Donnie Darko


Viewed – 19 December 2016

Theatrical Cut

For a while there, around the time of this movie’s release the as yet unknown Jake Gyllenhaal was the poster boy for a generation of disaffected teens.  Now regarded as a cult movie, this decidedly anti-teen drama still strikes a cord, with it’s dream-like atmosphere and obvious Lynchian stylings.  Gyllenhaal plays troubled school kid Donnie who suffers from depression, has a past linked to burning a house down and seemingly can’t relate to the world around him.  He also happens to have an imaginary friend called Frank, a guy dressed up in a rabbit costume.  Following a freak accident where an aircraft engine falls out of the sky and through the roof of his bedroom, Donnie tries to piece together various clues supposedly leading to the end of the world.

Donnie-Darko

A blend of styles, from sci-fi, Twilight Zone and high school angst to David Lynch-like urban paranoia – makes for a decidedly unique experience topped off with an unhinged central performance from Gyllenhaal.  Along for the ride is welcome support from an alluring Drew Barrymore, a very young looking Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal and the late Patrick Swayze.  It defies conventions and is pretty bizarre, but is also a movie that really made me think about life and death, the choices we make, paths we go on etc.  This is all aided by an effective, ethereal score and great 80s themed music cues, the most memorable being Gary Jules’ eerily brilliant version of Mad World.

It’s probably not a movie for everyone, is slow in places and leaves some moments unexplained.  However as an introduction to one of my favourite actors, and as a high school movie that really had a profound impact on me … I give this my highest recommendation.

Limited Edition

The Blu-ray is (mostly) impressive stuff.  The image quality I’m guessing is purposely soft, to create that dream-aesthetic, so disappoints with flat colours and a smudgy, dull appearance throughout.  However, sound fairs much better with crisp dialogue, good use of surrounds and each music moment is particularly effective.  However it’s in the extra material where this Arrow Video Limited Edition blew me away.  We get two cuts of the movie, including the longer Director’s Cut, which primarily adds greater emphasis to the sci-fi elements with on-screen extracts from the time travel book featured in both versions, extra symbolism and some scenes are extended or slightly altered.  Ultimately though this version doesn’t differ all that much from the original but perhaps is a little clearer in some of it’s themes.  However the mystery of the theatrical cut is for me what makes it so effective.  There’s a wealth of supplementary material included, like interviews and deleted scenes.  Stand outs though are two audio commentaries on the theatrical cut from cast and production crew, as well as another on the director’s cut.  Add to this a detailed collector’s book and I’d say this is one of the most packed Blu-rays you can currently buy.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

The Neon Demon


Viewed – 10 December 2016  Online-rental

I wasn’t the biggest fan of visionary director Nicolas Winding Refn’s last movie, Only God Forgives … a movie whilst stylistically impressive didn’t draw me in at all.  However I do consider the acclaimed Drive a bit of a cult classic.  So on a film-lover’s basis I’ll always give this guy a day in court.  This latest effort is sort of an amalgamation of influences but I suppose most closely resembles Black Swan, swapping the ballet scene for fashion.  Elle Fanning plays a young model newly arrived in Los Angeles and hoping to get discovered.  There she befriends makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) and gets a gig working for agency executive Christina Hendricks.  However as her angelic natural beauty starts to catch the eye of several high profile photographers and designers, she attracts the jealously of fellow models.

neon-demon

This is a striking looking movie.  Refn’s eye for beautiful / macabre imagery is perfectly suited to the subject and we get a very artistic, at times freaky but always interesting ‘experience’ that clearly borrows from the likes of David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and to a heavy extent Dario Argento … with clear nods to Suspiria.  Add to this an equally effective soundtrack with plenty of industrial-electronic beats enhancing the images.  The plot which is fairly simple goes to some very dark, surprising places and has a stand out turn from Fanning who continues to be an actress to watch.  One of my growing faves, Jena Malone is also very good (will she live down ‘that’ scene?).  We also get an appearance from Keanu Reeves as a creepy hotel manager.  A Winding Refn movie is not for everyone I’ll add … he goes to some pretty shocking extremes here and it all gets rather messed up towards the end, as his movies usually do – but here the twist is a little bonkers and left me feeling a bit pushed out of the experience, almost like Refn was trying to shock for sake of shock rather than concluding on something all that effective or convincing.

However as a bold observation of a very superficial industry where youth and beauty are used and thrown away easily – I still found this both disturbing and intriguing … but not quite the sum of its exceptional looking ‘parts’.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Sucker Punch


Viewed – 04 July 2011  Blu-ray

Extended Cut

To explain what this one is about is not going to be easy.  An orphaned young woman, nicknamed Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is sent to a mental asylum after her mother dies and her abusive step-father wants nothing to do with her.  There she falls into her own fantasy world, where she imagines the asylum to be some sort of high-class bordello, and befriends a group of girls (Abbie Cornish, Jamie Chung, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens) in the hope that they will help her escape.  Yet the fantasy does not stop there.  This young woman also imagines herself and her friends in a variety of action-packed other-worldly adventures whilst they attempt to collect items they will need to plan their escape.  Think Kill Bill meets Moulin Rouge meets One Flew Over The Cookoo’s Nest.

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