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

Greyhound


Viewed – 14 July 2020 Apple TV+

Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks is the latest name to appear exclusively on a streaming platform and shows that the digital medium and subscription services are making quite the impact. This based-on-true-events WWII drama has Hanks as a commander of an American warship given the unenviable task of escorting a fleet of ships across the ocean in 1942. However, they are not safe in the waters as a group of German U-Boats make an appearance.

A fairly simple setup paves the way for 90 minutes of gradually building tension as Hanks attempts to out-wit the Germans over several days before air support can arrive. The movie felt very authentic from the off, with plenty of I’m guessing realistic naval terms, that I’ll confess went a little over my head. Hanks as expected, is mesmerising and delivers a highly nuanced performance of a man with no small degree of humanity in the face of war and death. Support comes from Stephen Graham and Elizabeth Shue, both of which get very little to do, which goes to highlight this movie’s only failing … that of fairly one dimensional support characters, although the movie still managed to make me care, despite a lack of personality. Battles are visceral and heart-pounding and effects work throughout is decent, which delivers a real foreboding scale to the action.

Not as epic as similar fair but this is right, to the point and effective. Even if Hanks wasn’t in this, I would still have found it edge-of-the-seat stuff, but he does elevate it still and because of that I give this a firm recommendation. Just a shame it’s Apple TV exclusive because it surely deserves a wider audience.

Verdict: Recommended

The Post


Viewed – 29 May 2018  online-rental

It’s easy to gravitate towards a movie starring Oscar-magnet powerhouses Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks even if the setting and plot didn’t make it for me, a must see.  That being said, add legendary director Steven Spielberg and well, how could I refuse?

The Post

This at times eye-catching movie tells the story of the political controversy surrounding the Vietnam War in the early 70s and how one ailing newspaper helped expose years of cover-ups and lies. I found this intriguing from a world history stand point, aided by solid turns from not just Hanks & Streep but a plethora of recognisable faces.   Although I  have only a vague knowledge of what was going on at the time, and more familiarity with Hollywood’s somewhat glossy obsession with the war during the 80s, this proved a thought-provoking and in it’s second half, rather thrilling story.  Spielberg again proves himself a great director of actors as well as showcasing a keen eye for period-detail and atmosphere, making this a story very easy to get swept up in.

However, the movie takes a bit of time to get going, seriously glosses over many details on what really transpired back then, and I felt failed to fully explore the real-life figures played by Hanks & Streep.  Oh, and distant through-a-window silhouetted shots of President Richard Nixon just felt cheap.  So not Spielberg at his best, but still worth your time if the true story the movie is based on intrigues.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

American Sniper


Viewed – 01 August 2015  Online rental

Certainly one of the most talked about movies in recent memory that garnered a lot of attention around awards season, even though it was largely snubbed.  A shame as this true story of elite Navy Seal Sniper ‘Chris Kyle’ is powerful and very well acted, and a career best I’d say for actor Bradley Cooper.

American Sniper

During several tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kyle and his band of brothers face battles and atrocities as they attempt to track down various targets and get back home in one piece.  A rather unrecognisable Sienna Miller plays Kyle’s wife who is fighting her own battles raising two children whilst worrying about their father, as he becomes more and more traumatised by the horrors he witnesses.  This is a totally engrossing and authentic experience that pulls few punches when showing just how terrible war can get, and with the setting of a present day conflict, the back drop of 9/11 and real-world terrorism, I found this educational and heart breaking.  Cooper is excellent, considerably beefed up and probably more earnest and believable than I’ve ever seen him – he really went for it here, and it pays off.  If I was to nit-pick, I could say some of the other characters, such as Kyle’s brother and the other marines were under developed.  Also Iraqi locales are all portrayed rather one-dimensionally. Yet with a very strong central performance and some well directed action and battle scenes with plenty of tension – this was still a pretty formidable experience, that left me rather shaken.

Clint Eastwood once again proves he’s as much a presence behind the camera as he is in front, and has delivered a very well made, respectful and thought-provoking study of the harrowing effects of war and that of a true American hero.  Essential.

Verdict:  5 /5

The Monuments Men


Viewed – 26 July 2014 pay-per-view

On initially seeing the trailer to this true story set in WWII, the casting of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchet made me eager to see it.  I missed it at the cinema but immediately took the opportunity when it arrived for online rental.  Clooney who also directs is a soldier and professor who puts together a band of art historians and curators to journey into occupied France and Germany on a mission to take back stolen works of art.

monuments men_edited

Blanchet plays a woman who works for the German army but is secretly in league with the resistance who stumbles upon the Germans stealing priceless paintings as the war draws to a close.  Historically this was fascinating and the fact Hitler was after this art is quite eye-opening, and made me want to read up on more of what was going on back then.  Performance-wise this has an impressive roster of faces, although I found only Clooney and Blanchet stood out (her French accent is very good, and Clooney deliver’s emotional speeches brilliantly).  So what was the likes of Murray and Goodman doing here?  Of course I’m not expecting a comedy, but their presence just felt wasted, as neither got what you might call time in the spotlight. This was also a film of padding, with a few scenes just there and not really adding a great deal to the narrative (the smoking scene…).

On a plus this is a great looking movie.  Production is top-notch recreating the era convincingly and the set design and cinematography are both impressive.  The flirty pairing of Blanchet and Matt Damon was also interesting.  For a gentler take on events in WWII this was engrossing and at times quite moving.  I was left wishing there had been more danger and tension, but for the most part this was still good entertainment.

Verdict:  3.5 /5