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

The Hidden Fortress


Viewed – 17 July 2020. Blu-ray

(Akira Kurosawa season: part one)

I’d heard many good things about legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa over the years, how he had influenced so many directors, his style having defined much of cinema as we know it, from the John Ford Westerns to Sci-Fi sagas like Star Wars. So I thought it high time I sat down to one of his movies, having recently picked up a box set of some of his most famed titles.

This movie from 1958 starts out with a duo of squabbling farmers who stumble upon the plight of a missing Princess and an invading army hellbent on killing her and claiming the kingdom for themselves. Initially hoping to turn their fortunes around by finding the Princess and claiming the bounty, the farmers soon find themselves befriending her and her bodyguard – a former General.

This was easy to get into, as I had had some trepidation concerning if I’d like this sort of movie. However the bumbling, squabbling farmers are good fun and the General, played by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune is a likeable yet imposing presence that I was quickly routing for. The actress playing the Princess was also appealing even if her dialogue is limited for the most part. Kurosawa’s direction is decent with a few stand-out sequences including a tense one on one fight, a large scale escape from a fortress involving a ton of extras, and an eye-catching ‘fire festival’ sequence. George Lucas has named this as an influence on Star Wars, yet apart from his similarity between the farmers and R2D2 and C3PO, that’s where I felt comparisons ended.

It’s a tad long at 138 minutes, and isn’t as eventful as it could have been, with much of the running time taken up by the (admittedly enjoyable) banter between the four main characters. It’s also unclear who the invading army are (the mongols?) and what the setting is. Yet for my first foray into the movies of Akira Kurosawa, I still got a lot out of this, enough to make me thirsty for more.

The Blu-Ray from the BFI box set I picked up has a very pleasing, clear B&W image that’s quite eye-catching at times. Subtitles are also well done and easy to follow. Sound is effective, with clear dialogue and a pounding score despite being in standard stereo. Extras are a let down though, with only an interview with George Lucas and a trailer. There’s also strangely no scene selection.

Verdict::

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Good

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

Underwater


Viewed – 11 July 2020.

Although Kristen Stewart has appeared in some big name movies, including Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman, she’s often overshadowed by either co-stars or the movies themselves. She can be an actress that seems a bit one dimensional but regardless I’ve always felt there’s potential. This latest effort puts her front and centre so let’s hope it delivers.

This has Stewart, as part of a deep-sea mining crew that following a disaster have to journey to another facility, crossing the sea bed along the way. Only problem is there seems to be a group of deadly creatures hunting them. So a battle for survival commenced in the depths of the ocean. I got a distinct The Abyss meets Alien vibe with this and it didn’t go unnoticed that Stewart is rather Ripley-like even if she’s no Sigourney Weaver. Despite lacking the ambition of either of those titles, the movie does deliver an at times intense and claustrophobic experience that’s often quite unnerving. With a disaster right at the start it’s a movie that hits the ground running and barely let’s up ‘till the credits roll. The sea creatures are more freaky than scary and unfortunately the horror is a tad watered down (pun intended). The beginning also suggests the plot might explore the psychological effects of being so deep under the sea, but this gets abandoned almost instantly.

Stewart is decent though, proving both gutsy and vulnerable at all the right moments. Support comes from the dependable Vincent Cassell and T J Miller (who’s predictably the comic relief) and direction throughout is focused and atmospheric. This is a good looking movie with some stylish sequences but ultimately is let down by under-developed characters and an over-resemblance to better movies. Solid entertainment, but lacking its own personality.

Verdict: Good

Repo Man


Viewed – 08 July 2020 Blu-ray

For some reason I have always wanted to see this early eighties oddity. Directed by British cult filmmaker Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy) this is pure low budget gorilla film-making with an almost throw-away plot revolving around street punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) who gets involved with a group of ‘repo men’ who steel / reclaim cars when debts fail to get paid. However one such car doing the rounds has a very unusual package in its trunk that may just be extra terrestrial.

This was a bit nuts. It’s clear Cox was going for a rather surreal vibe with sprinklings of social commentary and not so subtle send ups of shady FBI, street culture and sci-fi b-movies. It doesn’t really make much sense, it’s never explained why the car with the alien in its trunk is just driving around constantly – where is it going? Or how one girl seems to be connected. Acting from Estevez as well as the late Harry Dean Stanton varies from passable to bad all the time too. There’s also some pretty dodgy edits along the way that add some confusion.

Yet somehow it’s still kinda fun, and every now and then I can appreciate something stripped down, experimental and different. A soundtrack featuring Iggy Pop is a bonus and some of the film-making, as awkwardly cheap looking as it is, has a certain charm to it. I’m glad I’ve seen it now and I had a good time, but it remains far from essential viewing.

The Blu-ray, part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series is rather packed however. It boasts a clean and fairly detailed restored image as well as a DTS HD mono soundtrack (although dialogue can get a bit echoey). We get an archive commentary from the director, producer etc and an 11 minute intro from Alex Cox, shot in 2011. Add to this a wealth of deleted footage, a TV version, trailers, a retrospective making-of and a detailed booklet. For collectors, this makes up for many shortcomings with the actual movie.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-ray) Recommended