Salvador


Viewed – 22 July 2020. Blu-ray

Oliver Stone has always been one of my favourite directors. This at times politically-charged film-maker has often impressed with powerful war movies like Platoon or hard-hitting satire with his controversial Natural Born Killers. I recall being quite affected by this 1986 drama portraying the violence and civil unrest in El Salvador that broke out in the early eighties. James Woods plays a desperate, seasoned journalist on hard times out to get that big story, who travels into El Salvador along with his friend, played by James Belushi. However once there he realises he may have under-estimated the dangers of the situation as war breaks out.

Revisiting this movie many years after first seeing it, I didn’t remember much but it still packed a punch. There’s some recognisable faces amongst its support cast (is that the bad guy from Crocodile Dundee 2 and the girl from Predator?) that screams 80s. However the imagery can at times be surprisingly unflinching, mixed in with I’m guessing real-life victim footage and most likely real-life residents of the area for added authenticity. Woods, an actor I’ve often enjoyed watching is good but a little too caricature for the otherwise realistic tone. His motor-mouth performance also makes him stand out and look a bit out of place. Belushi is rather annoying too. John Savage on the other hand as a war photographer proves the most believable.

Above and beyond all of that, it’s Oliver Stone’s direction, his camera-work and the gradual, building tension and constant threat of.violence that stands out, even if the more shocking scenes can seem a tad forced (the scene with the women on the bus). Yet this still retained its power even 30+ years later. Worth a watch.

The Blu-Ray from Eureka’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ label has a good to very good image quality with only the occasional appearance of flickering. Close-ups and larger scale scenes all look detailed and vibrant. Audio is presented in either the original mono or a new 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track which is mostly decent but occasionally sound seems to drop in quality like its reverting to its mono track. Doesn’t happen often enough to be a major issue though. Extras consist of a very worthwhile commentary by director Oliver Stone as well as a 62 minute making of called ‘Into the Valley of Death’, interviews, deleted scenes and a trailer. Also included in this release is a detailed booklet with an essay by film critic Barry Forshaw.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-Ray) Recommended

Born On The Fourth Of July


Viewed – 12 April 2012  Blu-ray

During the eighties and early nineties, movies exploring the Vietnam war became a genre all of their own.  Some of the finest examples of cinema came out of such an uprising, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Robert DeNiro classic The Deer Hunter and also this often forgotten gem from Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers).

Tom Cruise plays real-life war veteran Ron Kovick, who after being injured in combat, went on to become a much celebrated activist for the ending of the war in Vietnam, which had claimed thousands of lives through the late sixties and early seventies.  Unlike some of the best ‘Nam movies though, this doesn’t focus on the conflict, but more on the people affected by it, especially Kovick whose life was turned upside down by his injury and his beliefs.  Stone’s movie is powerfully put together with an unforgettable score from John Williams and a career best from Cruise.  It packs a helluva punch too, heart-breaking and utterly absorbing, with an attention to detail Stone has become famous for (nabbing an Oscar for his efforts).  He remains possibly the best director of American history and tells it without glamour or rose-tinted glasses, but as it was, warts and all.  Surrounding cast members, such as Willem Dafoe, Kyra Sedgwick and the much underrated Frank Whaley are all very convincing too, even if its clear from the outset, Cruise is the star.

Perhaps in this age of CGI and amazing effects, some of the make-up and aging looks a tad weak, and at times the sentimental tone is hammered home a bit too strong.  Also I’d have liked more Vietnam action, but that’s a personal preference.  That being said, this is a movie that excels in its emotion and story, and has a draining but also uplifting quality that for me, makes it a classic.  Highly recommended.

The Blu-ray I am glad to report has an excellent picture.  Detail throughout is very good.  Grain does get a little heavy in darker scenes, but this retains the crisp quality of the image so I’m not complaining.  The movie’s soundtrack also has a good thump to it, and John William’s score as well as plenty of music all help create a good experience.  Extra’s consist of some archive news footage and a commentary from the director, which if you have ever listened to Oliver Stone talking you through a movie, is worth its weight in gold.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

More Natural Born Killers


Following my previous post reviewing the theatrical cut of the movie, I have recently got hold of the director’s cut on blu-ray (still currently only available in the U.S.), and although I stand by the review, saying what is available in this uncensored version has little effect on the overall entertainment of the movie, any fan of Natural Born Killers should know – this is a movie that should never have been cut in the first place.  Finally we get the warts-and-all complete version, that although structurally identical to the theatrical cut, has just that little bit more attitude and bite.

New to the Blu-ray director’s cut is a 22 minute documentary exploring the impact of the movie and how it would be treated in this internet, information-obsessed age, which is invaluable – as is the older ‘chaos rising’ featurette that appeared on the DVD version of this cut.  Add to this all the extras from the previous release and a 44 page booklet (with a new Oliver Stone introduction) that is basically a re-issue of the original releases’ book contents.  Shame on Warners for making us double-dip, but if like me you need to have NBK in your collection, this is well worth the purchase.

Still one of the boldest, daring and craziest main-stream movies ever made.

Natural Born Killers


Viewed – 06 Feb 2009  Blu-ray

This is probably one of the most familiar films I have seen, having watched it several times over the years.  Telling the tale of love struck serial killers Mickey & Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson & Juliet Lewis) and the media frenzy they inspire during a three week state-to-state killing spree.  Hot on their heels is maverick TV journalist Wayne Gail (a stunningly crazy Robert Downey Jr) and loose-cannon detective Jack Scagnetti (Tom Sizemore).

natural-born-killers

One of the most talked about movies of controversial director Oliver Stone’s career, this energetic satire of violence and the media is still as relevant now as it was back in 1994.  Some may see the film as just unrelenting violence, whilst others see it as a very intelligent attack on the media and its glamorisation of violence for the sake of ratings.  All angles are explored here, and no safe answers are given – Stone is never that easy to point the finger and answer your questions at the same time, he prefers you to make up your own mind.

Shot throughout with a hyperactive editing style, the film mixes stock footage, varying film types such as Super 8 to 35mm, black & white and animation, as well as images that vary from nightmarish to sexual.  Also worth mentioning is that the soundtrack is packed with some incredible choices of music from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith and Nine Inch Nails.  This may not be to everyones taste but when music and visuals come together, it works magnificently, lifting a fairly conventional lovers on the lam story to the heights of truly remarkable viewing.  Its an experiment that in my opinion makes this one of the most daring and unique movies of the last twenty years. 

This U.S. Blu-ray version is the theatrically released R-rated cut, and anyone who is familiar with the slightly longer directors cut may think twice before purchasing – but let me say this now … there is very little difference in the two cuts, and as far as scenes, tone and entertainment is concerned, both are identical.  I own both cuts of this film and can safely reassure anyone hesitating with this release that apart from extended violence in several scenes, none of the actual scenes are ruined as far as censorship is concerned.  I’ll even go as far to say that some of the additional violence comes across as excessive and unnecessary, and isn’t really missed by this viewer (apart from maybe the opening).  Now what is important is that the Blu-Ray picture is very nice indeed, even if during some of the best looking shots the details seem a little too smooth even approaching a plasticky-look that I have heard can happen when transferring back catalogue films to the high definition format.  But its still probably the best this film has looked in years – and with the differing style of film used throughout, we’re never going to get something that looks like Casino Royale anyway.  Sound wise we’re treated to a punchy Dolby True HD soundtrack that kicks ass for a film that is already a treat to the ears.  Extras are thin on the ground with the Chaos Rising documentary strangely absent from this release.  But we do get some interesting deleted scenes (my fave is the courtroom) and a commentary from Oliver Stone that is an essential listen for a film with so much to say.

Verdict:  4 /5