The Game


Viewed – 22 August 2017  Blu-ray

20th Anniversary Edition

As an admirer of director David Fincher, this thriller from 1997 was one of those movies I’d forgotten he’d actually made.  At the time still riding high after the success of Seven, this rather high-concept but somewhat under-the-radar effort proved an obvious follow up; throwing in all the traits we’d come to expect from the director – bags of style, a twisting narrative and an attention to detail that has him often compared to Stanley Kubrick.

The-Game

Michael Douglas stars as wealthy businessman Nicholas Van Orton, a guy who seemingly has it all but is ultimately cold and miserable.  That is until on the day of his birthday, his brother, played by Sean Penn gives him the gift of ‘the game’.  Baffled and intrigued at the same time, Nicholas agrees to attend an interview at the organization responsible … and so sets into motion a unique thriller that clearly borrows from the likes of Hitchcock as Nicholas struggles to stay one step ahead of an increasingly bizarre series of events.

I’ve always liked Michael Douglas and he’s very good here, proving complex and likable for a character that is otherwise mean spirited and selfish.  Penn hams it up a little bit but proves enjoyable and Deborah Kara Unger is also decent.  The idea itself is great but ultimately isn’t fully realised and despite Fincher’s assured direction and best intentions … it could have gone further, been more elaborate but sticks rigidly to plausibility for the most part (despite throwing all that out the window for the final act).  Not one of Fincher’s best but still worth a look or revisiting for the concept or if you’re a fan of either Douglas or Fincher.

The Blu-ray boasts a quality image despite the occasionally soft-looking exterior or wide angle shots.  Close-up detail is good and dark scenes offer plenty of detail.  The movie is delivered in DTS Master Audio 5.1 and is for the most part punchy and immersive, even if in certain scenes dialogue gets a little lost in the atmospherics.  Extras consist of merely a couple of trailers – very poor, but perhaps not surprising for one of the director’s more over-looked movies.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3 /5

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The Gunman


Viewed – 26 March 2015  Cinema

Sean Penn isn’t the first person that comes to mind when you’re talking action movies … he’s more your method actor thesp with a few decent performances under his belt.  However with not a great deal to choose from at the cinema recently, this movie from the director of Taken (is that a trusted recommendation these days?) made for an intriguing prospect.

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Penn plays a special forces operative in the Congo on a top secret mission where he is involved in the assassination of a politician.  He subsequently goes into hiding following the hit and has to turn his back on his sultry girlfriend (Jasmine Trinca) and his best bud (Jarvier Bardem).  Eight year’s pass and he’s working as an aid worker in a  village when a hit squad recognise him and attempt to kill him.  Scared and worried who might have been talking, Penn goes about tracking down his former colleagues in search of answers.

Penn is on fine form and handles some slick, violent action with ease – this is certainly a side we don’t normally see from him and like his predecessor Liam Neeson he acquits himself with honours.  This surprises and shocks in equal measure with some brutal violence and an intense, nerve-wracking tone.  A clever brain-injury plot device aside, It lacks the emotional wallop of Taken and Penn doesn’t quite have Neeson’s charisma, but buffed up and breaking skulls a plenty, he still does a decent job.  Supporting cast especially Bardem as the grinning, shifty friend and a weary-looking but enjoyable Ray Winston add flavour and we even get Idris Elba as a shadowy Interpol agent.

It’s not about to spawn a franchise like Taken (thankfully) and probably won’t become a classic due to a sometimes confusing plot, but for fans of gritty, bone-crunching thrillers that don’t let up – this one is worth your time.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


Viewed – 18 May 2014  Blu-ray

Although when I was younger I would enjoy watching movies starring Danny Kaye on a Saturday afternoon, the original 1947 whimsical comedy wasn’t one I recall seeing.  Therefore although I usually hold remakes in some disdain, this one was more welcome.  Ben Stiller stars as loner office worker Walter who lives his life day dreaming about adventures, more than often featuring his workplace crush Cheryl (Kristen Wiig).  When the threat of redundancy puts everyone on edge at the magazine he works for, a telegram from a renowned explorer / photographer (Sean Penn) sees Walter clutching onto his last hope for adventure.

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This utterly charming and clever movie has Ben perfectly casting himself (he also directs!), equally well supported by the always lovely Kristen.  The movie takes the blueprint of the Danny Kaye movie and attempts to really go to town with it, resulting in lavish and outrageous fantasy set pieces such as rescuing a dog from a burning building and a Matrix-like street surfing battle with his boss (!).  It’s an idea that proves a bit hit-and-miss (who came up with the Benjamin Button sequence?) but livens up what would otherwise be a pleasant but very gentle story.  Add to this stunning cinematography with a Forest Gump-like tone for Walter’s globe trotting scenes, and this also proves a visual treat.

I found Walter’s motivation for setting off in search of the explorer, considering his employers are a bunch of arrogant dicks, lacked plausibility and the love story sub-plot with Wiig could have been more engaging if she’d tagged along (for real, not just in his head).  Add to this some artsy effects that didn’t always work (we see a brief text message displayed on the side of a mountain, that I had to rewind because I missed what it said…) and a (mostly) forgettable soundtrack … this almost fell short.  Thankfully Stiller is excellent and very likeable throughout and there’s enough feel good, heart-warming moments (Wiig’s Major Tom bit) and creative razzle-dazzle to make this one to check out.

Verdict:  4 /5

Carlito’s Way


Viewed – 15 June 2013  Blu-ray

This is one of those gangster thrillers that for some reason, I’ve never managed to see since the first time it hit VHS a number of years ago.  From that viewing, all I recall was that whilst good, it lacked a bit of action, and for me I found it a tad boring.  Now I suppose with more mature eyes, I was happy to sit down to this and take in the story and the acting with much more appreciation than I previously expected.

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Al Pacino plays Carlito, a recently paroled hood who is attempting to go straight.  Helped by his friend and lawyer, Sean Penn who pulled more than a few strings to get him an early release, he is soon helping run a nightclub and getting reluctantly re-acquainted with the local mobsters.  At the same time he tracks down his lost love, who he previously dumped when he got nabbed and thought he was looking at 30 years.  Directed by Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) and with a confident, complex turn from Pacino who makes a violent crook and former drug dealer sympathetic, this was quality viewing from the off.  De Palma has always been a very stylish and imaginative film maker, and here his talent is on fine form, with clever camera work (if not quite as showy as he’s known for), good choices of music and a gradually building momentum, leading to a very thrilling conclusion.

Penn although good, is a touch too weaselly for my liking, although Penelope Ann Miller is perfect as Carlito’s potential salvation.  I’m not a fan of John Leiguizamo either, but at least his part is only small here.  It’s also not as violent or as hard-hitting as other movies of the genre, but this isn’t about gangster’s doing gangster-shit, it’s about performance and story – and overall I enjoyed it a lot.

The Blu-ray, whilst a little light on extra features (we get a making of and a photo gallery … but no commentary?) the picture thankfully, is nicely detailed for the most part, despite a little fuzziness in some scenes.  The soundtrack, in 5.1 is more than acceptable too, and this remains a great movie to listen to.  Not the best Blu-ray out there, but as HD treatments, this was still pretty decent.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 / 5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5

21 Grams


Viewed – 25 August 2010  DVD

Always wanted to see this, mostly down to it having one of my favourite actresses in it, Naomi Watts.  Yet I had never got around to it until now.  Following what at first appear to be 3 unrelated stories, former drug addict Watts now married with two kids, an ex-con whose found God (Benicio Del Toro) and a heart-transplant patient on the brink of death (Sean Penn).  One tragic incident then has a devastating effect on all 3 characters lives and ultimately brings them together.  Told with a fractured narrative where it isn’t at first clear if you are viewing events from the past, present or future, with no actual explanation of when things are set, this thought-provoking drama could alienate some, who could first have a ‘I can’t make head nor tail of this’ reaction to it.  Yet I seriously urge you to stick with it, because like a puzzle, the pieces slowly begin to fall into place, and hopefully like me you’ll have a ‘I get it!’ moment of realisation, coming away amazed by the movie’s intelligence and raw, emotional power.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s movie boasts three incredible performances from its three main cast members, with a career defining Naomi Watts, even better than her amazing turn in Mulholland Drive, and with moments of intensity and totally convincing acting, this is one of those movies where all 3 should have got Oscars.  Sean Penn can add another great role to his already heavy-weight CV, and the often underrated Del Toro proves himself yet again as someone with real range and talent.  Not exactly cheery subject matter, I admit and has some strong scenes of violence and sex, but the authentic approach, fly on the wall style and heart-breaking twists and turns left me, in a word … astonished.

Verdict:  5 /5