Badlands


Viewed – 25 May 2019. Blu-ray

When I heard this 1973 drama was getting a release on the UK division of The Criterion Collection, for a film I had always wanted to see in its entirety – I jumped at the chance. Loosely based on the true story of the state-to-state murder spree of Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old girlfriend Caril Anne Fugate … this changes the names and certain incidents to explore an unconventional love story between Martin Sheen’s Kit and Sissy Spacek’s Holly as they go on the run across the badlands of Montana.

Director Terence Malick, a celebrated auteur delivers an atmospheric, particularly artsy drama that’s never quite as exciting or eventful as it’s premise suggests, going more for a love letter to the American wilderness, some rather gorgeous vistas and an exploration of young love with the backdrop of gradually increasing violence. Spacek narrates like a love sick school kid and her reactions to Kit’s murderous ways are naive and dismissive, which creates a bit of a weird vibe. The influences this later had on movies like True Romance and Natural Born Killers are obvious, but its not quite as entertaining as those movies and is more a movie of ‘it’s time’ and should probably be appreciated as such.

Sheen & Spacek are both very watchable and Sheen has probably never been more iconic what with his James Dean swagger. The movie also has an enjoyably whimsical atmosphere, which I suppose gives the whole thing its own identity. Worth a watch then, but for me hardly essential.

The Criterion Collection once again delivers. The movie whilst often rather soft focus has had the full 4k restoration treatment, and looks great, showcasing the movies naturalistic photography well. The soundtrack whilst only in uncompressed mono is clear and effective-enough. Extras although nearly all archive are plentiful with a 42 minute making of, interviews and an episode of American Justice exploring the real-life crimes of Charles Starkweather. There’s also detailed booklet included, boasting an essay by filmmaker Michael Almereyda. No audio commentary is a bit of a shame but this is otherwise solid treatment for a cult favourite that’s fascinating and enjoyable but not quite the ‘classic’ it’s often celebrated as.

Verdict:

(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

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The Amazing Spider-Man


Viewed – 19 July 2012  Cinema

Few of you would disagree that this came as a surprise when it was first announced.  Although Spider-Man 3 was a bit of a let down, what director Sam Raimi and star Toby Maguire achieved with the original (not so long ago) Spidy franchise was incredible.  So why the need for a re-boot?  Well as a long time Spider-Man fan I still had time for the webbed wonder no matter what guise he comes in, and when you consider that gifted actor Andrew Garfield (The Social Network) had been chosen to fill Maguire’s boots, and love-interest Gwen Stacy is played by current hot property Emma Stone (Easy A) … I knew this had potential.

Peter Parker (Garfield) is abandoned by his parents and left to grow up with Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) but as he reaches adolescence, curiosity considering his missing father’s background gets the better of him and soon he is seeking out his father’s former business partner Dr Curt Conners (Rhys Ifans).  Yet on the discovery that his father was experimenting in cross-species genetics, he soon stumbles upon radio-active spiders, and before you can yell ‘spider-sense’ … Peter is a changed man.

Garfield is perfect as Parker / Spidy and brings some unexpected emotion and depth to the character that even Toby Maguire lacked … also proving far less nerdy.  His story may offer little new to the franchise apart from his parents back story, but it’s the relationship between Parker and Gwen Stacy that holds the most weight, proving to be one of the more convincing relationships of a comic-book adaptation.  Rhys Ifans’ scientist-turned-The Lizard offers little again that hasn’t been seen before.  Thankfully Ifans is good enough as Dr Conners, even if the part seems a bit beneath such a talented actor.  The same could be said for screen legend Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben, but suits the ageing actor quite well.  Sally Field on the other hand barely makes an impression other than looking concerned a lot.   Emma Stone is as expected excellent and acts former love interest Kirsten Dunst (May Jane) off the screen for emotional range … also helps she’s damn fine-looking too!

Along with a series of impressive action sequences with decent effects and some real heart-in-mouth moments, this very nearly was the best Spider-Man movie yet.  Sadly its let down a by moments of corny dialogue and a fair few clichés (the school bully is called ‘flash’ for example).  Add to this plot threads that go nowhere (a vendetta against a robber is just ‘forgotten’ and really, why did Parker’s parents disappear?).  With a little more polish and possibly a more interesting villain  – this could have been well, amazing.  As it stands, it’s simply a very enjoyable and capable movie that proves one thing – there’s plenty of life left in ol’ Spidy yet.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Apocalypse Now


Viewed – 21 April 2012  Blu-ray

Collector’s edition

When it comes to war movies, few have the legendary legacy of this 1979 epic.  Directed by cinematic auteur Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather Trilogy) and starring Martin Sheen as a grizzled soldier whose seen too much and done too much.  This tells the story of a planned assassination against a rogue Colonel (Marlon Brando) during the backdrop of the Vietnam war.  Perhaps in subsequent years, this movie has become more famous for its trouble production than its majesty on the screen, which is a shame as this is shot in a stunningly poetic style, with great use of music from the likes of The Doors to The Rolling Stones, that really hammers home the madness of one of the most unpopular wars in history.

Coppola has created a grand vision, that although a little lacking in the pace department, and with an over-use of moody voice over, is filled with diverse characters (including a scene stealing Dennis Hopper) and stunning set-piece battle scenes (the ride of the Valkyries comes to mind – Charley Don’t Surf!) with simply gorgeous cinematography from Vittorio Storaro.  If comparing it to the likes of Full Metal Jacket, Platoon etc, it doesn’t quite have the edge for me, but instead has its own identity, and the humbling dream-like mood at times certainly packs a punch.  Combine this with quality performances, most notably Sheen but also an enigmatic Brando in a memorable final act – this still deserves its place in movie history.

This Blu-ray release has been overseen by the Director himself, and it shows.  This 70mm filmed movie explodes with colour and detail, making it one of the best I have seen.  In places the movie does show its age, but surprisingly comes to life more in the night scenes than anywhere else.  Close-up detail is good and overall the image is clean and very enjoyable.  Add to this impressive sound from the DTS HD Master Audio Soundtrack, as this was one of the first movie’s to pioneer 5.1 sound, with the action and the music really delivering.  Extras for this 3 disk edition are exhaustive.  We have both versions of the movie on the first disk (I watched the theatrical cut), both with an audio commentary from Coppola.  We also get the feature-length documentary The Heart Of Darkness, as well as a wealth of interviews, featurettes, image galleries, trailers and much more.  One of the finest Blu-ray releases yet.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 5 /5