IR BD Review: SERENITY [Aviron/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

When “Serenity” was released earlier in the year, the essence of the cast and what seemed to be a noir structure gave it definite want-to-see possibility. Matthew McConaughey’s choices are always divisive but he has a certain idea of almost existential progression in most of his roles. The idea for example of making “Sea of Trees” or “Free State Of Jones” perceives to this thematic structure of his work. This film is no different though its blend of high concept and locale might be too much for some viewers to take or give patience to. With a director like Steven Knight, known for “Peaky Blinders”, the blend does have possibility but this is not Christopher Nolan or “Interstellar” for that matter. The comparison obviously moves in play since Anne Hathaway is a catalyst of sorts here as well as she was in that previous movie though in a different structure. The vamp structure she employs here might be a function of not just the plot but the rules that are set forth in the narrative. This blend of what motivates characters and indeed what their ultimate goals are is an interesting quandary within the story.

The film was shot on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off of South Africa so the locale has an otherworldly quality in that the viewer almost can’t place where it is. Many of the characters are caricatures in this way but again that is a function of the plot without giving anything away. In selling a movie, subtlety and the way a film unfolds is much more criticized than ever before which made this specific release even tougher.

What “Serenity” does have is almost an 80s genre twist while similarly on a restrictive budget but with decent or at least recognizable stars. Diane Lane plays a character that is almost a piggy bank at times for McConuaghney’s Dell. Again when it all is said and done…her character makes sense within the structure even if it is light. Dijmon Honsou who also starred with McConaughey in Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad” also plays a structural part in the idea. He becomes a voice of reason but also one that unbalances the motivation. Again a specific notion of the plot. Even Jason Clarke as the baddie per se, has a specific arch that is meant as a commentary on what the underlying structure of the story actually is.

Towards the end, the breakdown of exposition might have been too much for audiences to handle because, while it is an intriguing idea, the dialogue, even though it is meant to be stilted at times, overplays its idea. The exposition, in addition, tries too hard even though there are holes in motivation and plot which are too glaring to ignore. Also, some of the sequences and the imagery, especially the jump cuts and McConaughey’s venture through water, may be symbolic but mostly function flat. In terms of technical, the transfer brings out the beauty of the location but the slipshod nature of some of the visual effects takes away from some of the power certain sequences could have had. There are no additional material on the disc, so the movie simply functions on its possibilities which may in time form an idea of one of those genre movies that tried but didn’t quite connect. However it might be one that will be revisited in years to come.

C+

By Tim Wassberg

IR BD Review: A PRIVATE WAR [Aviron/Universal Studios Home Entertainment]

The interplay of energy and depression in “A Private War” is an interesting progression of sorts simply because it standardizes in a way the ideal of extreme situations. Marie Colvin, a real life journalist who was killed in Syria as she was covering the crisis there speaks to the personality of those who take on the most dangerous of jobs, not to fight but to try to understand the psychology and emotions of war…especially civil ones and why such battles are fought. The movie in its narrative leads to the progression and the realization of Marie at some point that despite wanting a family and a baby at certain junctures, those instincts were not as powerful as those leading her into war zones. And, as with most dopamine highs, the lows are reflected even more viciously. Rosamund Pike continues her portrayal of suffering yet extremely vital women who make certain choices to progress their lives further. She doesn’t seek understanding in terms of her character but does seek attention which is an interesting diametric. Of course human nature dictates a sort of deadening of the sense of regular life. Pike is never vain and shows her character in all of her realness while understanding how society changes in different modes of structure.

While most people, even her editor at the newspaper doesn’t quite understand her motivation, Jamie Dornan’s character Paul, a former soldier turned photographer does understand her travails. Dornan’s character is a thankless role per se and is quiet a lot of the time but is also an interesting choice for the actor who does take on more character based roles in comparison to his “Fifty Shades” work which undeniably follows him. The visual milieu of the story is also interesting. The director Matthew Heineman lets the story unfold in almost jump cut progression of Marie’s life as if her existence is almost *and realistically) schizophrenic. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, a genius in his own right, gives the movie an uncommon realism in its photography. While some visual effects are used, he uses Jordan in a very visceral way without betraying that it is not actually Syria or Iraq.

The eventual countdown towards Marie’s eventual loss in Syria seems inevitable but not empty. She was able to bring her perceptions to the masses even if sometimes she couldn’t fully interpret them on a personal level herself. Pike’s moments of breakdown with the character speak to this. When she is simply left alone in a shot in a hotel room with the camera resting on her does one get a full sense of the character she is portraying.

The extras on the disc are specific to the movie but don’t necessarily add any new insight. In “Becoming Marie Colvin”, Rosamund Pike’s perception of shrinking 2 cm because of the tense poise of Colvin does gives her movement credence as does Colvin’s real life photographer Paul Conroy speaking to Pike’s attention to detail as he watched her performing through a monitor. The “Women In The World Summit” Q&A makes sense but does not reveal any undeniable morsels. Finally, Annie Lennox speaking to the writing of the “Requiem” song for the end credits in the final featurette is brief but, in speaking to the opening verse, her explanation makes one realize exactly how she was capturing this woman’s journey.

“A Private War” is an intricate and perhaps overlooked element of the award’s season but speaks to Aviron Releasing approaching unique stories and mid-range pictures, which unfortunately, in the current moviemaking climate, is difficult to maintain on a theatrical level.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR DVD Review: BROTHERS [Well Go USA]

The essence of mainstream Chinese cinema reflects in certain values and textures of the mythic. In Brothers, the ideal reflects back in the war in the 1920s between the nationalist and the communist factions in China. While the ideology is not specifically addressed, the specific story is integrated between two brothers indoctrinated into the army but ultimately through circumstance they find themselves on separate sides. The filmmaking structure of the technology according to the behind the scenes bonus features began in 2010 and the film was purely made on a stage with green screen. The look of the film reflects that mostly of “Sin City” and, to a lesser point, “300” (made in 2005 and 2006 respectively). Creating whole battle sequences on water and on mountains in this way is interesting but obviously labor intensive as the film didn’t come out until 2016. The conflict involves the older brother Wang and the younger brother Chen coming to terms with the men they have become and their loyalty to those they serve. The underlying narrative structure involves Chen being assigned after a particularly brutal battle to escort some female musicians to a place called High City for a performance. His brother, now part of an assassin squad, finds them and their conflict of ideals begins. While the dialogue is very matter of fact, the texture of the relationship makes definite sense as it does rouse to an almost blindsided conclusion until the resolution is structured. The bonus features also speak to the two actors’ approach to their perspective characters but the enclosed trailer does give away too much of the plot. “Brothers” shows the continually evolving market’s ability to try new things while remaining in certain element of mythic themes resonant to the individual.

C

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 Television Review: MAD MEN [AMC]

The tendency of people to find themselves again always seems to reflect in some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Don Draper of “Mad Men” is no different. In trying to affect his own sense of moral center, he is moving against who he really is and not what he is appearing to be. After the jump in years which made intuitive sense, the ideas of the entire agency begin to show the motivation of who they want to be. Pete Campbell, the newly fulfilled partner in the firm, wants to create the perfect view of what life should be in his eyes but, in doing so, feels even emptier than what Don has become. In doing this parallel storyline with Pete’s fading morality and belief in what is really definitely shows the dexterity of Matthew Weiner’s writing. The progression of “Mad Men” is cyclical but also universal: one always wants what they don’t have. This is especially true in high-competition industries.

The handling of the female lead story lines, particularly Joan and Peggy through the season, shows two characters moving towards the same center from completely opposite directions. Joan starts off the season as a new mother trying to adhere to her place but realizing that this is against her nature which she promptly rectifies at a certain point. Peggy’s ambition, like everyone, reflects in how much she is needed and what she has learned. When she comes to a life change (which also inter-played with her decision in an earlier season arc), she makes the right decision. At one point, she and Pete intersect and the slight moment created is just enough to show the cycle.

Don meanwhile, in this deck of cards, is trying to be the doting husband and be supportive in what ways he couldn’t with Betty because of the secrets he is hiding from her. His wife, albeit 15 years younger than him, knows all his secrets and he tries to stay in line but anything that is familiar can eventually get boring which eventually strays his thoughts. The intention of the closing of “You Only Live Twice” shows that life renews itself but creates the same temptations. The use of different emotional components like Don’s supposed hallucinations of one of his old conquests coming back to haunt him shows that the ghosts are still there. Like Pete who is experiencing his similar problems of year past, the belief of redemption is steeped in thoughts of middle-dom which does not suit this world. Life is short.

A-

IR DVD Review: .HACK//QUANTUM [Funimation]

The balance between the real world and the virtual world continues to meld in many ways as the aspect of what is crucial and not seems to disappear into the void. The aspect that has always been true with “.hack” in terms of the storyteling process is projections and what people consider real and false in terms of identity in their own life.

Like the concurrent novels, the anime adaptation “.hack/Quantum” takes the structure of quantum computers to create a notion of lost souls able to live on without a physical structure to keep them present in the real world. The narrative motivation here reflects on the increasing amount of plugged-in personalities who start to diverge from the real world since the texture of inhibitions and notions of self take a back seat and become a type of metaphorical idea of what an alternate world would be.

This specific interlay follows three gamers who meet up and travel in “The World”. When the structure of the gameplay seems to deconstruct because of “server maintenance” causing players to actually “hurt”, the balance between administrators and consumers seems to shift, both online and in the outside world. The element of having modern thinking and placed characters existing in an almost sword-and-sorcery world where dragons and monolithic statues of doom seem real creates an interesting dynamic. The statue of doom is particularly impressive because of the sense of scale interrelated with the use of clouds. This anime in its current form shows the balance of 3D and 2D concepts working well together.

The most sensitive of the girls meets up with a young boy/cat named Hermit who seems to have a hacking app inside the world all his own, though his motivations turn out to be more dastardly in an overall form leading to the injury of people on the outside world. The questions that “.hack” continues to ask have distinctifying presence in today’s youth society where people can text but not talk.

In terms of technical, the transfusion between Japanese and English language in terms of structure is negligible except for a bit of hankering around Tokyo. The extras seem to play a little more Eastern than usual. The “Chim Chim” animated interstitials are a bit of world play but simply fail to translate in an overt sense. The short subject of Yuo Oguaa including a quiz and cooking school are overly indulgent though a visit to the animation studio has some fun bits despite a lack of converted information. The promotional videos and trailers for “Quantum” interrelate the growing intent that this idea of connected worlds is different from virtual reality. Of the additional trailers, three that stand out are “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” (simply for its furturistic intensity), “Chrome Shelled Regios (because of its uber “1984” paranoia) and “”Requiem For The Phantom” (just for its pure gothic viciousness).

“hack//Quantum: cointinues to show the intentions in a world split between connectivity and disconnection which is of dire prevalence in our current state.

B