The Royal Tenenbaums


Viewed – 07 December 2016  Blu-ray

I made a promise to myself last year that I’d check out the other movies by director Wes Anderson.  This followed my absolute love and admiration for his acclaimed Grand Budapest Hotel.  I loved his visual style, his quirky, larger-than-life characters and well, just about everything that movie had to offer.  So when I learnt that prestigious label ‘The Criterion Collection’ were releasing one of the director’s best known movies as part of their UK collection … I jumped at the chance.

Royal Tenenbaums

This whimsical tale follows Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) who wants to reconnect with his dysfunctional family on hearing the news that he is dying.  His family however are made up of a group of former child geniuses, now washed up has-beens and a feisty ex-wife on the brink of excepting a marriage proposal.  Time isn’t on Royal’s side.  Immediately it’s clear this has that same beautiful visual style, albeit less fantastical of Grand Budapest, with Anderson’s clear love of wide angle lenses and vibrant colours.  Each and every frame of this is eye-catching, even for a movie set in modern day Manhattan.  It is a light hearted, gently paced snapshot of a family and their various personalities and eccentricities.  We get Ben Stiller’s over-protective father to his two young sons, Gwyneth Paltrow’s moping loner, and Luke Wilson’s troubled former Tennis star.  However it’s Hackman that stands out and for an actor I hadn’t seen much of in a Margotlong time, I loved every time this ‘his own worst enemy’ character was on screen, complete with his bizarre Indian man servant / accomplice.  We also get appearances from Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the movie) and Bill Murray.

I’d have preferred this to have had more humour, as it’s an ensemble piece ripe with comic potential, but instead we mostly get fascinating but overly miserable characters all trying to get on with one another but clearly failing.  It’s charming and very watchable … but not traditionally entertaining.  Whilst never boring, it plays its cards leisurely and proves an easy-going experience that still managed to make this viewer smile.

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The Blu-ray as expected from Criterion is exceptional.  The image quality has a lovely warm sheen to it with colours that pop and plenty of detail.  For a fairly gentle-paced drama this doesn’t wow the surrounds audio-wise but has crystal clear dialogue and the various music cues work a treat (Wes Anderson’s tastes being suitably quirky).  Extras are plentiful with a very welcome commentary and a nice collection of behind the scenes featurettes.  In addition we also get booklets comprising of exclusive artwork and an essay on the movie.  Welcome treatment to a likeable but in my opinion, not exactly essential movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

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Iron Man 3


Viewed – 17 December 2013  Blu-ray

You have to love Iron Man.  Such an unashamedly bad-ass character backed up by the one liner filled charisma of Robert Downey Jr … what’s not to like?  In this third outing for the high tech hero / billionaire and following on directly from the Marvel Avengers Assemble, Tony Stark (Downey Jr) faces a new threat, that of a middle eastern terrorist (Ben Kingsley), clearly modelled after Osama Bin-Laden (bad taste?) who is setting off bombs on American soil.

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Directed by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) as can be expected this is peppered with the director’s trade mark sharp, often very un-p.c. dialogue.  Not quite so much fun are the constant nods to Avengers with references to Thor and the like (didn’t we get enough of this in I.M #2?) and a war on terror backdrop that’s becoming an all too familiar story device these days.  Downey does a good job as the increasingly troubled stark (he’s getting panic attacks following Avengers … but this isn’t fully explored) and throw in a little kid let’s bond moment (Hellboy anyone?) and a twist I saw coming a mile off … and well, to be honest considering all the good reviews – I was disappointed.  The first half of the movie is actually rather slow, and although Guy Pierce as always, is rather good – this all just felt a bit unnecessary.

Again Stark’s relationship with Pepper Potts is well observed and is the crutch this movie just about stands up with, with an enjoyable Gwyneth Paltrow – and towards the end some of the action was pretty slick – especially the final encounter with the villain.  Also Rebecca Hall is in it, and well… she’s hot.  But overall I found this really lacking – and dare I say it, I might have enjoyed I.M #2 more.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

Contagion


Viewed – 09 May 2012  DVD

This was compelling.  With the memory of virus outbreaks like bird flu, swine flu etc causing much furor at the time, the idea of a virus that spreads across the globe, quickly infecting and killing millions seems wholly believable, and to be honest … terrifying.  Yet this is not a horror movie, more so a convincing portrayal of an epidemic and the people whose lives it affects, some tragically.

Directed by the acclaimed Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Oceans Eleven) this has an ensemble cast of recognizable names including Kate Winslett, Jude Law and Matt Damon that all deliver very real performances, and is shot in a semi-documentary fashion, that replaces Hollywood glitz and action with human drama and emotion.  I especially liked how it not only showed the government and scientists tackling the outbreak, but also how the general public can turn on each other in their desperation.  And although it could be easily compared to Dustin Hoffman hit ‘Outbreak’, this proved the more earnest and thought-provoking.  Granted the pace drops a bit in the middle, and the ‘vaccine’ seems to come out of nowhere … but overall this has it where it counts.

So to conclude, this was a refreshing drama that didn’t need to rely on thrills and spills to tell an absorbing story filled with character and social commentary … and I thought it was very good indeed.

Verdict:  4 /5

Iron Man 2


Viewed – 29 October 2010  Blu-ray

Back in a packed summer season, Iron Man #1 stood out as the surprise superhero gem despite tough competition from The Dark Knight and Hellboy 2.  I loved it, mainly down to the perfect casting of Robert Downey Jr but also some superb action scenes and a tongue-in-cheek rule breaking attitude that kept it fresh and exciting.  Naturally I was hyped for the sequel, but sadly missed it at the cinema.  So it was high time I made up for that on Blu-ray.

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Se7en


Viewed – 01 October 2010  Blu-ray

This dark and dreary thriller from David (Fight Club) Fincher has Morgan Freeman as the world-weary detective on the verge of retirement having to take under his wing a young newcomer (Brad Pitt), and stumbles upon a series of shocking murders seemingly linked to the seven deadly sins.  This cracking premise is intelligently put together and cemented Fincher’s reputation as a director to watch after an admirable debut with Alien 3 left audiences thirsty for more.  With the great pairing of Freeman & Pitt, who both offer dramatically different viewpoints on the crimes, and with an atmosphere of dread that thankfully never overwhelms, this truly delivers as a film up there with the infamous The Silence of the Lambs.   Add to this one of the most astonishing endings I think you’re ever likely to see, and with the scene stealing Kevin Spacey, who at the time wasn’t the name he is now – this is without doubt one of the best movies of the 90s, and has gone on to become a classic. 

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