War for the Planet of the Apes


Viewed – 14 July 2017  Cinema

Following an invasion of their home by a military force, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) vows revenge and sets off to hunt down Woody Harrelson’s ruthless Colonel with a small group of fellow apes.  Along the way they stumble upon a young mute girl who may be evidence of a mutated strain of the disease that has already killed off most of mankind.

war-planet-apes

A decidedly strange experience.  I went into this with very high expectations and have to say what I got was a different movie than I was anticipating.  It has the word ‘war’ in the title but it’s not the humans vs. apes smack down the last movie set us up for.  Instead it explores an on-going conflict set at ‘war time’ between said apposing military force and the still attempting to live in peace apes.  However what we do have is once again a movie with a great deal of heart, some very touching character moments, themes of loyalty, family and friendship as well as a little comic relief in the form of an ageing lone ape who turns up half way through.  We get a lengthy prisoner-of-war sequence that is brilliantly played out with echoes of The Great Escape, and some decent action although nothing on par with the last two movies.  This one’s less about explosions and spectacle and more about the search for a safe haven and a potential future, even if that future is hopeless for humans.  As a conclusion (?) to the trilogy, it feels a tad uneventful and drags in places, and that ending was rather a damp squib.

Yet for fans like myself this is still solid entertainment.  It’s superbly acted with again top marks going to Serkis, whilst Harrelson delivers a fine villain.  It’s also absolutely stunning to look at (can these apes get any more real?) aided by plenty of personality and bags of emotion.  I just suppose by a third movie, I was expecting more not … less.

Verdict:  4 /5

Henry – Portrait of a Serial Killer


Viewed – 09 July 2017  Blu-ray

I remember watching this on VHS rental a number of years ago and deciding it was one of the more disturbing serial killer movies I’d seen.  Of course over the years it’s shock value will have diluted.  These days the boundaries of what is allowed to be seen on screen has been pushed to a much harder degree than what would have been banned back in the eighties.  Henry was censored heavily back in the day and now we have a fully uncut version hitting Blu-ray for the first time.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Directed by John McNaughton Shown: Michael Rooker

Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) plays sociopath and killer Henry – loosely based on real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who kills at random and without motive, drifting from town to town.  After befriending Otis (Tom Towles) and moving into his run-down apartment they are soon joined by Otis’ younger sister Becky and their simple dynamic is complicated once Henry begins involving Otis in his murderous ‘hobby’.

Directed my John McNaughton (Wild Things, Candyman) with a cold, semi-documentary style this is a movie that doesn’t offer explanation or back story but simply explores a week in the life of a killer.  Rooker is unnervingly convincing, aided well by his co-stars and McNaughton’s ominous tone.  It doesn’t offer answers and is all that more powerful for it, offering some still-to-this-day shocking scenes (the home invasion).  The acting isn’t Silence of the Lambs Oscar stuff by any stretch and some scenes are a bit amateurish, not helped by a low budget and filmed-on-the-fly locations.  Yet it still packs a punch even all these years later, so fans of this type of stuff need to see this.

Henry SteelbookThe Blu-ray release is a mixed bag.  The picture quality is more serviceable and at times rather poor, which goes hand in hand with the 2 channel sound mix, with some scenes (including the under the bridge scene) having particularly poor audio.  Extras fair better but are all archive; a making of, interviews, deleted scenes and censorship history – but well worth dipping into.  An audio-commentary by the director is the icing on the cake.  The Steelbook I picked is very nice also.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

Baby Driver


Viewed – 29 June 2017  Cinema

I went into this fairly blind.  I knew it was directed by Edgar Wright, who’s style had impressed me with movies like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and Shaun of the Dead, and well… who doesn’t enjoy a good car chase movie?

baby-driver

Relative new-comer Ansel Elgort plays a young guy who works as a getaway driver for Kevin Spacey’s heist planner, and has to work with a variety of violent crims along the way.  The thing is, he happens to have a bad case of tinnitus following an accident and resorts to playing his iPod to drown out the ringing (good way to make it worse, mate).  This unusual spin on a tired formula has a likeable lead performance, a gentle slow burning love story involving a (very) cute waitress and several heart-in-mouth action sequences involving some damn fancy driving.  So this delivers as a fast, fun and frantic ride but what does it bring to the table we haven’t seen before?  The inclusion of music ranging from Motown to jazz is an interesting idea and has some of the action and gun fights even playing along to the tunes – albeit only marginally successfully.  Thing is the music itself isn’t that memorable and when it really should have stood out, the other sounds, like gunfire and tires screeching, drowned out what is actually being played (including a near inaudible ‘Brighton Rock’ by Queen).

Thankfully the script is sharp and often funny, and the central love story is engaging with Ansel good as the lead (although his frequent dancing and bopping gets a little silly).  Also turns from John Hamm, a scene-stealing Jamie Foxx and of course Spacey are all on-par.  Oh and Edgar Wright sure can film action, with lots of clever, ultra-stylish imagery making every sequence explode.  So all in all this was a fun …ride, but what originality it tries to inject ultimately left this feeling overly familiar instead.  One to check out though.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

John Wick: Chapter 2


Viewed – 27 June 2017  Blu-ray

The first John Wick was one of my favourite movies of 2015; a stylish, frenetic yet simple tale of revenge and bullets with an iconic turn from the king of cool, Keanu Reeves as the most feared assassin in the world.  This follow-up begins almost immediately after the last movie with Wick visited by an old mobster associate who decides to cash in a ‘blood oath’ asking the ’trying once again to be retired’ assassin for one more job.  However with reluctance Wick is forced to pick up his gun and take on an army of henchmen that could just start a war. 

John Wick 2

This plays out similarly to Wick #1 with the killer’s reputation proceeding him wherever he goes, although this time its not about a vendetta but more about trying to survive following double cross after double cross.  It’s packed with uber-violent, stunningly choreographed fist fights, gun fights and showdowns; all filmed with no end of style and panache.  However with the revenge storyline replaced with all out action, I felt less invested in proceedings, especially with the movie feeling rather stretched out, with some unnecessary padding.  We learn a little more of the international scale of the organization Wick works for, and some colourful characters do pop up, including a return appearance from Ian McShane, a mute Ruby Rose and also a reunion of sorts with Keanu’s Matrix co-star Lawrence Fishburn.

If you go into this wanting the same level of style, violence and action as Wick #1 you’ll be fully satisfied.  However if like me you were hoping for any progression of characters or the world they inhabit; maybe you’ll need to wait for the inevitable Chapter 3.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage


Viewed – 20 June 2017  Blu-ray

Cult Italian horror auteur Dario Argento’s 1970 debut, has all the trade marks that have distinguished his career right through to the present.  The black gloved killer, beautiful female victims, superb camera work, an effective, characteristically unnerving musical score, and grand set-piece murders.  Tony Musante plays an American writer travelling in Rome with his girlfriend (the gorgeously photogenic Suzy Kendall, who resembles like a young Suzanne George), when he witnesses an attempted murder on a local female gallery owner by a dark figure dressed in a black raincoat.  He quickly becomes amateur sleuth after the local detective takes away his passport, and soon further murders take place and he grows ever closer to unmasking the assailant.

Although by no means as graphic as the director’s other works, this well told murder mystery harks back to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock in both the theme and iconic imagery.  Dario Argento has been often labelled the Italian Hitchcock, and with this thriller such a label is hard to deny.  Yet although his work has become more abstract and bizarre over the years, and such creating a style that is distinctly his own, with this effective film, the director made a mark in cinema that introduced the world to a bold and brilliant new visionary.  Engaging performances by its lead actors (especially Musante), several colourful, odd-ball characters and situations that really get your pulse racing create a distinctly classy thriller right up their with the director’s best.  

Bird with the Crytsal Plumage

This newly restored 4k transfer from the always dependable guys at Arrow Video comes in a deluxe box set that boasts a vintage poster, a detailed booklet and the movie itself on both Blu-ray and DVD complete with a plethora of extras.  We get an essential audio commentary by Argento expert Troy Howarth as well as a new interview with the director, featurettes, trailers and newly commissioned artwork with a reversible sleeve.  Add to this 6 art cards.  The movie itself is in great shape with a clean, grainy image that only suffers from somewhat garish colours (which I’ll admit suit the era the movie was made in).  The soundtrack may only be in it’s original mono audio but is still effective, especially with composer Ennio Morricone’s memorable, haunting score.  An impressive treatment for a genuine classic of the Italian giallo genre.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5