relying instead on the rawest of human expression and the threat of death to pummel home its situation that only gets more desperate as the movie progresses. That labour scene alone is one of the scenes of the year for me. The sound here is also pretty much a character in of itself and a decent sound system is recommended to get the full experience.

Occasionally the characters do make some stupid decisions considering the situation and the creatures are nothing that imaginative. However for a concept where I went in expecting just another gory survival horror … what I got was a whole lot more. A must see.

Verdict: 5 /5

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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

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

Venom


Viewed – 09 October 2018  Cinema

I’ll admit I had some anticipation leading up to the release of this Marvel comics adaptation.  Last time we got to see the character was in the ill-fated Spider-Man 3, of which I recall the Venom aspect being one of the better parts.  So with the casting of Tom Hardy, an actor who often takes to a challenging role with relish and (usually) delivers … this just couldn’t fail.

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Hardy plays TV reporter Eddie Brock who comes into contact with the alien substance after investigating a crooked business man who is doing shady experiments, and soon finds himself part man part alien when the substance uses Eddie as a way to break free from a top secret facility.  Nothing that original plot-wise and an underwhelming feeling doesn’t stop there despite some recognisable names amongst the cast and a cool shape-shifting character at it’s core.  Yet as it turns out neither the film makers nor the cast seem to know how to handle the material.  This is not helped by actors (especially Hardy) who come off as uncomfortable and uneasy with their own performance (along with a dodgy American accent) and even Michelle WIlliams, usually dependable (she’s great in The Greatest Showman) phones her role like she’s only eyeing up a pay cheque.  Villain Riz Ahmed, decent in other movies I’ve seen him is is woefully miscast here also.

The movie does have a couple of things going for it … when the action finally turns up it’s pretty fun with the way Venom / Hardy uses his powers to take on bad guys and scale buildings, and the effects work is generally decent.  Also once we get he banter going between Venom & Hardy, there’s some fun interplay between the two characters.  However as a movie it’s far too focused on a limp script and under-developed characters   I’m not sure what went wrong.  Studio interference?  Bad direction?  Whatever it was, the problems are all their, clear as day on the screen.  Disappointing.

Verdict: 2 /5

Mary and the Witch’s Flower


Viewed – 09 September 2018  Blu-ray

When news reached me that beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli were closing their doors, I was concerned that the type of movies seemingly unique to that studio, would never see the light of day again.  Thankfully that concerned was quashed on hearing about this release from new studio  ‘Studio Ponoc’ and directed by Ghibli stalwart Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Based on the children’s book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by author Mary Stewart, we have Mary, a spirited young girl who stumbles upon an enchanted broomstick one day after wondering into a misty forest.  Soon she is transported to another world, a school for witchcraft not dissimilar to Hogwarts, where the colourful characters may be hiding a secret linked to a sacred flower.

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This is where the movie revealed an identity crisis, that lingered throughout.  Despite best intentions and a charming veneer of wonder and imagination with top-notch hand-drawn animation … echoes of the movie’s heritage and titles like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service meant it all quickly began to feel overly familiar.  No bad thing but the characters whilst interesting to look at and with some typically bonkers design … lacked personality.  Apart from Mary herself, an endearing yet clichéd character for this type of movie … the villains and various side characters just came off as typical, with the villain’s scheme also not fully explored. 

Yet a twist towards the end was welcome and brought the story full circle in a particularly satisfying way and add some fun action and plenty of energy – I still found a lot to enjoy.  Ghibli-lite, but as (hopefully) the start of a new era for Japanese animation, this is a promising start.

Verdict:  3 /5