IR BD Review: THE SNOWMAN [Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

The aspect of “The Snowman” is wrapped in the different precipice of a Scandinavian thriller. If it were presented simply as that and not as a major Hollywood thriller, it might have fared better. The texture of the story despite being a graphic novel is simply a little too off kilter in terms of storytelling structure than it needs to be. Thomas Alfredson’s films are effective but, in all frankness, slightly more akin to an art house crowd. Mark Romanek roams in a similar hemisphere, not to say they cannot take on larger fare but their storytelling is more akin to eccentric character fare. Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole, an intrepid detective with more than a little bit to hide. He seems effervescent and yet removed. A new detective aware of his previous cases played by Rebecca Ferguson shadows him. Whereas Ferguson enjoyed some chemistry with Tom Cruise in the “Mission Impossible” outing, here the interaction seems very droll and that might have to do with the direction. Ultimately for American audiences, no one was aware of the character to begin with so the fanfare behind it was what perplexed US audiences. The movie isn’t awful. It’s sensibility is a bit off. Tinker Taylor, which Alfredson had done previous, had a similar progression in pace. An aside is also the inclusion of Val Kilmer, post op, which is both interesting and disheartening in its presentation also because the use of heavy ADR with a different voice seems to be what has happened. The extras seems to address the idea of Harry Hole being such a hallowed character in Scandinavia along with profiling the author Jo Nesbo. The aspects of the different locations in Norway do highlight a beautiful aspect of the films (there are some beautiful flying over bridges sequences) but there is not a sense of true geography. There is also an anatomy of a scene which takes place on a frozen lake, both capture on site and in studio. “The Snowman” is not bad yet not great and wholly unexceptional.

D

By Tim Wassberg

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IR BD Review: PERSONAL SHOPPER [Criterion Collection]

The continuation of Kristen Stewart approaching material that is both poignant and self reflexive continues with “Personal Shopper” directed by Olivier Assayas who also directed her in her Cesar award winning performance in “Clouds Of Sils Maria”. This tome has a slightly more supernatural tone but always off screen (for the most part) and below the surface but works with Stewart’s almost retreating delivery. She almost doesn’t want to let the audience in but then in certain moments of vulnerability and poignancy lets herself go. The irony of “Personal Shopper” which Assayas wrote for Stewart is the fact that many designers want to dress her and here she plays a girl who shops for a famous celebrity and longs to wear the clothes but never takes the chance. The film does use the texting element of a unknown stalker who might be her twin, a would be murderer or possible romantic interest quite liberally. While at times a slightly lazy plot device, it intersects with the idea of being invisible in plain sight which thereby works for the progression. The final resolve, like all good films (European or otherwise), is that it leaves the viewer with a question to the nature of the lead character and her state of being (or unbeing) as it were. The interview included with Assayas speaks to the reflexive nature of what the film proposes while the Cannes press conference shows Stewart as well as fellow cast members. Again in responding to the press, Stewart both tries to stay forthcoming while protecting a little bit of the mystery for her. For that reason, the interceding paradox of the art works to admirable effect in “Personal Shopper”.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: STARSHIP TROOPERS – TRAITOR OF MARS [Sony Pictures Home Entertainment]

The impact of “Starship Troopers” over the years is as much a force of sheer will as in the ideas it presents. Like a novel like “Dune”, the essence of political upheaval is always cyclical. Having done interviews for the original film as well as the first of the CG offshoots, it is interesting to see the essence of creativity but also of choice in the ongoing adventures which have been helped by the increasing possibility of CG animation even on lower budgets. “Starship Trooper: Traitor Of Mars” is one of the best follow ups so far simply because of the scope and the texture of the bug attacks using an essence of Mars as a back drop. While there are throwbacks and even harks to aspects of “Total Recall” in terms of the final solution, the progression of the story and of its underdog pinnings works well in congruence with the original story. The other aspect which was undeniably drawing for me personally as a review was Dina Meyer’s character Diz from the original who didn’t survive beyond that outing. That was one of the most grounded and connective aspects in all around effective film was her and Johnny Rico’s romance. Her voice is brought back into the fold here and used to good available though storywise it is reaching quite a bit. An explanation which is slightly inferred is not brought to fruition so even leaving it open ended does nothing for the story except bridge it. This is one of the story’s strengths but obviously its shortcomings. Technically a lot of what is done (although in many ways an original Machinima type piece) is entertaining and also timely (especially with the way the Sky Marshall and sense of loss is handled. The extras which focus more on a series of interviews with Casper Van Dien (who plays Johnny Rico) as well as Ed Nuemeier (who wrote the movie screenplay as well as this outing give perspective as does interviews with the creative team in Japan. Not eye opening but definitely solidly done.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: THE NEON DEMON [Broad Green Pictures]

“Neon Demon” is the sort of piece that might make “Mean Girls” or “Heathers” blush but it is the texture of society to push things farther. The metaphorical styling of Nicolas Winding Refn who made his splash in “Drive” shows how the incompetence of passion melds with the human psyche. Here the beauty myth, seen in its many forms, transcends the notion of beauty to one of ambition…the texture that being almost the best isn’t enough. Elle Fanning comes into her own here playing still the young ingenue but with a naivete and blind fury of ignorance that infuriates the models around her. Refn populated the film with many models and as the ending scene attests there is a sense of retribution in its sarcasm. Fanning’s character follows a path of wanton identity but one where the backwards armpits of LA both feed and nuture her in haunting ways. Keanu Reeves, who revels at times in darker textures, add a small intention of star power but in a role that paints back his indie roots in “River’s Edge” and “My Own Private Idaho”. But as good as Fanning is at points, the movie’s heart and wretched soul below to Jena Malone who again shows her ability to stretch her boundaries. There is an Oscar winner glimpsing inside her. Jodie Foster definitely saw that in her in earlier films…a mantle somewhat taken up earlier by Kristen Stewart, who like her former beau Robert Pattinson, is not taking the big paychecks but instead pursuing more character-based work which ultimately will give them legs in the long run. The other star in addition to Winding Refn’s blood and neon-stoked aesthetic is the synth driven beauty of a score by Cliff Martinez. It truly drives the film. The commentary, although unremarkable, is Fanning’s first commentary in which she is accompanied by Winding Refn. The other feature shows an element of the thinking behind the score which again is one of the movie’s many strong points. “Neon Demon” is a dark parable of sorts and, as always, Winding Refn’s worlds, like it or not, draw one in.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR DVD Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS – Part I [Warner Home Video]

Approaching and trying to compare Frank Miller’s late 1980s dystopian opus “The Dark Knight Returns” to the new animated perception of it requires a degree of separation. Miller’s perception of a darker view of the older, worn-down exploits of Gotham’s crime fighter can be reflected at times in “The Dark Knight Rises”. In adapting this noir progression, the director and animators do an effective job of respecting the source material and the dark color schemes. “TDKR” was always a difficult property to adapt because of the age of its lead character but also the general myopic view of the state of society. Most of the graphic novel works from the access of how the news media sees how these ideals in the world function. Oddly enough, what Frank Miller envisioned in 1986 is much more prevalent today than it ever was because of the internet and cable television. While The Mutants (including their grandly fat leader — who has more than a passing mixture of DeVito’s Penguin and Tom Hardy’s Bane), there is something less human and more lethal about them especially with his physical form (like the Clown from “IT”). The story has a built-in cliffhanger which probably intersperses itself from the books. This is the crux of the waking of Joker out of a coma in Arkham Asylum which is nicely played within the final moments without overarching what it means. The intermittance of a new female Robin actually plays more into the texture of today even more so than in the 80s when it was written. The use of incessant incantations of blood also in a more realistic setting does set the progression aside because it feels more grounded. The small featurette on the disc points to the next installment with a little bit of animation as well as concept drawings which seem to keep it in texture. The inclusion of a promo for a dark Batman/Superman animated film where they are hunted down like villains keeps in the track of the general tones of the DVD. The presentation of “The Dark Knight Returns – Part I” is bare bones but understands necessity and the point of the track without overdoing it.

B

IR DVD Review: KING OF THORN [Funimation]

The intention of another plague like the one in the Middle Ages seems like a given at some point in modern life. The key is how does one fight against this kind of knowledge versus what we are able to control. “King Of Thorn” attacks this idea with an old world resonance, using mythology against us. The “Medousa” virus is born out of that legend of the woman/lizard who turned men to stone with a glance. The same element rules here with an incubation period of 60 days which is 100% fatal. Creating a Noah’s Ark type scenario, a scientist brings together a way to stop the virus until a cure can be found. The set up is wonderfully clever despite many holes along the way. The director interview on the extras would have one believe that everything is tied in together (which might be true) but the reality is that there is a lack of clarity on first viewing. The visuals and labyrinth approach in terms of structure are quite interesting but, not unlike the new “Dredd”, it suffers as well from the “just-get-out” problem. The reality is that the timeline and the basis of two twins becoming the catalyst for dreams (or video games) coming to life just doesn’t connect. The back story which involves the lead scientist and CEO finding an alien that was created by a little girl in Siberia by her mind tries to recount “Hellboy” but again without a truly specific through line. Even the intrigue behind the scenes with both the planted engineer as well as the soldier/spy sent in to protect the “experiment” seem a little far fetched. The influences from “Resident Evil” and beyond are apparent. The narrative is a bit clearer in the English dub but only based on the precedent of differences in accents and backgrounds in the character which for English speaking audiences cannot ascertain in the original Japanese dialogue. The eventual revelation of the two sisters as well as the connection to the computer/spirit of Alice has possibility but is not truly flushed out. The Q&A in the extras as well as the director interview tries to explain some of this but the visuals seem to take an overall higher road. The pilot film hints at something much more religious and intensive in the process and shows why the director got the job because there is scope. The overall film itself carries this but, towards the end, it forgets about context. The Japanese trailers do play to the strengths but the initial overseas trailer does the best job outside the pilot film. The US trailer uses different music which works but takes the idea in a different direction. In terms of other previews on the disc, “Stein’s Gate”, with its notions of time travel, has interesting possibilities until the microwave scenario cuts in. “Gai-Rei-Zero” in terms of its tone provides the most energy and darkness with a sense of knowing. “King Of Thorn” is ambitious in many ways and succeeds in some of them. However, despite its good ideas, there is a lack of overall clarity, some of which might be cleared up in consequent viewings, but nonetheless creates confusion on first impression.

C

IR DVD Review: FRACTALE [Funimation]

“Fractale” is a story of world consumed in technology and yet primarily rustic in its appearance. The series does bring up a texture of life experience versus life downloaded but the overall instinct lends itself with a bit of irony.

Disc 1 The presentation of a story of almost reverse technology tends to idealize the notion of simplicity over the ideas of “progress”. Religion, as with all things, takes its approach in the process but requires a sensibility to frame it in context. Here, the Fractale system can be seen as both a calming force or a means of control, as long as it is used for that specific reason. The key in telling the story is, of course, self-reverential. The character of Clain does find himself between two worlds in his ability to access the technology but has a love for analog things which, more often than not, opens new possibilities for him where none might necessarily arise. A young woman, a priestess of sorts, falls literally into his life and he is smitten. Now granted he has not seen many girls before so this becomes a structure of irony anyway. What she brings, which is a continued mystery in the world, is a doppel. In this world, people function towards the idea of being in every place at once which allows them to do many simultaneous things (which they do through artificial constructs). Clain heads out to help the priestess but finds a sort of civil war progressing where certain people want to be unplugged. The land itself is not wasted but it is barren compared to say the fields that were tilled before because nobody needs to do to exist. Now work apparently gets done through the doppels but its execution is vague. Like “Waterworld”, these “unplugged” people are in search for an oasis but they are not quite sure where. The Japanese language and subtitles are more straightforward while the English dub progresses more playfully though only for the first couple episodes. The commentary explores the balance of technology and the Celtic influence but not with any real depth.

Disc 2 Continuing on within the structure of a trinity of friends that will not leave each other, the series continues its religious connotations in effectively pursuing the assimilation of one whole. The participants are struggling against their respective destinies thinking that something different should befall them. After getting a taste of the Fractale universe through the city of Xanadu, Clain realizes that the basis of what people are fighting for is not all it is cracked up to be. Entering into the temple (another religious connotation) as a heightened doppel (think the Holy Spirit in the Catholic religion) becomes more and more brazen in her rescue attempts, the trio finally acquiesces to their fate. The interesting progression is that nothing really changes. The balance effectively moves in the idea that Clain himself is on a crusade to save both these women, who hold different emotions for him (whether they be real or not). Happening upon a cloning structure of a girl fashioned to be “god” is a little heavy and doesn’t quite connect the dots. Save for some slang, the translation is similar on both sides of the coin. The promos both regular and Blu Ray speak to the two lead characters but hold out on the spiritual bridge between them which is the core of the series. The inclusion of an orchestral performance of a suite from the score highlights the almost John Williams-breathe of its sound., The textless songs as usual provide a depth filled backdrop while the trailer for “Tales Of Vesperia” stands out among the coming soon trailers.

“Fractale” is a retro-implication of technology gone awry that circles back around to notions of religion simply as a matter of course. These philosophies work well within the narrative bent of the show though at times, the notion of what the creators are exploring seems to get away from the texture of what the show is truly about: fate

B-