Dressed to Kill


Viewed – 03 March 2017  Blu-ray

Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980.  This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento.  It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.

Dressed To Kill

A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine).  However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered.  A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.

A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film.  However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings.  This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game.  Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues.  The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable.  However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder.  The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz).  As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.

Blu-rayThe Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image.  Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor.  More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio.  I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK.  Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery.  There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh.  Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  4 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5

Insterstellar


Viewed – 08 August 2015  Blu-ray

Something is wrong with our planet, the fuel or food supplies are drying up and everyone is acting like the place is doomed.  Farmer and former astronaut Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) lives a quiet existence on a farm with his son and daughter, until following stories of a ghost in his daughter’s bedroom, Cooper discovers a communication signal hidden in the dust and various books falling from the shelves.  The strange anomaly leads them to follow co-ordinates one night that leads them to a secret underground NASA base.  Headed by Michael Caine, that’s where Cooper is then given the opportunity to return to space on a mission that just may be the answer to mankind’s future.

Insterstellar 1

Give it to director Christopher Nolan for tackling big ideas.  No stranger to presenting bold concepts to the viewer, as we saw in the dreamscape epic Inception, and this sci-fi drama is no different.  We get black holes, deep space, other dimensions and strange new worlds.  Yes McConoughey is boldly going where no man has gone before, and I was fully along for the ride.  He is supported well by Anne Hathaway as a scientist and fellow astronaut, and the ideas at play here were particularly fascinating, borrowing to a large extent from Stanley Kubrick’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey but throwing in enoughInsterstellar 2 personality and visionary-wonder to stand on it’s own.  This is a stunning looking movie, Nolan using his various locations and his love of I-Max to wonderful effect, and various scenes just swept me up in their sheer majesty (the tidal wave…the ice planet etc.).  This is helped no end of course by Hans Zimmer’s at times intense and sweeping score.  Trust me watch this on a decent sized screen in surround sound and you’ll be blown away.

I can’t say I understood it all, and it get’s rather mind-boggling towards the end – in a good way.  Yet with a strong, emotional performance from McConoughey and good turns from Caine and also Jessica Chastain who turns up half way through, I really got a kick out of this.  It’s long at over two and a half hours, but it’s profound questions on humanity, love and life needed time to breathe, and so I can’t say I was bored one bit.  One of my ‘movies of the year’ without doubt.

Verdict:  5 /5

Kingsman: The Secret Service


Viewed – 19 June 2015  Online rental

The spy spoof is nothing new, but placed in the hands of Matthew Vaughn who breathed a welcome injection of rebellious attitude to the costumed hero genre, with Kick-Ass and probably made one of the finest X-Men to date in First Class, I’d say we were in safe hands.  A troubled teenager who just so happens to be related to a former Kingsman secret agent gets the chance of a lifetime to join the top-secret British agency just as a megalomaniac internet billionaire (Samuel L. Jackson) prepares to cause mass genocide.  Cue plenty of gadgets, tailored suits and before you can say Mark Hamill cameo it’s all action, intrigue and tongue planted firmly in cheek.

kingsman

Colin Firth, everyone’s favourite swarve English gent is perfectly cast as Galahad, the Kingsman’s top agent who single handily takes said troubled teenager Egsy (Taron Egerton) under his wing and helps him crawl out from under his Asbo lifestyle and housing estate surroundings to become someone capable of saving the world.  Jackson plays a little against type as an (annoyingly) lisping villain but is clearly having a ball – even if his character is a tad too cartoony for my liking.  The whole training stuff also gets rather predictable. Add to this a budget clearly spent on it’s decor, Michael Caine and designer-suits rather than decent effects (honestly, CGI blood, CGI explosions.  Who ever said that crap looked any good?).  But such shortcomings aside, director Vaughn pulls out all his nudge-nudge wink-wink tricks, bending and breaking genre conventions to throw in the odd surprise and a few slam-dunk gags (land of hope and glory?)..

It lacks the venom of Vaughn’s earlier Hit-Girl scene-stealing tour-de-force and clearly struggles with over ambition (the international locales can look noticeably fake, and action relies more on fancy camera trickery than genuine fight choreography).  Enthusiasm counts for a lot though, and the cast, crew and excellent soundtrack (a fight played to the tune of “Give It Up” by K.C. & The Sunshine Band?  Oh yes!) still make this worth a watch.  Bond has nothing to worry about though.

Verdict:  3 /5

Harry Brown


Viewed – 08 May 2010  Blu-ray

Michael Caine is a British institution.  Probably the most celebrated actor to come out of ol’ blighty, he has, over a long career been in some of the most iconic movies ever made and played some of the most memorable characters to ever grace the screen.  Although these days I find it a shame he’s playing second fiddle to Christian Bale in the Batman franchise, at least it takes a British movie to put him back where he belongs.

Harry Brown is a retired ex-marine living out his remaining years on a crime infested housing estate overrun by thugs, with a high drugs & murder rate.  Recently widowed, his only friend is an elderly man called Lennard, who himself is constantly in fear of his life from increasingly dangerous pranks.  Before long though, Harry realises that the Police are not going to change things and he must take the law into his own hands, even if it gets him killed in the process.  Caine is mesmerizing and believable as a man who has lost everything and faces up to the hoodie threat with vulnerability and convincing menace, obviously out of his depth and way past his prime, but with the willpower to take them on.  Supporting him is a strong performance from Emily Mortimer as the Police Detective heading up the investigation who sympathises with Caine’s plight if not entirely condoning his actions.  The cast members playing the hoodie thugs are less impressive, one-note scum bags with no real depth or personality, and I felt this was a missed opportunity to delve deeper into their lives and motives, and the remaining Police are portrayed as bumbling out-dated suits with little regard for public safety and more interest in ticking boxes and filing reports.

Daniel Barber’s movie has been compared to Clint Eastwood hit Gran Torino, but I feel this does both movies a disservice as they are about very different things, and although Harry Brown has a similar old man up against thugs premise, the violence and the rather sickening portrayal of sex and drugs, puts the movie in much darker territory than Eastwood’s on a whole heart-warming modern classic. 

Overall though, this is a definite recommendation for both fans of Michael Cain and gritty Brit-thrillers.

Verdict:  4 /5

Children Of Men


Viewed – 31 May 2009  DVD

I had heard very good things about this, and as a growing admirer of Clive Owen, and hearing this was one of his best roles, well, that’s just a no brainer, isn’t it?  Based on the novel by P.D. James, this follows the gritty story of an ex-activist who becomes unwittingly involved in the deportation of a pregnant women, in a future London setting where the human race has become infertile, with no child born in eighteen years.

Alfonso Cuaron’s powerful film seems staged on  a battle field with everything ready to blow at any given minute.  The chaotic scenes of combat between immigrants, resistance and military is up their with battles from Saving Private Ryan, and just as heart-stopping.  Owen is the gravity at the centre of the chaos and his performance is assured, even if supporting cast are portrayed wafer thin, with only a comic-turn from Michael Caine really standing out.  What ultimately lets this down though, despite the wealth of acclaim I’ve heard is that the story although interesting, is a tad confusing and its hard to completely understand why some people are doing certain things.  Thankfully the cinematography and stunningly staged action makes up for such short comings, and this remains an incredible film to look at.

So maybe, although its a thinker of sorts, with its topical subject and believable portrayal of the future, sometimes its better to just switch your brain off and enjoy the fire works.

Verdict:  3 /5