The Squid and the Whale


Viewed – 05 August 2020 Blu-ray

I hadn’t heard of this movie up until now and only stumbled across it when browsing ‘The Criterion Collection’ releases. So a complete blind purchase that although I don’t regret, I don’t feel was entirely worth it. This follows the story of two brothers (one played by a young Jesse Eisenberg) who’s parents separate, leading them to have to spend their time living at each parent’s house … whilst also going through the trials of high school, first love and puberty.

trouble with Mom and Dad…

Jeff Daniels plays the Dad, a respected writer and teacher, who has a close bond with his eldest son (Eisenberg), whilst Laura Linney (Ozark) plays the Mom who gets sort of a bad rap due to having had an affair. William Baldwin also turns up as a tennis instructor. This very ‘indie’ drama, in the style of Gus Van Sant is very authentic and occasionally amusing with decent performances and astute observations of its various themes. It occasionally goes down avenues exploring the effect a breakup has on children that takes some weird turns … what with the youngest kid resorting to masturbation of all things, as a way of acting out (er…ok). Eisenberg also comes off as a bit of a brat, who whilst his usual brand of awkward is less likeable than usual.

For this kind of subject, I felt the movie offered very little we hadn’t seen before and didn’t go anywhere particularly interesting or all that optimistic. It also doesn’t really explore why the parent’s relationship hits the skids. A shame as it’s well acted (especially Linney who I’ve always liked) and has some good moments, but is otherwise forgettable.

The Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection has a an adequate image, thats very grainy and a bit lacking in detail, almost like 16mm – but it does create a distinct ‘look’ that suits the movie’s tone. Sound is clear in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio and showcases various unusual and obscure music choices. Extras consist of a making of documentary, interviews, audition footage and trailers. We also get a booklet that has an interview and a write up on the movie and it’s production. Not too bad for a movie a little undeserving of such treatment.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-ray) Good

Something Wild


Viewed – 16 June 2018  Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it.  Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had.  Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had.  Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.

something wild

Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence.  Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller.  Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas.  Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto.  Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare.  The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story.  Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.

criterionThis UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming.  The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots.  There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation.  The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch.  Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson.  On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer.  Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  2.5 /5

The Martian


Viewed – 01 March 2016  Blu-ray

There seems to have been a bit of a trend in recent years for quality science fiction, or more literally quality space travel movies.  I think it began with Doug Jones’ acclaimed ‘Moon’ and then followed through with Gravity and then Interstellar.  Hollywood seems to have fallen in love with the great vastness of space again, and I have fallen in love along with them.  So this latest effort was high on my must see list.

the martian

Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney who following an expedition to Mars, is left unknowingly behind by his crew following a freak sand storm.  With everyone thinking he is dead and a memorial back home, Watney has to learn how to survive on an alien planet until he can find out a way of communicating and hopefully getting rescued.  Based on the book by Andy Wier and directed by genre heavy-weight Ridley Scott, this is a gripping concept as we watch Damon put all his scientific knowhow to the test and learn to adapt to a harsh environment.  Back home Nasa and its myriad of boffins are also trying to figure out a way to save their man, headed by Jeff Daniels and supported by Kristina Wiig and Sean Bean amongst various other familiar faces.  Oh and the crew that left Watney jessica-chastain-the-martianbehind get the always watchable Jessica Chastian as their commander.  It’s clear to me this was a bit of a labour of love and is choc-full of detail and science terminology (even days are referred to a sol 1 and sol 2 etc).  Yet beyond some of the realism and authenticity the movie also finds room for well judged humour.  We also get a strongly potent emotional thread that builds and gets pretty heart-breaking.  Everyone here is on very good form but it’s obviously Damon’s show and he is simply superb…charismatic in the face of adversity and also very believable.  He’d have been my tip for Best Actor at the Oscars but sadly it wasn’t to be.

In addition to such a solid, layered performance however is excellent direction from Scott, who aided by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, proves again he’s a master at capturing the perfect look and feel for Science Fiction, and redeems himself after the muddled Prometheus.  Some of the shots and vistas and photography here are jaw-dropping.  Honestly, there is very little I can say negative about this one apart from hey, where were Mark Watney’s parents??  And the first act is a trifle slow, but that’s some serious nit-picking.  If you are fascinated by space travel or are just attracted to decent human survival dramas, not unlike The Revenant I’ll add … then you have to see this.

Verdict:  5 /5