True Grit [1969 – Paramount] – BD Review

As a reference of modern society, the Old West pervades the truer nature of American colonialism in a subsequently rawer form. While the nature of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns were more in the style of a mercenary texture where life revolves not around the law but at times in notions of vigilante justice, John Wayne’s ideals by comparison rested more in the texture of good ol’ boy Americana. Interestingly enough with the release of the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of the original book of “True Grit”, the comparison to this late 60s movie of the same name invariably comes into play. As the film which won him the Oscar for Best Actor, the key to Wayne here is him letting down his guard a little in front of the more progressive persuasion of Kim Darby as Mattie Ross. The wit of both fairly sharp using the inevitabilities of Wayne’s intention.

The inclusion within the cast of Dennis Hopper as a man who meets his end inside a shack and Robert Duvall as the murderous but intelligent Pepper gives the ideals of the movie credence before its time. Hopper’s “Easy Rider” was only a few months away while Duvall would make his entrance in “The Godfather” a few years later. The transfer on BD shows the inherent blues and barren tundra in the area around Ridgeway, Colorado where the film was shot (even though at first glance in the beginning of the film, certain town scenes can be mistaken for the Warner Ranch in Burbank). The use of day for night in a less-than-stellar fashion is glaringly obvious except for one small scene where Wayne’s Cogburn relates his road to bounty hunter of sorts (albeit one with a badge). The commentary by Western enthusiasts including Jeb & J. Stuart Rosebrook is little more than candy filling addressing the vernacular of the times while the most revealing shooting secrets they relate is that Kim Darby was deathly afraid of horses and was having family trouble so she had a hard time remembering her lines. Granted most of the people involved with the picture are not present in Hollywood anymore but even a perception by Duvall would be undeniably prudent.

Other small featurette extras include some parts of the same whole with “True Writing” talking about the adaptation which was written by Marguerite Roberts who earlier had been targeted by the McCarthy hearings. “Working With The Duke” reflects the more heroic textures of the man when the reality of his work style and intent of his health on this particular picture would have been much more telling. “Aspen Gold: The Locations Of True Grit” revels with character the textures of the land which makes the journey an integral part of the story. “The Law & The Lawless” like the writing segment before reflects the archetypal progression of the tide while still maintaining a certain code shared by these outlaws. “True Grit” is a product of its time but undeniably rooted in classic storytelling with true-to-vernacular dialogue. Out of 5, I give the BD a 2 1/2.

Kalifornia [20th Century Fox] – BD Review

“Kalifornia” operates as one of those great almost unraveling noir mysteries where you know the ending ala “The Vanishing” but are unable to pull away from its road of self destruction. Watching the new transfer of the movie on BD, the idea of this serial killer road movie plays just as well with the blacks and blues dominating the frame which Dominic Sena (who would later make “Gone In 60 Seconds”) puts to exceptional effect. Formulaic but caricatured in its progression (especially within the ideas of these people), the execution is still infinitely entertaining with the underrated Brad Pitt (at the time) taking extreme effort in character very early in his career. While the depth of his character Early might not be all there, the simply bombastic and immersive nature of his demeanor is quite impressive. The balance here is playing Juliette Lewis against type after she had just played Mallory Knox in “Natural Born Killers” to Pitt’s personification to that point as the hitchhiker in “Thelma & Louise”. Here Juliette’s innocent play against Pitt’s loner, who has a degree of charm in his path to destruction, gives the drama a little more weight.

A young David Duchovny, playing to a more modern standard against his Mulder character at times balances the progression with a very svelt Michelle Forbes who later went onto her role in “Battlestar Galactica” though at the time she was a cast member on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” The transfer of the picture itself is distinct especially in the views across Southern Nevada. The grain structure doesn’t interfere with the viewing experience which is a distinct problem with some of the pictures more than 15 years old because in souping them up, the lines become more distinct. The resolution in terms of plot still plays a little too horror movie since it is the detachment and persistence of Pitt’s character that paints real despite the lack of rationale for his actions. The inflected humor of Pitt playing a Southern boy is what clears the path for the reaction of the dark side which you can see switch in his eyes at one point when Juliette’s character Adele (whom he calls “Momma”) turns against him. “Kalifornia” is not the greatest made or acted film but it understands itself punctuating with an edge that seems even more diametric in this unrated cut. In terms of extras, only the trailer persists and even that speaks out too much to the movie instead of teasing the mystery of what is to come. Out of 5, I give the “Kalifornia” BD a 2 1/2.

Escape From New York [20th Century Fox] – BD Review

Looking at the post apocalyptic take on Manhattan Island as a prison in the new BD release of “Escape From New York” shows the intense wonderment of kitche that John Carpenter could bring to his movies. The low-tech but seemingly slick progression of the film is highlighted by the fact that the characters don’t hide who they are, whether they be leaders, charlatans, criminals or just simple cabbies. Kurt Russell (occupying one of the signature roles of his career in Snake Plisken) personifies the progression of counter-capitalist provision that was becoming prominent in the early 80s. The looming towers of the WTC hang in the black pitch darkness surrounding the island. The transfer highlights the primitive perspective of the visual effects but also embraces its beauty. The wonder at times is that in certain scenes you can see forebearing elements of say “The Matrix” with early use of Steadicam. Like “Blade Runner” and “Tron” which were also made in 1982, there is a dystopian roughness to the proceedings. What stands apart in this transfer is the dark textures of the night which almost register with too much viscosity making them at times hard to see. The landing on top of the World Trade gives the progression definite pause. With actors such as Isaac Hayes and Hary Dean Stanton offering a bit of genre progression with the always uplifting Ernest Borgnine stating all but the obvious and Lee Van Cleef adding old school Hollywood pedigree, John Carpenter’s opus of the journey (which undeniably still pales next to “The Thing”) still packs an effective wallop which makes it a dexterious addition to any BD Collection. Out of 5, I give it a 3.

The Peacemaker [Dreamworks] – BD Review

When released in the mid-90s, “The Peacemaker” with its Cold War progressions of a techno-thriller turned terrorist plot seemed perhaps a little bit too “Hunt For Red October”. However with the headline turning aspect of 9/11, the movie’s foresight becomes a bit more relevant. While highlighting George Clooney and Nicole Kidman with their still burgeoning stars at the time seems effective, it is the apparently non-Hollywood bent to the proceedings with studio level production value that comes through the most. While formulaic narrative closure dog the film in its final moments with a cat-and-mouse propensity, the set up and execution as the pair track down stolen nuclear missiles inside the Russian border is actually quite resilient, especially when Clooney’s character leads an attack force without military authorization across the point of no return while Kidman’s nuclear advisor must play the politics remotely on the ground.

The concept of these characters within the context of the time stretches credibility a bit but also shows Clooney’s penchant (even back then) for these kind of thinking man conspiracy stories. Mimi Leder as a director shows her inevitable poise and skill which makes one think that, with the rise of Kathryn Bigelow in the past year with “Hurt Locker”, when Mimi Leder will re-emerge with a new high octane film (though she has been directing episodes recently of Fox’s “Human Target”).

The BD ¬†transfer especially involving the street scenes in New York and the operations along the Russian border play vividly as does a car chase through downtown Vienna. However what stays ultimately with the film is an underlying penchant for good storytelling that Dreamworks was inherently known for in its early days because it told unconventional stories. “The Peacemaker” inherently was ahead of its time in its subject and ability to balance the action elements with a taut thriller. It seems that audiences at the time were just not ready for it. However in retrospect, it offers an entertaining and at times chilling view of the repercussions of American influence on other nations which most of the general population might not be aware of.

The inclusion of a scene where the Muslim-fueled but extremely textured and tangible UN representative flashes back to the death of his wife and daughter while white trucks of aid workers seem to pass by without a thought give perspective to the this suicide bomber’s intent. The extras on the disc play to Clooney’s penchant even then of practical joking with a great amount of outtakes of him making people laugh on set. His physical agility shown in a special stunt section is also of note as he bounds over cars without a thought. The inclusion of the trailer shows how necessary a good teaser is because the clip here itself tells too much of the whole movie. The movie should tantalize the audience in the theater, not reveal the entire plot. “The Peacemaker”, sharp and vivid, was ahead of its time but can be enjoyed for its retrospective foresight in advance of 9/11. Out of 5, I give the BD a 3.

The Wolfman [Universal – 2010] – BD Review

The reality in creating an update of the classic Universal horror monster movies is finding the best balance between true horror and schlock. Bringing in exceptional actors balances the table but with all the digital effects possible, it becomes an idea of how much you see of either one presented here. The texture of the new “Wolfman” revolves around the Victorian basis of position but with a modern twist. The deliverance of the metaphor obviously works back to a father and son dynamic. The psychological references that pepper the picture at many points seem to gloss over this deeper truth. The balance lies in the fact that the film wants to be both adherent to today’s audience but also maintaining its identity to the monster pictures of the past. Inherently this is where it misfires because the naivete of that era and the information personification of our age simply does not gel together. The gore works its intensity well while being more visceral than simply bloody. The best part of the picture inherently is in the asylum but the film does not linger there long. The realization of Talbot, played by Benicio Del Toro, as he is strapped in the chair relating that the people in the room are dead is an inherent turning point. Anthony Hopkins plays his father Lord Talbot, who also has a deadly secret of his own, with the same kind of revel he enjoys in these kinds of showy roles. However the finesse of directors like Francis Coppola in a film like “Dracula” gave his performance in that earlier film as Van Helsing a little more definition. The transfer here looks crisp which would be undeniable coming off a digital negative but for a reason the movie still retains (especially with the exteriors in the country estate) a very film feel. Many of sets in the film are digital extensions but Joe Johnston uses this idea to continuing effect since many of them seem seamless with the exception of the London rooftops. Hugo Weaving plays Inspector Francis Aberline investigating the wolf tinged murders but can do little more at times than grimace at the camera as the character basically is a rivet for moving the plot forward. Danny Elfman’s music of course elevates the picture as well since the central theme motivates the progression. In terms of extras, no commentary is available although the BD does include both the unrated and theatrical version which are very similar though maybe with an ounce less of blood. The beheadings still come rampantly.

The extras, relevant beyond the texture of the digital copy which (with the advent of the IPad/ITouch) is inevitably poignant, rests within the ideals of the craft. “The Beast Maker” involves the considerable talents of Rick Baker who recently did Robert Downey Jr.’s make-up for “Tropic Thunder” but also is known for his initial work on “Star Wars: A New Hope”, “The Fury”, “Videodrome” and the seminal “American Werewolf In London”. Like Benicio Del Toro who is also a co-producer on thW film, Baker loved the ideal of updating “The Wolfman” but it was also the excitement of placing Oscar winning actors like Hopkins and the after-mentioned Del Toro in the middle of the prosthetics but allowing their physical and mental selves to show through that was the real draw. “Return To The Wolfman” shows a similar penchant which relates mostly Benicio Del Toro’s intense enthusiasm for the character since it was these kind of monster movies that made him want to become an actor in the first place. Director Joe Johnston’s elements of working with Steven Spielberg, most recently on “Jurassic Park III” gave him an interesting but broad understanding of the genre. What is interesting is the persistance of doing the R rating. The differences in moral ambiguity emerge in the deleted scenes and extended endings. The most intrinsic of the deleted scenes which shows a little more humor is an extended run through London though the brevity seems out of sync with the rest of the film. The alternate endings offer different progressions but hardly hark back to the humanity of the character like the eventually used theatrical cut. “The Wolfman Unleashed” and “Transformation Secrets” highlight the stunt work and visual effects integration with distinct detail giving balance to practical versus CGI which is undeniably needed because audiences are handily advanced in detecting lines in the cloth in the modern age. “The Wolfman” also looks distinctly dark on BD if by design giving it a looming presence. In terms of a the film, it bounds as an exercise in good form without being overtly emotional or cinematic. Out of 5, I give the BD a 2 1/2.

Shutter Island – BD Review

“Shutter Island” is more than meets the eye. Besieged by a pushing in release date from last October to this March, this new Scorsese/DiCaprio pairing is more abstract and less straightforward than their earlier collaborations. It has tinges of indulgences from “Age Of Innocence” in addition to its adaptation roots but unlike the other films made of Dennis Lehane’s books like “Mystic River” or “Gone Baby Gone”, this incarnation is more dreamlike. DiCaprio is effective and more in tune along the lines of raw emotionality than he was even in “Revolutionary Road”. However, there is a lack of connection between him and co-star Michelle Williams despite Leo’s best intentions. What most stands out across the board is the use of classical music instead of a normal score. It definitely gives the picture a different feel. The music supervision was done by Robbie Robertson who also wrote the music for “Ladder 49”. What might be coincidental is that in addition to a foghorn sounding overture in the beginning, the music seems to have been pulled from “The Shining” which gives the initial 20 minutes a bit of a Stanley Kubrick feel. However, as the film moves along, there is almost an arch of overplaying that takes one slightly out of the picture. The reveal at the end is, of course, an interesting one and motivates the entire picture making it indelicatable upon repeat viewings.

In the featurette “Into The Lighthouse” author Lehane talks about the book being a response to post-9/11 thoughts which in certain ways had parrallels to McCarthyism. Another interesting inclusion is consultant James Gilligan who talks about his experience at a mental hospital and the differences between old and new psychology methods. These long featurettes actually get in depth on the aspect of why lobotomy was adopted and the perceptions which fuel certain backgrounds in the picture. The other featurette “Behind The Shutters” which also runs about 20 minutes has lengthy background info including Ruffalo, DiCaprio and Scorsese and takes into account the actual reveal (these behind-the-scenes elements have disclaimers about spoilers as well). They knew, perhaps in some ways similar to “Fight Club”) that they would need to usher the audience in many ways through the narrative to understand its complexity, “Shutter Island” is, in many ways, successful but in others a hard sell which is an interesting conundrum though it is interesting seeing Scorsese work this angle. Another very interesting tidbit is that Elias Koteas, who plays a version of the character Latteus, has such a DeNiro type effectation that you almost mistake him for the legend as a young actor. I thought almost initially they did motion capture on DeNiro but that would make no sense. “Shutter Island”, in all ways, is an interesting exercise. Out of 5, I give the BD a 3.

Edge Of Darkness – BD Review

“Edge Of Darkness” as a project was supposed to be a return to form of Mel Gibson. When it came out people weren’t quite sure at times what to make of it. Gibson did look older but he seemed to gain youth throughout the film. The same aspects are viable on the BD release. The beginning of the movie shows the man looking defeated (as that is part of the function of the character) but he seems to ramp it up from there. This is Mel returning to the revenge genre. This is a hard boiled approach which many people maybe didn’t expect. It wasn’t the normal Mel humor. The one thing that tended to throw this reviewer off was the inclusion of the ghosts whispering to Mel’s character Craven in the film. It seemed to be too much of a plot ploy. However some of the extras reveal later it to be an integral part of the original book. However on the surface it comes across as lazy storytelling through and through. Despite this, the shooting at the beginning of the film and especially the hitting of the girl in the car near the beginning of the 3rd act are particularly jarring and show how good a director Martin Campbell can be. This film for the lead creatives however seemed to be more of an exercise of being still. The different featurettes explain this specifically. There is a very brief reference that actor Ray Winstone makes to coming in late since apparently his role was originally supposed to be played by Robert De Niro who left a week into shooting. What this tends to do is place the film squarely on Gibson’s shoulders. Howard Shore, who did the music for “Lord Of The Rings”, talks about building a score which for this film means starting off with tinges of mourning and then creating the tension as the momentum builds. The film was adapted from the “Edge Of Darkness” miniseries which Campbell also directed. He had a specific writer working on it for nearly 12 drafts. Then Graham King brought in William Monahan who had done “The Departed” who was able to bridge certain elements and add the Bostonian flavor which was always key. Gibson speaks that he saw the story as a 17th century style revenge tale where at the end every body goes out including the hero. The deleted alternative scenes don’t necessarily lend anything much to the plot though the beginning golf scene which DeNiro supposedly shot and now has Winstone in it shows the blend of humor needed which might not have the been the right spark. “Edge Of Darkness” works a bit better on second viewing because its intention by its makers is very clear on the disc but still skewed perhaps a little too unbalanced despite an effective turn by Gibson. Out of 5, I give it a 2 1/2.