Midnight Cowboy

Viewed 22 August 2020. Blu-ray

This 1969 Oscar winner had a bit of a backlash at the time of release and was one of the few ‘x’ certificate movies to get nominated let alone win. I’d always been aware of it and heard it was a classic but only now gotten around to seeing it. Jon Voight, screen legend and father to Angelina Jolie … plays a naive, sort of man-child from Texas who travels to New York to find his fortune as a hustler / gigalo. However reality soon comes crashing down after various encounters leaves him desperate for money. At the same time, he befriends Ratso, a streetwise conman and petty thief, played by Dustin Hoffman.

Living the dream?

Gritty and at times moving, this tale explores loneliness and the harsh realities of life with a semi-whimsical vibe, with strong turns from both Voight and Hoffman. Direction from British filmmaker John Schlesinger (Marathon Man) is occasionally surreal and other times psychedelic, whilst not shying away from sex, gay culture, the drugs scene etc. despite not being the movie’s focus. Instead, this is an exploration of unconventional friendship, following one’s (hopeless) dreams which proved very effective – especially in the closing moments. The various side characters also stood out, and the setting of New York, the period and the music, with a score by John Barry and that timeless ‘Everybody’s Talking’ by Nilsson all added to the charm.

I’d have liked to know more about Hoffman’s character and his mystery illness, and other details like Voight’s troubled background I’d have liked explored further – although the flashbacks do a decent job. Overall a surprisingly powerful and rather enjoyable experience.

The Blu-Ray from the U.K. division of The Criterion Collection has a very interesting commentary from the director as well as producer Jerome Hellman. We also get several featurettes that offer interviews (new and archive), behind the scenes footage, as well as a photo gallery and a fold-out booklet with a new write up on the movie by critic Mark Harris. The movie, a new 4K restoration retains that grainy, at times overly-soft late 60s / early 70s look but offers vibrant colours and depth to the image. Sound is in the original mono or a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. Decent treatment for one of the few ‘classics’ worthy of the title.


(the movie) Recommended

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Escape From New York

Viewed – 25 November 2018. Blu-ray

Director John Carpenter remains one of my favourite directors of all time. That’s not to say all his movies are masterpieces, but he firmly places his signature on all of them and I usually come away enjoying many aspects. The same can said for this cult favourite from 1981.

Kurt Russell plays Snake Plisken, a legendary soldier who on his arrival at a maximum security prison facility thats taken over Manhattan island in a futuristic version of New York … is about to be incarcerated for armed robbery. However after the President’s plane gets hijacked and he’s forced to board an escape pod launched into said prison island, the government call on Snake to go on a rescue mission. I remember loving this concept as a kid and hell, nobody looks more bad-ass than Kurt Russell with an eye patch and a semi-automatic. However I also recall not really being that into the movie itself.

Not much has changed. This is a particularly moody piece disguised as an action-thriller. It has all the required ingredients of pure popcorn entertainment, but somethings missing. The movie takes its time throughout and lacks any real thrills (not helped by what appears to be a tiny budget). However Carpenter helps by sprinkling several colourful characters here and there (with a stand-out Harry Dean Stanton) and along with Dean Cundey’s atmospheric and gloomy cinematography mixed with Carpenters own synth score, this still held my attention. Donald Pleasance, a Carpenter regular also pops up as the President, although lacks his usual presence. Overall this is Kurt Russell’s show and he’s great as a character way cooler than the movie he’s in, and every second the character is on screen, I couldn’t help but be mesmerised. One of those cult favourites still worth a watch, but not as memorable as its reputation might have you believe.

This new Blu-ray from Studio Canal comes in deluxe fold-out packaging boasting a poster, art cards and a detailed booklet. The movie is in decent shape (offered up in both 4K and HD editions) boosted by two soundtrack options that includes a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that although far from a surround showcase, sounds heftier and sharper than the otherwise acceptable stereo score. The picture whilst understandably gloomy is detailed and does the job marred only by an overly soft presentation. I didn’t get to check out the 4K transfer as I don’t have access currently to a 4K screen. Extras consist of a 52 minute documentary, deleted scenes etc. and four commentaries – which round off a very impressive package. Oh and they threw the CD soundtrack in also.


(the movie) 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5

Inside Llewyn Davis

Viewed – 02 June 2014 pay-per-view

I was apprehensive when I first heard about this, and the only real reason I wanted to give it a go was the fact it was from famed directing siblings Joel & Ethan Coen, who have made some of the best movies I have ever seen, with a couple of missteps along the way, granted (Intolerable Cruelty?).  Yet generally I’d say, they can do no wrong even if the subject matter this time, that of the week in the life of a singer during the 60’s folk scene in New York, didn’t appeal at first.inside_llewyn_davis

Oscar Isaac plays Llewyn, a guy who just can’t seem to cut a break, as he drifts through day to day life, crashing on various friend’s couches, trying to cope with a girl’s unexpected pregnancy (an eye-catching Carrie Mulligan) and at the same time looking after a cat he just can’t seem to get rid of.  It’s quirky and full of oddball characters, something of a Coen trademark and yes we get a great cameo from Coen regular John Goodman as a philosophical passenger during a late night car journey.  Yet it’s the star making turn from Isaac that stands out most, clearly a gifted singer in his own right, his lovable charm, even when he’s being disgruntled and obnoxious, shines and I really cared for his journey.  Justin Timberlake turns up too as a rather hippy-ish lounge singer, and it’s a site to behold.

The movie is shot with a moody, smog filled noir-ish sheen and at times looked quite beautiful and add to this a collection of enjoyable songs and some emotional and make-you-ponder moments (singing to his dad in the care home, the meaning of the turn off to Akron…), even if this movie doesn’t reveal much or tell you a great deal about the era or the main character – time spent in his company is one I’d firmly recommend.

Verdict:  4 /5


Viewed – 21 December 2011  Blu-ray

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a Christmas movie.  Last year was a bit of a let down (cough, A Christmas Carol, cough), but this year I was borrowed this much-loved movie starring comedy star Will Ferrell.  Telling the tale of a baby who when Santa visited an orphanage, snook into his sack, and it wasn’t until Santa returned to the North Pole that he discovered he had a stowaway.  Deciding to bring up the human baby amongst the elves in his workshop, after 30 years, Poppa Elf realises that ‘buddy’ the elf should be told the truth, and so sends him to New York to track down his real father, a mean-spirited business man, played by James Caan.

This is thoroughly charming stuff.  At first I found it a touch too kiddie, with its near-cartoon like rendition of the north pole etc, but once events jumped to the big apple, I really began to enjoy myself.  Will Ferrell is clearly a gifted comedy actor, and reminds me of Chevy Chase to a degree, and his slapstick antics and just all round likability, made him very easy to watch.  Supporting Ferrell is James Caan in a role he’s done plenty of times, and doesn’t really deliver anything surprising (what, the mean business man discovers his softer side eventually?  Who didn’t see that coming?!), and love-interest Zooey Deschanel is gorgeous, but offers little more than a pretty face and a good singing voice, with wafer-thin characterisation.

This is clearly Ferrell’s show then, which is no bad thing as he’s often laugh-out-loud funny, with many of the fish-out-of-water situations really hitting my funny bone.  Considering up until now I was feeling a bit bar-humbug, this has got me in the Christmas spirit no end, and at this time of year, who can ask for more?  The ending also, was feel-good heaven.

Verdict:  4 /5


Viewed – 12 February 2011  Online rental

Another summer event picture I missed out on in 2010, in no small part due to my own ‘meh’ feelings towards Angelina Jolie.  The world seems to love her and I wonder what the fuss is about, yet in this sort of material, she is perfectly suited and is probably one of the more credible action-heroines around.  I certainly wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of her.  Angelina plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who goes on the run after being accused by a Russian defector as being an undercover spy with intentions of assassinating the Russian President during a visit to New York.  Chased by her fellow agents, headed by Liev Schreiber, this is a movie that has the audience guessing throughout just which team Salt is batting for.  Is she really a Russian spy or has she been set up? 

Director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, The Saint) fills the movie with some breathtaking action sequences, with Jolie proving herself every bit the action star and even though the mystery plot may mean you’re confused and questioning Salt’s actions, the feeling of excitement and fun is never far away.  On it’s own merits the experience is a little frustrating and over way too soon, but taken as a feminine version of The Bourne Identity and as the start of a larger franchise, this is a great taster of what is hopefully to follow, and left this viewer thirsty for more. 

Apologies Miss Jolie, I’m beginning to see what all the fuss is about – even if you do still kind of scare me.   

Verdict:  3 /5