Something Wild


Viewed – 16 June 2018  Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it.  Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had.  Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had.  Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.

something wild

Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence.  Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller.  Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas.  Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto.  Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare.  The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story.  Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.

criterionThis UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming.  The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots.  There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation.  The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch.  Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson.  On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer.  Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  2.5 /5

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Goodfellas


Viewed – 30 May 2015  Blu-ray

25th Anniversary Edition

I remember when I first saw this widely acclaimed mob drama, that somehow despite my love of the genre, I had taken several years to get around to watching it (I did a similar thing with The Shining…).  Suffice to say I was blown away.  Director Martin Scorsese who I best knew from Taxi Driver and After Hours (remember that?) had delivered his masterpiece in a genre he seemed to know like the back of his hand.  Yes before this hit we had movies like The Godfather and Scarface to name but two, but something about this small-time mob enforcers tale, especially the rags-to-riches-journey Henry Hill goes on from a wet-behind-his-ears kid to a connected wise guy, was a revelation.  In may ways the movie has similarities to John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood which borrows a similar structure, but told on a more epic scale, ‘Fellas delivers the ultimate gangster drama that also happens to be based on a true story.

Goodfellas

Ray Liotta play’s Henry, a street kid from a Jewish background who winds up working for the local mobsters at the cab stand, and gradually learns all the underworld dealings of being a gangster.  Before long he’s rubbing shoulders with Joe Pesci’s volatile Tommy and Robert DeNiro’s charismatic Jimmy.  Aided by Liotta’s excellent narration (the deep tone of his voice adding to much of the movie’s iconic status) along with Scorsese pulling out every directing trick in the book – a stellar soundtrack, superlative editing, slow motion, zooms, speed ups and clever-ass tracking shots – this had it all.  Each performance electrifies and compliments one another; Lorraine (The Sopranos) Bracco’s Karen is the perfect female morality figure, Pesci brings humour and crazy psychosis to a character that earned him an Oscar …. and DeNiro’s class makes Jimmy likeable but also complex and scary.  Add to this great turns from Paul Sorvino (“now I gotta turn my back on you”) and especially Roy Liotta who brings a nervous out-of-his-depth quality to a character who throughout knows exactly what he’s a part of, but still looks and acts uncomfortable when things get nasty.  Oh and do things get nasty … from the beating and murder of Billy Batts to the various stabbings, skewers in the back of the head, a gun being repeatedly bashed against someone’s face etc. etc.  But for some reason it all just fits and never feels quite as gratuitous as Casino.  This is why compared to that other Scorsese mob drama, this zips along, has a more gripping ‘journey’ and just has stand out scene after stand out scene (“funny how, how am I funny, like I’m a clown?”).

One of the best movies ever made, and certainly the finest gangster movie ever made.

goodfellas 25This re-release for the movie’s 25th anniversary comes with a glossy and detailed full colour booklet as well as a letter from the director himself.  Add to this a whole extra disk of special features that houses a brand new documentary featuring cast and crew (sadly no Pesci!) and several archive docs covering the production and the movie’s legacy.  On the movie itself, we get a cast & crew commentary and a second crook and cop commentary (featuring Henry Hill and the FBI agent that caught him!) which were found on the 20th anniversary edition.  What’s most important though is the picture and sound.  Presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio the music, dialogue and everything else is crisp even if the surrounds aren’t especially showcased.  The image-quality (from a 4k master apparently) whilst a little grainy and rather soft in places (especially street scenes) retains good detail, especially in close-ups and faces.  Overall not too bad a job for a genuine classic.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

Scenes that make the movie


I’ve been thinking about this idea for a post.  Ten memorable scenes from some of my favourite movies of all time, or simply great moments that make a particular movie going experience stick in my head.  This may become a continuing series as I recall other great moments…but for now, here are ten stand out moments from great movies:  Minor spoilers.

Akira

Teddy bears & hallucinations.

Akira Gif

As a telepathic Kaneda post-brush with an infected child of the Akira experiment, recovers in hospital, he begins to experience terrifying hallucinations where teddy bears and toys comes to life as his powers start to manifest in horrifying ways.  One of the defining moments of this complex and ground-breaking Anime.

An America Werewolf In London

Stick to the road

AAWIL Moores

Two back packers after stumbling into local watering hole The Slaughtered Lamb are ushered back out into the night, with simply the warning of ‘stay on the road, keep clear of the moores’ – which they subsequently ignore and are soon stalked by a blood thirsty werewolf in John Landis’ still superb 1984 horror classic.

Blue Velvet

In Dreams

Blue Dean

Amateur detective Kyle MacLachlan gets a little too close to nut-job mobster Dennis Hopper who takes him for a visit to his cross-dressing neighbourhood friend Dean Stockwell, who lip-syncs to Roy Orbinson’s timeless classic in possibly one of David Lynch’s most freaky and brilliant scenes.

Boogie Nights

Disco montage

Boogie Nights

As former nobody Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) rises to infamy in the seventies porn movie industry, we are treated to this fabulous disco montage, cut seamlessly with various shots of Dirk ‘in action’ or receiving awards and culminating in a wonderfully choreographed dance number with fellow stars Reed Rothchild (John C Reilly) and Roller-girl (Heather Graham).

Eyes Wide Shut

The secret sex party

eyes wide shut

Only in a Stanley Kubrick movie can a high society sex orgy come across as creepy and surreal.  The master film maker in probably his most misunderstood work, presents the viewer with a secret society that Tom Cruise manages to sneak inside of and witness the debauchery of most-likely high profile dignitaries with various high class call girls.  All to a haunting, incredibly eerie score.

Goodfellas

Paranoia, drugs and guns

goodfellas paranoid

In the final act of the movie an increasingly paranoid Ray Liotta, struggles to juggle family responsibilities with fencing guns for Robert DeNiro and avoiding what he thinks is an FBI helicopter during the day from hell.  Expertly edited for maximum tension and intensity by the grand master Martin Scorsese.

Monsters Inc.

A chase through the doors

monsters-inc

After discovering the main villain’s evil scheme, Billy Crystal’s motor-mouthed Mike and John Goodman’s lovable Sully are chased by Steve Buscemi’s dastardly Randall into the inner workings of the Monsters Inc. facility and through a plethora of doors into the human world.  Exciting, inventive and visually stunning.

Pulp Fiction

Jack Rabbit Slims

pulp gif

In a mob movie with pop-culture quoting wise guys and a soundtrack to die for, who’d have thought one of the best scenes would be a night out between John Travolta’s mob hitman and gangsters-mol Uma Thurman?  Culminating in the world famous Twist Contest.  Sharp dialogue, a highly memorable setting, and an after-math that segway’s into probably the other best scene in this movie.

Saving Private Ryan

Omaha Beach Landing

After visiting the final resting place of hundreds of soldiers, an elderly veteran recalls his experience with tears in his eyes – switch to the shocking beach onslaught in Omaha in 1944 as thousands of troops fight against impossible odds.  A stunning opening to one of the greatest WWII movies ever made, with star (Tom Hanks) and director (Steven Spielberg) on blistering form.

Trainspotting

Clubbing to Blondie.

transpotting

Taking a break from ripping people off and doing drugs, Ewan McGregor’s Renton finds himself on a night out with friends, hitting the clubs and listening to Heaven 17 and Blondie (or Sleeper doing a marvellous version of Atomic), where he meets Diane (Kelly MacDonald) and leads to a montage of sex, alcohol and pulse-pounding music in Danny Boyle’s break-out gem.

Do you agree with my list?  Have favourite scenes of your own?  Leave your comments below or link to your own lists…

Killing Them Softly


Viewed – 20 March 2013  Blu-ray

Brad Pitt has been out of the spotlight of late, what with his rocky relationships and unsightly beards … but I was glad to hear of this crime thriller, with the Pitster (yes, I just said that) sporting a goatee, slicked back hair and shades … and basically being a bad-ass.  Shame then I suppose that it takes quite some screen time before he actually arrives in this above average thriller.

Killing-them-softly

This follows the story of two wet-behind-the-ears crooks who get given the task of robbing a poker game run by the local mob  Pitt plays a hit-man hired to step in and figure out who screwed who, and hopefully not ‘wack’ the wrong guy.  Add to this small but memorable appearances from Ray Liotta and James Gandolfini, and all the ingredients are here for a decent piece of entertainment.

Set during the Obama / Cain election campaign for some reason, this attempts to be a bit of a commentary on the American way of life, but much of that went over my head.  More interested was I in the sharp, engrossing dialogue, good performances and first-rate direction from Andrew Diminik (cult Ozzy film ‘Chopper’) who brings no end of style and panache to proceedings, with some showy camera work and clever use of CGI.  This had shades of Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann at times, and the presence of actors from both Goodfellas and TV’s The Sopranos all set the scene perfectly.  Sometimes the dialogue drags on a bit and it’s a little lacking in action, but with some infrequent but jolting moments of brutal violence and a good soundtrack I came away suitably impressed.

Verdict:  4 /5

Identity


Viewed – 30 October 2010  DVD

I had heard good things about this one, that it was a clever murder mystery with one of my favourite actors, John Cusack, who always impresses.  So sitting down to it, we have a group of strangers whose varying circumstances cause them to end up stranded at a motel during a rainstorm.  With all roads flooded and the telephones not working, they must come together as a killer starts to murder them one at a time.

This classy setup, albeit unoriginal, plays like a cross between an Alfred Hitchcock movie and an episode of Tales From The Crypt, with the setting reeking of dread and tension and each character pointing the finger at the next.  Yet this is also a movie that isn’t exactly what it appears to be, and soon events transpire to completely baffle and surprise this viewer.  Cusack is uniformly great as the Limo driver / ex-cop who tries to keep everyone calm and figure out what’s going on, joined by an equally brilliant Ray Liotta as a Police Lieutenant escorting a prisoner.  A supporting cast of otherwise unknowns also make the grade, and I was certainly caught up in the mystery – but felt somewhat cheated by the outcome, of which I wont spoil for you here.  It just came across to me as somewhat too clever and mischievous, ultimately spoiling for me what was beforehand a workman like but entertaining thriller.

But as it stands, this is still a very enjoyable and unique movie with some great moments and keeps you thinking about it well after the credits roll.  I just felt it was trying to be a little too clever for its own good.

Verdict:  3 /5