Leon


Viewed – 08 February 2014  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Edition

I remember seeing a trailer to this way back when and going fairly blindly to see it in the cinema.  Me and a friend of mine were blown away by it, and it quickly became one of our all time favourite movies.  The story of twelve year old Mathilda (a brilliant debut from Natalie Portman) who in the aftermath of her family being wiped out takes refuge in the company of the shy, illiterate hitman who lives down the corridor (Jean Reno) … a friendship blossoms and soon she’s hatching a plot to take revenge.  Gary Oldman is a corrupt DEA agent who cracks pills between his teeth and listens to Beethoven whilst killing people who rip him off – and orchestrating all this with finesse and skill is French new-wave director Luc Besson (Nikita, The Fifth Element) to a soundtrack by Eric Serra.

Leon Natalie Portman_edited

This is a movie that has it all, great performances from the street-wise but naive Portman all cocky but falling apart at the seams, to Reno’s subtle and convincing portrayal of a child in a man’s body who just happens to know how to kill.  Then there is Oldman, in possibly his craziest but most memorable role (get me eeeeeeeeeeverybody!!!) as well as a very good supporting turn by Danny Aiello.  Then there is Besson … arguably his finest movie, with such poetic, ice-cool camera work enhanced by an amazing soundtrack and moments of slick action executed with the utmost style and panache.  This may not be an action-heavy movie (it really only has two scenes here) but the tension that builds up, and the great performances throughout, peppered with well judged humour and such emotion … this is one of the few movies I would genuinely call a masterpiece.

This 20th Anniversary Edition by Studio Canal boasts a decent HD image quality that has some vibrant colour and good detail, especially in close-ups.  Softness rears its head in places but overall this is a very pleasing presentation.  For this movie too the 5.1 DTS Master Audio Soundtrack is excellent with a really immersive soundstage and great clarity throughout.  The Blu-ray houses both cuts of the movie and although I chose to watch the tighter Theatrical Version, I would recommend fans check out the extended Director’s Cut for such extra scenes like Mathilda’s Russian roulette scene, the extra hits that Leon takes Mathilda on and a few more moments of Mathilda’s inappropriate advances towards her hitman friend (!).  Extras however are poor, with just two interviews and a noticeably absent Besson, Oldman or Portman with no commentary, something Besson never does anyway – so no big shock there.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Do The Right Thing


Viewed – 4 August 2008  DVD

Criterion Collection

Spike Lee’s powerful 1989 ghetto drama always seemed to me like a poor man’s Boyz N the Hood at the time when I first saw it – where’s all the Mo Fo’s and the Gats?  But seriously, this is a very different and believable portrait of racial tension and ignorance that gradually builds up during one hot summers day in suburban Brooklyn.  The film revolves around a Pizzeria known as Sal’s and is owned by Italian Danny Aiello and his two sons (with a stand out John Turturro as the bullying Pino) with Lee’s own Mookie as the Pizza delivery boy.  After one of the local black guys spots that Sal only has Italian celebrities on his wall of fame, a boycott of the pizzeria is started, and although the film mostly focuses on the comings and goings of a bunch of very vivid characters, trouble soon erupts, leading to a startling climax.

This thought provoking film really pulled me in, and is an intelligent look at different ethnic cultures in modern America and the ignorance and bigotry that can be caused.  From a personal viewpoint, I find it hard to sympathise with some of the black characters, who play the victim when they themselves are stirring it up.  Although Sal’s boys and some other bystanders don’t exactly make things any easier.  Overall this is fascinating, often funny and challenging cinema that really should be seen by the widest audience.

The DVD from the good ‘ol boys at Criterion is a deluxe two disc set, with a wealth of documentaries on the second disc (including a fascinating return to Brooklyn sequence by Spike Lee and producer Jon Kilik) and we also get a commentary track with Lee again and the crew.  Picture and sound are first rate, and although the film looks a little grainy in the darker scenes, its vibrant colours are shown off brilliantly.  Oh and Public Enemy’s Fight The Power will blow you away, despite the basic 2.0 surround soundtrack (to preserve the film’s original recording).

Verdict:  5 /5